British children thrive in Dordogne schools
Schools in Dordogne not only welcome children with open arms (and to learn French), they also provide them with French lessons.
The avalanche of British people moving to the southwest Dordogne region of France each year is having an unexpected benefit on rural French schools once in danger of closing.
"The current political will is to close down schools and services in small rural areas and centralise them in towns. Happily, the British like to live in small, rural areas and send their children to local schools," said Bruno Arfeuille, a roving teacher who gives French lessons to new arrivals.
Because not only do the schools welcome the children with open arms, they also provide them with French lessons.
Arfeuille is one of two such teachers and currently has more than 100 students in different schools around the area, which counts between 5,000 and 10,000 Britons. They have been drawn by the laid-back lifestyle, warm climate and the lower cost of living.
"The girls are always faster than the boys, but it takes about three months to a year for the children to learn French, depending on their level when they arrive," Arfeuille said.
At the local school in Eymet, a village of 2,600 inhabitants with such a high population of English speakers that one was recently elected as a town councillor, Arfeuille has a class of six.
"What is this?" asks Arfeuille, pointing to an exercise book. "Kay yea," he pronounces phonetically. "Cahier is French for exercise book. Now repeat after me: kay yea."
The children, aged between six and 11, get it first time round. The name of the school is harder however. "Pont du Juillet, repeat after me, Ecole Pont du Juillet."
Of the six children, some have been in France for a year already, while
others like Mackenzie and Scarlet, arrived last week. Only one of them,
Louisa, has had extra French lessons before arriving. The rest are simply
picking it up as they go along.
The lessons help, although given that Arfeuille only comes to each school once a fortnight, he must rely on them doing plenty of extra homework.
Fifteen percent of the school's children are English
"They get help at home and at school, although when there are six of them like this, the progress is slower because they talk to each other in the
breaks," Arfeuille said.
Over in the smaller village of Saint-Michel-de-Montagne, nine-year-old Jak is having a tougher time being the only English speaker in his class, but he will learn faster, says Arfeuille.
Asked what they like about France the children all say food, the sunny
weather and the space.
"We lived on a main road at home and now we have a field," said Louisa, one of six children in her family. "We have much more space here, and it always rains in England."
None of the children seem particularly fazed about having to learn French, although Mackenzie, who only arrived last week, says French ghosts bother him more than English ones.
"Cartable," continues Arfeuille, pointing to a picture of a school bag.
They all repeat it perfectly, but lunchtime is near and concentration is
flagging. Asked what he likes best in his new home, Mackenzie says French chips. "They are softer than in England and I can't stop eating them."
Despite the cheerful atmosphere however, Arfeuille says he has seen children, totally overwhelmed, crying in class during the first few weeks. After that, he says, they settle in and the worst is over. "And we make good
use of them as English teachers," he adds.
Apart from the actual language the other challenge is learning to use the cursive, joined up writing, that all French children are taught. "That can be hard too, but again, it depends on what stage they were at before."
Arfeuille, who is paid by the state, also gives French lessons to other new arrivals: from Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, Russia, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. He started in 1999 when he was asked to teach children of refugees who had fled the fighting in Kosovo.
According to his figures, between 200 and 300 new children arrive every year to start school in the Dordogne area. Over the last three years the figures have tapered off somewhat from 336 new foreign children in 2005, to 203 this year.
Back in Eymet, the school's director is announcing the opening of a new class, thanks in part to the number of foreign pupils.
Arfeuille is pleased. "Fifteen per cent of the children in this school are English," he says.
Asked if there is any resentment at so many new arrivals, he says not at all. "They bring life to the area, and to the schools."
AFP / Expatica
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