My husband (a native French speaker) and I (an advanced non-native French speaker) have raised our two boys bilingually since they were born. They are 7 and 10 and in the 2nd and 5th grades. We normally live in the US and spend five to six weeks in France every two years. But, we wanted more! We are currently at the mid-point of a five-month stay in France.
Although we have been pleased with their bilingual progress while living in the US, it was important to us that they spend an extended period of time in France to truly experience daily life in their second country, as well as to focus on literacy. Although both of our boys can read at an age-appropriate level in French, we have found that one of the most difficult challenges of our bilingual lifestyle is making sure that our children can write in their second language. Life is already so busy with school and other activities in the US that it is hard to fit in study of French grammar or other subjects in French.
Though we have been thinking about it for a while, we organized this entire extended stay in France fairly quickly, in about two months, including finding lodging and signing them up for school — though I would not necessarily recommend doing it that way! Our boys’ bilingual progress was truly our sole motivation for the trip and when we saw a window of opportunity, we jumped on it. A side benefit is, of course, that we all get to spend time abroad together. I also benefit from speaking French in a real-world setting. For various logistical reasons, we decided to spend one semester abroad instead of an entire year.
The French school year starts later than it does Colorado, where we normally live, so the boys had a few extra weeks of vacation. The flip side of that is that they were bored by then and needed the stimulation of a school environment. They will also spend less time in school this year than any of their French or American classmates and we need to work on the side to catch any concepts falling through the cracks, especially math. In France, their public school is walking distance and there are only 100 students, both of which we appreciate. Since the boys’ spoken French was already strong when we arrived, their overall integration was smooth and they made friends quickly. There is no school in France on Wednesdays for elementary school children, and the boys spend all day mid-week with their grandparents, which all four of them enjoy very much.
For our younger son, grammar is not yet heavily covered at his age and he is doing very well and keeping up in all subjects. Our older son’s peers have already studied various grammatical concepts in depth in earlier grades, however, so he does get frustrated at times with tasks like verb conjugation. (Un)fortunately for him, his mother (me) is a French grammar nerd so we can and do have marathon study sessions at home. He is a talker though and loves to give presentations at school, even in French. Also, while he loves being half-French, the adjustment has been harder for him. When he is frustrated, he tells us (or his teachers!) that it doesn’t matter — he will soon be returning to the US! That has shown us that coming for half a year was not ideal.
My husband and I are continuing to work for our US-based company/clients remotely, which is a blessing and a curse. We couldn’t have taken this trip without that possibility, but it is draining to constantly straddle two time zones and to speak English with our US contacts while in France.
Overall, though, the positives far outweigh the negatives and we are very pleased with our trip so far. The cultural and linguistic progress the boys have made is totally worth any inconvenience as is the time we have spent here together as a family and with extended family. I am already planning our next extended stay!