Tuesday, 7 September 2010

English as a foreign language

The Bambina had her first day of school last week.  She's in grade one, or I should say cours préparatoire, as it is called in the French system - CP for short.

She attends one of the French primary schools here in Tananarive.  The school is pretty much like any public school in France, with a few bells and whistles added to make it adapted to Madagascar, including one to two hours of Malagasy lessons per week at school.  That's something that the expat parents don't like at all.  They're only here for a short time and what use will the Malagasy language be to their child once they have left Madagascar?  Why can't the kids learn another language instead, say the expat parents. English for example.  And they would like the kids to start the foreign language ASAP, in CP (grade one).

So after much pressure from the parents' assocation, this year, for the first time, all the kids in CP will be getting English twice a weeks, 45 minutes each time.  The parents are thrilled.

Except me.

My daughter is already bilingual.  At best, English lessons at school will be a Complete Waste Of Time for her.  At worst, she will learn English as a foreigner would learn it - bad accent, bad grammar, and outdated vocabulary.  I was happy with her learning some Malagasy.  

Which brings me to another point.  I am pretty much convinced that introducing English lessons twice a week will not put a dent in the kids' English speaking abilities later on in life.  If you want your kid to speak good English, try immersion.  Or at least put the cartoons on in English at home.  45 minute lessons on colours and numbers won't do much.  They'll learn colours and numbers anyway when the serious lessons begin in at around age 11.

Proof of this point of view:  just look at the Dutch or the Scandinavians.  Dutch and Scandinavian people my age had no English in school until age eleven or twelve - yet they are almost all bilingual.  The difference is that their parents watched TV in English and read books in English - something that the French are reluctant to do.