How does the French curriculum work in U.S. schools?
April 29, 2012 8:37 PM   Subscribe

We are considering enrolling our son in kindergarten at a French immersion school in the U.S. where teachers from the Francophone world follow the French curriculum. If anyone out there has experience with a school like this, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Specifically, I'm interested in hearing about the teaching methods used, and whether the curriculum was flexible in the ways in which it was exported into a non-French context.

My question is a more specific follow-up question to this one, which, I suspect, is about the same exact school we are considering. I am sold on the immersion aspect of the school, but am curious about the teaching methods more generally in this type of U.S. school.
posted by umbú to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The French curriculum is based on 10 primary and secondary school years (rather than our 12), from ages 6 to 16, that culminate in taking the baccalauréat, for students who want to go on to university. For the most common, general bac, there's another year of school from age 16-17; a bac for professional studies has two years, from 16-18. There are students who don't take or fail the bac; they generally enter working life right away, join the armed forces, etc.

I often "attended" a French immersion school in Oregon to which my French teacher had introduced me. I put it in scare quotes because I wasn't an enrolled student, and I actually assisted the classes as a conversation partner for usually-younger kids. It was mutually beneficial!

Is the school US-accredited? The one I went to was, meaning it had dual accreditation – kids learned according to French curriculum (preparing for the bac) and also for any required American testing. It's not too hard, especially with US schools becoming more and more focused on tests rather than learning. The kids aren't learning two separate things, more than they are actually learning the same things that can be applied to both/either system. So it does tend to be richer, though it depends on the school. There are good US public schools and barebones immersion schools, for instance.

The main benefits are fluency and openness of thinking. If an American student gets their US high school diploma, that's basically equivalent to a French bac. The latter is, however, much more specific. Kids essentially have to choose a general subject area in which they want to work as adults – science/math/computing, art/music, literature/philosophy, and so forth. French universities are also much more specific; the "liberal arts" approach of US universities isn't really present here. I studied at licence, maîtrise (now Master 1) and diplôme d'études approfondies (DEA, now Master 2) levels here: a literature student will take only literature-related courses. Computing students only take computing-related courses. A concrete result of this is, for instance, that I, with a Masters in comparative literature, work with French IT engineers who never learned to write papers longer than 2 pages, nor did they really learn the value of written expression. They were able to succeed without it. Meanwhile, I hardly ever mention that I took a year of astronomy courses at university for which I passed advanced mathematics (calculus) and physics courses as prerequisites... they see my "comparative literature" degree and think it means I sucked at, or didn't care about, math/science. On the other hand, my French literature studies were in-depth like whoa – licence (3rd-year) courses were the official equivalent to 4th-year courses according to my US university.

TL;DR both systems have their strengths and weaknesses; it's good to go into it with that in mind so that neither system has unrealistic expectations put upon it. In any case, bilingual experience and the openness to the world at large that it brings are really wonderful. But... you can also get that in US public schools, so long as they have good foreign language teachers. (I'm the product of then-highly-ranked US public schools. Speak French fluently, live in France now. All thanks to a wonderful French teacher – she also taught Spanish, btw – who saw my love for the language and encouraged that.)
posted by fraula at 1:33 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I actually was just discussing this with a friend the other day. She sent her (American) kids to French immersion through middle school, and then switched to public American high schools. Some random comments I remember:

1. The French schools were more demanding. Of course this will depend on the school, but she said the difference was quite pronounced, and that the kids coasted for a year or two after coming back.

2. The French teachers were stricter. There's a greater sense of master-pupil, less self-esteem work. This was also my experience staying with a French family in Paris during college. My "sister" was in middle school, and I remember her saying that after every test the teacher posted her grades publicly. It fits with the culture: less agreeable, more critical.

3. There was a greater emphasis on memorization and rote learning. Not sure why.

Anyway, hope that helps. Also, for what its worth, two of her three kids ended up coming back to employing their French language skills in college--abroad and as a French lit major. It really is a transforming experience.
posted by vecchio at 2:22 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know about the specifics, but my roommate, whose native language is spanish, did his entire schooling in these french schools, in various countries, due to his father having a job that made it necessary for the family to live in different countries for a few years at a time.

He is now 27, speaks several languages, actually he speaks french better than any other, and became a translator who works for the UN. It seems like it has been a wonderful input to his life, as he got to study and live in France for his studies.. But that's the point, he went to university in France.. nowhere else. I have met some of his former schoolmates, who studied in sweden after doing the french programm until high school graduation..
posted by Jireel at 3:29 AM on April 30, 2012

If you want me to put you in touch with any of the other parents at the school (specifically ones who are in kindergarten now), I can. Or I can tell you about my boys' experience so far in preK-3. We're very happy with the school, and now that we're almost finished with the first year, I can give you more specifics.
posted by pyjammy at 6:34 AM on April 30, 2012

I went to this Lycee in Washington DC from grades 1-4. I didn't speak french going in. My family only spoke English at home.

It was very demanding. I came back to Canada in grade 5 (age 10) and was put into public school here. I was at least two years ahead in math and my french blew the "french immersion" kids out of the water through the end of high school.

Weird challenges? I only knew how to write in cursive... I didn't know any english words for mathematical terms (took me a while to adjust to being taught math in english)... I lacked skills in English conjugation for a very short while.

I can't speak to any experiences beyond grade 4 though, obviously. However, the kids I've been able to get in touch with through Facebook many years later are all, almost without fail, extremely successful internationally.
posted by smitt at 7:38 AM on April 30, 2012

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