Bilingual childcare centres: a good idea for our kids?

22 May 2017 | Language

The idea of French-English bilingual childcare centres is one which has continued to develop over the course of the last ten years.

They have already cropped up in large cities (Paris, Lyon, Marseille), and little by little, they have been implanting themselves in smaller cities (Toulouse, Angers, Lille)!

Despite having a poor reputation as foreign language students themselves, French parents are placing more and more importance on English when it comes to the education of their own children. It seems that some parents have noticed that a poor mastery of English can be a serious handicap, especially when it comes to careers, where lacking English skills could mean missing out on a promotion.

From 0 to 10 years old: cognitive capacities for learning languages

Recent studies have led us to believe that the best time to learn a language is before the age of 10. After this age, humans become less receptive to the sounds which allow us to differentiate words in a foreign language when it’s spoken.

Human babies can recognize more sounds than adults. However, this ability is slowly lost as they learn their native language. In other words, as the child grows, they will end up only recognizing the sounds that they learned as a baby to be their native language.

Early bilingualism allows children to create two seperate systems for thinking simultaneously, without needing to translate from one language to another. Moreover, this total, daily immersion in two languages, allows for a more fluid learning process of a second language.

Even if enormous efforts have been made to ameliorate the process of learning English with the national education system, there’s little chance to become fully bilingual with only 54 hours of English classes per year, starting at age 6. Total immersion is still more effective than only a few hours of classes!

Doubtless, that is why some parents have been looking for complementary solutions, English speaking baby-sitters, extra English classes, international internships, bilingual childcare centres, etc.

How do these childcare centres work?

The majority of these childcare centres offer around 10 spots to children from 2 months to 6 years old, and a minimum of 50% of the workers are English speakers.

And while job applications from native English speakers are viewed preferentially, most of these centres recruit French nationals who speak English well enough for daily use. They may also require candidates to follow an intensive training course in English if theirs isn’t up to par. It should be noted that the employees in childcare centres should first and foremost be trained and specialized in childcare and that mastery of English comes second to this!

Depending on the centres, English may be used only during certain games or may be used for communicating throught the entire day.

It goes without saying that nursery rhymes and board games exist in both French and English versions, in order to open the children equally to both languages. The goal is to learn English in the same way they learn French, by hearing and repeating identified sounds. Education starts vocally in order to familiarise the children to the sounds.

Most of these establishments couple learning languages with Maria Montessori education methods.  The spirit of this methodoligy is “Listen to the child and respect their rhythm. Respect yourself and others, respect your environment and all of humanity.”

The young children are guided rather than controlled. They are encourged to go see other children, to learn from what the others are doing.

To learn more about bilingual childcare centres, visit this site: