30.06.2017 par MG
num.269 juin 2017 p.16
Enrich your life by learning French

Many people who come to Geneva to work have English as their home language or as their work language, but do not have much experience in speaking and understanding the Swiss who are speaking French. Of course, many, but not all, Swiss have a good command of English, which makes it quite easy to make do with just English. It is also true that the Anglo-Saxon community organises many activities which help to feel to some degree “at home”. However, lack of some command of French does make some Swiss feel uncomfortable, regretting what seems like an unwillingness to integrate. If this applies to you, we wish to make some suggestions as to how you can enrich your own life and that of your Swiss hosts.
If you have just arrived as a couple it is quite likely that one of you will initially not be active professionally. Why not use this time to take French lessons, at a level which fits what knowledge you may already have? This will soon enable you to watch Swiss television, especially the news programs, where the televised reports help to understand the subject. Once you advance a little then how about joining a local Swiss club in a subject that interests you (sport, manual arts, creative activities)? You will almost certainly meet Swiss who can help you if you are in language difficulty.
Parents of very young children will probably at some time want to find a “jardin d’enfants” to take their children for a few hours per day. Look for a Swiss one near you, and let your young children interact with children of other languages and nationalities, where they will rapidly pick up French in the most natural way.
Once children get to primary school age there are choices to be made. There are, of course, many English language schools, going from primary right up to pre-university, and many of these schools do make a great effort to encourage pupils in French. It is also true that you may be on a short-term contract, and expect to return home very soon. However, at primary school age children will best learn French if they are immediately put into the Swiss primary school system. It has also been suggested that learning a second language opens connections in the brain which make for a better retaining of mental alertness in later life.
In many ways, this age is one where children can benefit most, in terms of learning French. It is often quite possible, with the aid of special help, to integrate children who enter the school at an age between the youngest and the oldest. This is also a particularly good way for the parents to integrate by meeting other parents, very often of different nationalities but all speaking (or learning) French.
For secondary education after the age of 11 the Swiss system puts youngsters for three years, from 12 to 15 years, into one of the “Cycle d’Orientation” schools around the Canton, normally one quite close to the home. These offer a general education, covering many subjects, leading to a choice of continuation (orientation) at the age of 15. There is no formal examination at the end of the three years, so this continuation can take many forms. One of these forms, normally requiring a good academic level, will be four years in “Collège”, not to be confused with the English connotation of “college” as being part of a university. This leads towards the Swiss “maturité”, which is rather similar to the French “Baccalaureate”, or perhaps the English A-level GCSE. This qualification can be accepted by universities in Britain or the USA.
Whatever you choose, for your own ability to speak and understand French, though probably not to the level of the writings of Molière (the French equivalent of Shakespeare), or that of your children who can often become not only bilingual but also have some understanding of German, or perhaps Italian, you will benefit enormously from the welcome that the Swiss will give you once you can try to communicate with them in their own language.
Here are some details for following up on the above suggestions.
Daycare for small children up tp 4 years old.
Ecole et Quartier in Versoix : lots of cultural, language courses or sportive activities from children to seniors (022 388 24 44 - -
IFAGE in Geneva : languages and other professional skills for adults
(022 807 30 00 - -
Ecole Club Migros in Balexert, Geneva or Nyon: lots of cultural, language courses or sportive activities mainly for adults (
These schools are sponsored by Authorities or Foundations. Therefore their tuition fees are very reasonable.
The site of Association Genevoise des Ecoles Privées can also be useful : .

Mike Gérard
Karen Guinand
Anne-Lise Berger-Bapst

auteur : Mike Gérard

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