Press

"An absorbing exchange overseas"

from The Telegraph by Jennifer Sharples

With an expanding EEC that currently boasts 11 official languages, and the possibility of that increasing by a further eight, fluency in a second tongue is increasingly important - especially as more Britons work and retire overseas. The most widely spoken languages in the world are Chinese, English, Hindustani and Spanish, and as any expatriate can appreciate, some fluency in the language of your host country can be essential for a successful posting.

Mastering a language is easier when undertaken at a young age, and to supplement classroom learning there is no substitute for spending time in a country and rubbing shoulders with native speakers - an experience that an increasing number of parents want for their offspring.


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.........The idea of going on a homestay or an exchange is more palatable for children if they know that instead of sitting in a classroom, they will be with foreign peers of their own age who share their interests. As student exchanges can be difficult for expatriate families, a paid homestay is ideal.

Tim and Carole Brown, directors of Belaf UK, (www.belaf.com or www.french-exchange.co.uk) have been running homestay and exchange programmes in France, Germany and Spain since 1975. For a modest fee, they arrange for a student to stay with a family with similar interests and children around the same age.

They recently arranged for my own 14-year-old to spend 12 days with a wonderful family with four children, including a boy around his own age, at their home in Paris and chateau in the country. He was made to feel very at home; he was royally entertained and thoroughly enjoyed the delicious meals.

After a phone call home the first day asking "Mum, er . . . how long am I staying here?" he felt it took two days to settle in and then didn't want to return home. He is certainly more confident in speaking French and learned more about the culture.

Carole explains that archetypal Belaf host families are working professionals who often host British children for successive years because they enjoy the experience and feel it benefits their own children. She said: "A typical German family would be the Krugers who live in Stuttgart, the father is an engineer, the mother a homemaker and they have three boys from 13-18 years old who enjoy chess, computers, cycling and music.

"We have families all over France such as the Faures in Lyon. The father is a company director and the mother a doctor and their sons are 13 and 15. If they live in the city, they usually have a second home and plenty of friends and extended family members around. Children are not left on their own as French families tend to do activities together."

One way of encouraging your child to consider a homestay overseas is to host a foreign student first. Belaf has an enormous demand each year for French children to come and stay with English families for two to three weeks each summer (as paying guests) but many are refused because there simply aren't enough English hosts available.

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.............Carole Browne offers some advice on what parents should consider when searching for a homestay or exchange: "You must have absolute confidence in the people who are arranging the exchange and selecting the family for your child. Find out how long they have been involved in this type of work. It is always better if they work for themselves since they will demand the best and their reputation depends on it.

"Over the years I have learnt from my own children's experiences of homestays and exchanges what the average teenager is looking for. Most business is done by word of mouth, so every client must be a happy one!

"Make sure also that there is a French speaker who can liaise between you and the French family if necessary.

"It is important that your child is motivated and reasonably enthusiastic about going to stay in another country. Age is not an issue here. Some children go happily at 10 or 11, while others, even at 16, can become very homesick.

"If at all possible it is a good idea to have the French child to stay with you first. You will learn a lot about him and his family life before your child returns. It is also a good idea to "spread the exchange". For example, two weeks at Easter and then two weeks in the summer rather than four weeks back to back, which can be a bit tiring for the children concerned."

Old, young or somewhere in between, it's never to late to undertake an overseas language course which, if you really want an insight into the culture, means new friends and the absorbing experience of a homestay.

From ‘Families’ magazine, Berkshire:

Last summer, when the holidays were looming and the prospect of keeping our children entertained all day every day was playing on my mind, I thought to myself what I could really do with is an extra pair of hands. Well, they say you only have to wish hard enough.
In my case, Carole Browne of Belaf came to the rescue. She can arrange for a French student (17-19 years) to come to England for 3 to 4 weeks on a ‘work for keep’ scheme.
Sophie spent the whole of July with us, was an instant hit with our 20 month old son and everyone was in tears the day she left!
The student’s aim is to improve their English and, in return, the family receives a lot of valuable help looking after their children.
The reason it doesn’t cost you anything is that for students in France it is obligatory to do some work experience and some choose to do that in England. For working mothers, Belaf can also organise a summer holiday au pair (who would receive a weekly salary) for longer periods.