I may have gotten out of doing the school run for an extra year, but it’s now time to get my head around enrolling my little Beiruti. The application process seems to run in February or March and there are several reasons why I should be getting a head start, not least of all the length of time it takes me to understand anything in Spanish. Also I might have to take her birth certificate to a sworn translator.
In addition, she’ll be starting a year later than most kids. That’s because apparently all sane mums put their kids in school from the tender age of three (or before). That’s how they stay sane. For the crazy ones applying later, it’s supposed to be harder to find places in your school(s) of choice. I’m not too worried as there are several within walking distance.
So I have been online trying to extract information from the individual websites of local state schools …which do not seem to have been designed with this purpose in mind. Going online in Spain is a bit like going back in time a decade. Think Mordac the Preventer of Information Services but less evil. The fact that it is all written in Spanish is the least of my problems. It’s not quite as bad as trying to find a Beirut bus map, but close.
The sites that I actually managed to find for schools are labyrinths of lists of pdfs that you have to open if you want to know what’s in them. There are plenty of wonky photos of finger painting preschoolers and even video clips of songs in assembly. So many that it’s hard to get past them to find out anything at all about enrolment, school-day times, languages taught, or any of the other questions that have been filling my mind this past week.
One school near my house I discover has, not a website, but a blog. Plus a blog for the parents association of that school, one for its library, one for the preschool and one for extracurricular stuff. All of them dying the slow death of blogs that were meant to be simple websites with the occasional update. Remember back when everyone thought that if you ever wanted to update your online content you needed to do it diary style??? There’s really only so many times you can blog to update the secretary’s opening hours, and to be honest I don’t want to scroll through a year’s postings to find them.
Still, I managed to find the enrolment form used a few years back, when the school still remembered they had a site. I also found details on the points system, probably outdated, but it gives the spirit of the thing.
The places are assigned on the basis of points awarded for circumstances like the following:
- having a sibling in the school (this gets the most points)
- living in the catchment area (next biggest factor if you’re in the right catchment area, or just a few points in a neighbouring catchment area)
- having a parent working in the school
- having a parent working in the catchment area
- having a disability
- coming from a single-parent family
- coming from a large family
I can see we won’t have much of a points capital.
This could easily turn into a red-tape rant but I’m afraid I’m a non-believer. I just don’t think that everything bureaucratic is easier in the UK or wherever Home is. It may be easier for us, but it isn’t for foreigners (though the websites are more legible!). I’ve seen the other side of the coin when I looked into moving back to the UK with my US-born husband. Now that really is paperwork. Actually just getting British passports for my kids born abroad was hard because we didn’t fit in the boxes.
And although you get the feeling that the goalposts shift at times (sometimes getting closer) in Mediterranean countries, goalposts in the UK sometimes feel unattainably far.
I think I’ve done about as much research as I can online. I dare say I shall soon concede defeat and do it the Lebanese way, and without a doubt the Spanish way too: face to face. It’s so much easier sometimes to just have everything spelt out on some easy-to-navigate website, the Anglo-Saxon way. But you can’t buy an education online as if you’re ordering a book off Amazon, any more than you can integrate a real-life community online. And after all, there’s nothing like actually talking to the relevant people in the actual context. You get all sorts of perks you don’t get doing things the impersonal way.
Anyone else going through/been through the whole procedure? Any advice on what to expect? This whole school thing is new to me but I’ve plunged into a few other blogs to get an idea of what we’re in for, including this one and this one. Next on my list is a trip to the Department of Education at the town hall, and some real-people-research to work out what is considered a “good” school in Spain and what factors we hold to be the most important in our choice.
Although I do OPOL English with my kids I am still trying to indirectly bolster the French they get with their dad. We aim for consistent OPOL-ing, but we do allow ourselves to sing in other languages. Another good way I try is through books. Songs and books seem to work well as an exception to the OPOL rule, without undermining our consistency the rest of the time. It’s a bit like playacting, so it seems alright to transgress, as it were, into the other language, without fear of abandoning the spirit of OPOL. My husband, though, allows less transgression since his is the language with less support, while I actively seek to redress the balance of languages by making some of the kids’ “English time” with me count as “French time” by reading and singing in French…and occasionally in Arabic.
In theory I’d prefer authentic resources in a target language. However, I’m short of some good suggestions for really lovely French books, and I don’t want to order a huge selection from Amazon, only to be disappointed. So in the meantime I have acquired a couple of translations. After my three-year old was given some Julia Donaldson CDs, including The Gruffalo, I got the French and Arabic versions of the book (more on the Arabic later).
The whole collection has been quite a hit. The French translation is beautifully done and my little Beiruti already knows it by heart. It sticks close to the original without sounding forced. The repetition of “terrible” which rings so well in English has been replaced by a vast array of synonyms in French, a language which prefers to avoid any repetition at all (to the point that it has synonyms for country names eg Outre-Rhin for Germany, and transalpin for Italian).
The only minor issue I had with it isn’t really linguistic, it’s more of a parenting qualm. The mouse says three times to the Gruffalo: “Tu vois, je ne t’ai pas menti,” – ‘You see, I wasn’t lying.’ In the original, although it is clear that the mouse is indeed stretching the truth when he says that all the animals are scared of him, the word “lying” isn’t used. When you are trying to teach a three-year old always to tell the truth, it doesn’t feel quite right to show lying as entertainment and I would have preferred to avoid an explicit reference. Otherwise we’ve been delighted with it.
What have been your experiences with translations? Can anybody recommend some great original French books for 3-4 years old?
One of the problems with moving abroad and immersing yourself in another language is that you forget how to say foreign words in English. I mean all those borrowed words that are commonly used in English. The English language has adopted loads of French words like “ambience”, “connoisseur”, and “rendezvous” (or even fake French words like “en suite”). I’m sure there are plenty of words from other languages that I’m less attuned to as well.
This is likely the last year I’ll get to dodge the back-to-school rush. While everyone else was wrapped up in the “vuelta al cole” in September, I dawdled in the near-empty park with my two little ones, and enjoyed the peace of the library on weekdays. People are curious about why my three-year old isn’t in school, even though, like in most European countries, the mandatary age for schooling is six. Notwithstanding our disregard of popular opinion on the subject, it has been a very interesting phase in terms of learning. Some snippets from the past few months show that plenty of learning (including academic knowledge) takes place when kids are just getting on with life.
- My daughter wants to push keys on my laptop while I’m just completing an online purchase. I’d prefer not to have to start over due to some random button-pressing so I let her hold my bank card and read the numbers with me as I enter them. Next step is to click on “pagar” - pay. When I tell her this, she replies: “There are two words in Spanish for ‘pay’.” “Really?” I ask. “What’s the other one?” She replies: “La cuenta (the bill).” From which I gather that the local café culture has more benefits than just letting us sit back with a café con leche.
- She finds a scrap of card on the floor with a crease down the middle. “It’s a card to send someone,” she tells me, “Can you write it?” Rushing to get dinner ready I tell her: “You write it…you can write Hi or Hello or Dear….” running out of relevant words that she could conceivably decipher on her own. After dinner, pyjamas, stories and bed, I’m clearing the floor and come across the card again. I almost throw the scribbled-on scrap away but glimpse letters: HLO. I double-check with her what she meant to write in case the letters are random: “Hello.”
- I’m reading her Le Gruffalo (yes, in French,): “Une souris se promenait dans un grand bois profond…” (“A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood,” in the original text) and she interrupts to say: “But it says: ‘une sourisss’ “, pronouncing the silent ‘s’ at the end. It’s not the first time we discuss how we write X but we say Y. So we then continue reading the book (which she has learnt by heart in that way kids do) and randomly mispronouncing words the way they are written. A week later, “sur le neZZZ” (“on its nose”) still has her in giggles. In the meantime she is learning the illogical spelling of these words off by heart. “Tonight it’s pizza for dinner,” I tell her, pronouncing it pizz-ah. “And we say ‘peet-sa’”, she replies.
- She is studying a water bottle from the supermarket Carrefour. She points to the E in Carrefour, looks up and tells her dad: “On ne dit pas le ‘e’.” (We don’t say the ‘e’). Since no-one else was saying the word this means she had worked out what it said (in context obviously), pronounced it in her head, compared the spoken word with the letters, and spotted where the spelling didn’t match the usual pronunciation.
She is currently getting 2-3 hours of one-on-one Spanish play a week, as well as lots of passive exposure to Spanish. The rest is probably two thirds English (me) with the remaining third French and English at the same time (mealtimes and weekends). So far it is working, judging by what comes out of her mouth. I’ve even felt we could afford to throw in a little Arabic, so even her 14-month old brother now turns and points excitedly skywards when asked “Wayn el-’amar?” (Where’s the moon?)
Update: More on the French and Arabic translations of The Gruffalo here.