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Old 10.06.2016, 16:37
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Private schools in Zurich with French

Hello, fellow expats.

We are looking for some advice here. Here is the situation:

We live in Brussels, Belgium and move to Zurich this summer. Our 6 y.o. daughter is to start primary school in september in Zurich after finishing her pre-school/kindergarten in Brussels this summer. This will be the first "serious" school for her, with homeworks, etc. She speaks french/dutch and russian(at home).
We have two primary concerns: First, we'd like to make the move for her easier by enrolling in a school that has french. She is not very outgoing type of kid, nor is she too shy, I am afraid putting her in Swiss school can result in major distress as she won't be able to understand and follow the courses/homeworks properly.
Second, we'd like to keep french for her, and not be forgotten. I'd say first is more important than second.

We'd like to choose school first, as this will help us define where to settle geographically in Zurich.

We seriously consider lfz but not sure about pros/cons against choice of local schools in long-term, and it's far from ideal location-wise.

Does anyone knows of private schools in Zurich with French language or otherwise other good private schools ?
What would you recommend in this situation.

We would very much appreciate ideas/insights/personal opinions.

Many thanks!
Kirill.
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Old 10.06.2016, 17:44
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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What would you recommend in this situation.

Kirill.
It very much depends upon how long you wish to remain in Zurich (or Switzerland). If it is for a length of time (I would say above two years or so) then, barring an specific learning needs, the state school would be my option.

Both of my kids came into Switzerland without speaking any French (although at a younger age) and are now fluent to the extent that one cannot tell them apart from the Swiss kids based upon language knowledge or accent.

Your daughter will struggle for a few months, but the schools do lay on intensive language tuition and your daughter will start speaking German. Since French is a Swiss national language, there will (eventually) be classes in it.

Each parent has to make his or her own decision, but we have never, ever, regretted sending our kids to the local state schools.

Good luck.
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Old 10.06.2016, 18:13
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

Do you really want to make a financial commitment of 28'000 CHF/year for 12 years when it really isnt necessary at the age of your child?
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Old 10.06.2016, 20:01
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Thanks, @Tuborg.

Yes, we plan to stay for a long period.
If we take your advice and go for local school, what would you recommend to choose the school wisely ?

Do you remember from which year/class they teach french in local schools in zurich ?

@Tilla
The main idea was avoiding too much stress, at all costs. May be there is another option to do that.
With LFZ, we thought may be going for a few years till she gets grasp of german/swiss, then changing for local school.
Does it make any sense ?

Last edited by 3Wishes; 25.06.2016 at 22:02. Reason: merging consecutive replies
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Old 10.06.2016, 20:22
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

If you are here for the long run, then the Swiss schools are a good way for your daughter to make the transition BE-CH. she is already at an advantage as she is already a polyglot. These kids are usually more capable of picking up another language, than monolingual kids.

Our own experience was this - our son was almost 5 when we moved here, and he spoke English and Dutch fluently. It took him 8 months to learn Swiss German. We encouraged him to use Dutch words when he just started, as there are some words which are similar, and he had more chances of being understood by the other kids in Dutch, than in English! It worked, with a few hiccups! He was also given Hoch Deutsch classes (all paid for by our local gemeinde), and it seems that he may not need to go back next school year, as his level is deemed good!

Good luck for your forthcoming adventure!
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Old 10.06.2016, 21:32
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

Nope, if you ask me it makes no sense. She wont really learn enough German to be able to transition smoothly to Swiss school later. Meaning she will be at the same disadvantage later and you will be poorer. Got plenty of friends in that situation.

I would put her in Swiss school. Make use of all the support you will get from the Gemeinde/City for her to learn German. Then, if you run in to issues or problems when she is older, then I would spend my money on a private school.

A new school and new country is stress regardless. A new language in addition wont make much difference. And she will have the huge advantage if having friends where she lives!

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@Tilla
The main idea was avoiding too much stress, at all costs. May be there is another option to do that.
With LFZ, we thought may be going for a few years till she gets grasp of german/swiss, then changing for local school.
Does it make any sense ?
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Old 11.06.2016, 14:31
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

The problem's not only going to be the language, but making and visiting her new friends. If she's in an international school unless you're living in the same area as many of the parents, the local kids won't be going to the same school and friends from the international school may live many kilometers away. This would be the case no matter what age she is, if she ultimately switches from international to local.

Swiss schools are very good at helping with language learning and at that age she'll pick up German in no time, especially if she already has some Dutch knowledge. And while you might want her to keep up her French, day-to-day life in Zurich will be in German - what she sees, what she hears, what she experiences. If she's not learning German then she's going to feel more isolated/stressed because she can't speak with others or understand what's happening around her. Keeping her French up shouldn't be too difficult with books, videos and you speaking it to her at home and eventually French lessons will be added at school as she grows up.

You don't really choose public schools here as they're all good. It's not like the UK where there's a wide variation. She'll go to the school nearest to where you live.
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Old 11.06.2016, 14:52
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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The problem's not only going to be the language, but making and visiting her new friends. If she's in an international school unless you're living in the same area as many of the parents, the local kids won't be going to the same school and friends from the international school may live many kilometers away. This would be the case no matter what age she is, if she ultimately switches from international to local.

Swiss schools are very good at helping with language learning and at that age she'll pick up German in no time, especially if she already has some Dutch knowledge. And while you might want her to keep up her French, day-to-day life in Zurich will be in German - what she sees, what she hears, what she experiences. If she's not learning German then she's going to feel more isolated/stressed because she can't speak with others or understand what's happening around her. Keeping her French up shouldn't be too difficult with books, videos and you speaking it to her at home and eventually French lessons will be added at school as she grows up.

You don't really choose public schools here as they're all good. It's not like the UK where there's a wide variation. She'll go to the school nearest to where you live.


I'd concur with Medea here - apart from the "they're all good here as opposed to the UK" comment. I don't think that's particularly fair, or true. There are less great schools here as well as excellent schools, just as there are in the UK and everywhere else.


One difference (I know there are others) with UK schools is that you, personally and as a parent, have absolutely no say on which state school your child attends: the Gemeinde decides. I personally do not like this.
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Old 11.06.2016, 16:58
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

I'm caught on the fence as to how much choice we as parents/humans can handle (in Sweden the freedom to choose between school "flavours" has gone awry and the system is failing itself and lots of young people) however, had we been allowed to have some input when our then 10-yr old son started at the "local" school in CH, might have made the difference between him adapting or not.

Having switched from a school in the UK with 500 students across 6 years (ages 7-13) to one with 19 students across 6 years (ages 6-12) was not great, particularly if one wants to play football at breaktime. The Gemeinde insisted that he needed to go local, whereas the school a 15min walk in the opposite direction (w/a bus option) has classes of 40 students for each class. Our Gemeinde is very proud of the Aussenwachtschule - they now bus students from town outwards in order to justify keeping them open.
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Old 11.06.2016, 22:08
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

We sent our son at LFZ for almost two years, if you're aiming to stay here for a long time I wouldn't recommend it for the following reasons:

1) it's an international school, meaning it doesn't follow the regular Swiss calender and schedule. Translated to regular life, it means that your child's vacation will not always fall at the same time as local kids' vacation (in fact, the French school has 3 more weeks of vacation per year), hence vacation activities and day-care may not be available to you. The school days are also longer, making it difficult to participate in extra-curricular activities not organised by LFZ. In both case, it's a pain and makes it difficult to socialise outside the school and integrate in the local community. I know they are planning to organise day-care on Wednesdays afternoons and during vacation, but as of today our friends have to ship their kids to France if they can't take time off and pay for expensive day-care every Wednesday.

2) so far the German immersion program is not convincing. It's rather new, and they will get there eventually, but if you're child doesn't speak German at home she's unlikely to get fluent as it is today. After 2 years, not only did our son not speak German, he had decided it was a terrible language he bever wanted to learn.

3) you will spend your time driving your kid around to playdates, as the families are spread out in the entire region.

4) it looks cheaper than most private schools, but once you add up garderie (not Wednesdays), lunch, bus transport and extra-curriculars, it's not that cheap anymore.

5) lots of kids come and go, if your child depends on stable friendships it might be difficult for her. Our son has a friend who really struggles each time someone he likes leaves the school.

I will keep out of the discussion about the value of the French system and class dynamic, because it's a personnal opinion and I know many people who are very happy about the school. But we hadn't thought at all about the practical implications when we picked that school.

If you want to invest in a softer start for a reason or another, I can recommend d'Insle and Sprungbrett, 2 affiliated private Montessori schools that offer French and have a sizeable population of French speaking kids. After 4 months at Sprungbrett, our son was babling about in German. They are Swiss run, the teaching is bilingual German and English and they follow the local school calendar. If you both work, they also offer real full time daycare between 07.30-17.30, including during the vacations (closed 5 weeks/year).

I also heard Tandem offers French classes, but I don't know the school at all.

PM me if you have any questions.
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Old 13.06.2016, 13:31
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

Thank you for your answers.
It seems the problem with lfz might be worse than I thought.

What makes it difficult for me thought is to visualize the picture of how and what my daughter is going to do at school without language.

This is a first time she is going to have homeworks. Can anyone exlplain me how this can potentially work out ? I.e. she won't be able to understand what she is asked to do, nor to complete them, and we as parents won't be able to help her either (as we don't speak swiss/german).
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Old 13.06.2016, 15:03
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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Thank you for your answers.
It seems the problem with lfz might be worse than I thought.

What makes it difficult for me thought is to visualize the picture of how and what my daughter is going to do at school without language.

This is a first time she is going to have homeworks. Can anyone exlplain me how this can potentially work out ? I.e. she won't be able to understand what she is asked to do, nor to complete them, and we as parents won't be able to help her either (as we don't speak swiss/german).
Can't help you with regards to public school, except to say that I've heard that they have proams for children who do not speak the local language. Given the proportion of foreigners in Zürich, I would expect them to be well organised.

In our case, the first few months our son had an adult with him pretty much all the time, and the only thing they focused on was language. They also paird him with a French speaking kid who had been going to that school for a while. He switched from LFZ in May 2014 (he was 5), by mid-July he could communicate in English (still had a thing against German) and by October he had switched to German. Two years later he switches painlessly between Norwegian, French, German and English (althoug his pronunciation isn't as good in English), even when he plays alone. In the beginning he would play mostly with the French speaking children, now he doesn't pay attention to language anymore.

He's the type who's very particular about being able to communicate, which is why we were hesitant about sending him to school in German before being sure that we would stay. He tends to clam-up if he's not comfortable, we even drove to Suisse romande for ski lessons the first 2 years because of that. For us, the advantage of a private bilingual school was that they had enough adults around to give him support, as well as the French lessons twice a week where he would feel in control of the situation. Also, with a bilingual school we knew we would understand and being understood. Now he could go to the local school, but two years ago it would have been tough.

With regards to homework, they don't get that much the first year, and in our case we get mostly math and writing homework which don't require much German from the parent. He's starting to read at home as well, but so far my German is good enough to do the follow-up. His reading skills would probably seem weak compared to British or French kids his age, but he reads in 4 languages and we spend a lot of time on identifying which language a given text is in before starting to read.

Remember, for Swiss kids, this is the start of school: learning additions and substractions, reading and writing. You don't need to be fluent to help out, and your German might improve while following-up school work and communicaing with the school (at least it works for me). I expect it will get more difficult for me further down the road, but that gives me time to improve my German; worst case we'll have to hire someone to tutor him.
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Old 13.06.2016, 15:18
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

At six, your daughter may be able to go to kindergarten year 2 for a year, and then start primary school in August 2017! In fact your local school may suggest that as an option just to allow her to learn the language through play. In kindergarten, the kids do not get any homework. Proper schooling really starts at primary school, where they learn basic arithmetic and reading/ writing.

Mamy kids in my son's kindergarten are now 7, and will only start primary school this August.

Depending on the area you end up living in, you will most likely get a lot of help with extra German classes for her. Strangely enough, our local gemeinde does not prescribe German classes to new kids in year 1 of kindergarten, but in year 2. So our son was thrown at the deep end, but with a mixture of Dutch and English, he soldiered on and made lots of friends in his class. Now in year 2, he is in the school's German program, but tbh, it seems more a formality for him, than anything else. He is as fluent in Swiss German as any local kid!
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Old 13.06.2016, 16:07
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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At six, your daughter may be able to go to kindergarten year 2 for a year, and then start primary school in August 2017!
Very interesting.
I just called up Adliswil school's secretary and learned that based on her birth date indeed she would have to go to kindergarten year 2, instead of primary. My initial assumption about going to primary in september was based on her school in belgium.

Wow. Very, very interesting, it's a whole new story now. We'd need to deeply think it thru before making decisions.

May be I can ask already how local schools are organized in terms of curriculum and after-school activities. Is it possible to find a local school with art/painting classes ?
I heard that LFZ (i.e. french system) is stricter (more math and physics). I suppose it means less fun too but prepares better for gymnasium. Does anyone have an opinion on this ?
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Old 13.06.2016, 17:10
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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Very interesting.
I just called up Adliswil school's secretary and learned that based on her birth date indeed she would have to go to kindergarten year 2, instead of primary. My initial assumption about going to primary in september was based on her school in belgium.

Wow. Very, very interesting, it's a whole new story now. We'd need to deeply think it thru before making decisions.

May be I can ask already how local schools are organized in terms of curriculum and after-school activities. Is it possible to find a local school with art/painting classes ?
I heard that LFZ (i.e. french system) is stricter (more math and physics). I suppose it means less fun too but prepares better for gymnasium. Does anyone have an opinion on this ?
LFZ is indeed strict on math and science and has very good figures for succeeding at the baccalauréat (close to 100% success). Do note however that it's the French bac., not the international, and that very few of LFZ pupils continue their studies in the Zürich area. Most go back to France when they get there, as their German isn't good enough. Our babysitter went to Montreal to study engineering because he couldn't get in here in Zürich. His parents live here permanently but didn't want him to go to local school and his German remains very basic.

The situation may change with the new bilingual curriculum, but it's very new and so far rather inconclusive unless your children speak German at home. Of our friends who send their children there, only those who have one German speaking parent can get by in German after 3 years of bilingual stream.

But yes, if you want your child to get a French education, following the French education program closely and preferably aiming to have her study in a French university later, it's a good school, and it's a bit cheaper than the other international schools.

For extra-curricular activities, as far as I know they are not organised by the schools. But there are LOADS of activities in the Zürich area. There are music school (communal and private), theatre, art (a French lady organises classes for kids and takes them to the museum once in a while), workshops in museum (some in French), sports, outdoor activities... We used to enrol our son in the school's activities, but they are rather expensive and I can find just as good cheaper in the local community, which also helps him integrate. I get a little booklet every 6 weeks or so with activities offered during the vacation and during school term. It's in German, but quite self-explanatory.

Where are you thinking of living? If you're not too far, we could meet once you're here.
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Old 13.06.2016, 22:57
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

Local schools usually provide art, as well as handycraft classes, i.e. textile, wood and metal working classes. Our school also offers extracurricular art classes in addition, but we are in Kanton Berne.
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Old 16.06.2016, 14:20
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

Thank you for your helpful posts.
We are now seriously considering going straight to swiss school, starting from kindergarten 2.

If we do this, our daughter is going to be the oldest in her group.
Are there any age-related concerns that I should have ? She might finish primay school as the oldest kid. Is there any certain age limit, that you can't go to gymnsium if you are too old ?
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Old 16.06.2016, 20:41
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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Thank you for your helpful posts.
We are now seriously considering going straight to swiss school, starting from kindergarten 2.

If we do this, our daughter is going to be the oldest in her group.
Are there any age-related concerns that I should have ? She might finish primay school as the oldest kid. Is there any certain age limit, that you can't go to gymnsium if you are too old ?
I don't believe a year or so extra should make a difference for gymnasium,, especially since you wrote earlier that the cut-off puts her in KG2 from August anyway. It's not uncommon here for kids to redo a year anyway.

Being the oldest in the class is, as a rule, a big advantage, and research done in countries where the cut-off is with the calendar year show that kids born in January-February perform better overall than kids born in November-December. The effect lasts for several years, not only in primary. I have a friend in Norway with a December daughter, she was the youngest in her class and really struggled the first 2 years; it's better now, but she's still less mature than the older girls in the class as well as smaller.
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Old 16.06.2016, 20:43
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

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Thank you for your helpful posts.
We are now seriously considering going straight to swiss school, starting from kindergarten 2.

If we do this, our daughter is going to be the oldest in her group.
Are there any age-related concerns that I should have ? She might finish primay school as the oldest kid. Is there any certain age limit, that you can't go to gymnsium if you are too old ?
Why shouldn't your daughter not be able to go to gymnasium? Age has nothing to do with it, only her grades will have to do with it.
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Old 16.06.2016, 20:52
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Re: Private schools in Zurich with French

I had class mates in high school who did an additional year of kindergarten because they were not ready, it's actually quite common. There's also people that even takes a gap year, the so called tenth year.
The age difference doesn't matter much, you identify as part of the same age group of your peers anyway. There's also a lot of natural variation some people at 14 look like they're 12 and viceversa so no problem there either. 1 year less might pose problems, 1 year more for sure not.
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