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Old 01.08.2020, 16:10
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Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

We're looking to relocate from the UK to Basel (likely Basel Land) in the autumn with our two children (11 & 7 years old). Neither children have any German language skills, let alone Swiss German.

As it would be a permanent move we'd be looking to enroll them both into the local school system. Both children seem excited for the potential move and we're relaxed about our 7 year old's ability to integrate into school life given his age.

We're more concerned about our 11 year old daughter. She's bright and academical focused and we're concerned that we are putting her into the Swiss school system just at the time of streaming assessments for secondary school. Recognizing this might negatively impact educational outcomes, and future opportunities for higher education, University etc..... based more on her lack of German at this point in time rather than overall aptitude & abilities.

How have others in this situation coped? We're open to our daughter re-taking a year to get up to speed with the language but not sure if is this decision left to the school rather than ourselves? Are there options for streaming later in the school system or retaking the streaming exams? Some topics I've read seem to suggest there are whilst others that there aren't?

Also wondered about people's experience with how their children have integrated into the school environment. Some posts I've read seem to say that school friendship group are made early on an newcomers have a tough time being accepted, whilst others suggest that the novelty of an English speaking child in the class draws in friends.

Any advice greatly welcome, how have things gone for others in this situation , what worked, what to watch out for and what would you have done differently with hindsight?

We're excited about the potential move but concerned that we don't in any way hinder or negatively impact the children's schooling experience and future career prospects!
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Old 01.08.2020, 19:36
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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As it would be a permanent move we'd be looking to enroll them both into the local school system.
Yes. Well done, very good decision. They will learn the language quickly, and be able to join in with local extra-mural activities, and have the potential to make friends, and these for life.

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Both children seem excited for the potential move ...
This is the single most important thing, in terms of their coping with learning German and integrating. The next most important factor is whether or not both adults are also excited, and will embrace the opportunity to learn about the culture, to experience what the country has to offer, and to tackle the challenge of learning German as quickly as possible, and building relationships here. Children follow examples, and where the parents whinge about the locals and local ways, and how much more sense everything made back home, so too do the children.

Children are allocated a place at the local school, closest (or almost closest) to where they live. No competition to get into schools, and everyone gets a place. The only exceptions are for children with a special need which cannot be accommodated in the local school, and "lack of working knowledge of German" can be seen as that, at least temporarily.

In some areas, the children first attend a completely separate school, at least to start with, known as Integrationsschule. In other areas, this is a class in the same school building, and known as an Integrationsklasse.

However it is done, the primary purpose is immersion in German, and while doing that, the teachers' aim is to assess the child's levels ofscholastic ability, so as not to lose what they can already do, and to teach them the relevant empowering vocabulary (of maths, for example), to identify subjects in which they may be far advanced of children of the same age (your son, for example, probably reads and writes more than those of his age, here, but will need to learn to do it in German), to assess how far they are with subjects that are relevant here and they might well have done before (such as French, for example) and also to upgrade their knowledge in areas in which they will clearly be behind (all the subjects about Swiss history and geography and cultural systems).

The time-scale in an integration class can range from a few weeks or months to about half a year, depending on a child's age and ability. Many schools have a gradual transition from the itegration stream into the regular class, starting, say, with sports or music. Since he is young, your son might, instead of an integration class, be put in the main class but have extra lessons in German, and perhaps support in the classroom from a teacher's assistant, at least for some lessons.

Therefore, it's a good idea to bring scool-work of your children's current school along with you. Not just their own work, but as far as possible notes handed out by their teachers, or if possible even buy the text-books (or the teachers' lesson planning resources) and bring them along. This will help the teachers here understand how each child can best make the adjustment.
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Old 01.08.2020, 19:36
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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We're more concerned about our 11 year old daughter. She's bright and academical focused and we're concerned that we are putting her into the Swiss school system just at the time of streaming assessments for secondary school. Recognizing this might negatively impact educational outcomes, and future opportunities for higher education, University etc..... based more on her lack of German at this point in time rather than overall aptitude & abilities.

... We're open to our daughter re-taking a year to get up to speed with the language but not sure if is this decision left to the school rather than ourselves? Are there options for streaming later in the school system or retaking the streaming exams? Some topics I've read seem to suggest there are whilst others that there aren't?
The reason that you're reading conflicting reports of how and exactly when the streaming is done, is that things are done differently from Canton to Canton and even from municipality to municipality.For your daughter, repeating a year might be a very good decision. It is typically taken by the teachers and parents together. If your daughter understands the wisdom of it, so much the better. In Switzerland, repeating a year does not carry the same negative stigma that it does in some other countries, not even amongst the children, and I know adults who can comfortably say that they stayed back a year because they just couldn't seem to cope with x or y (sometimes schoolwork, sometimes the need to develop social skills), and this is not a cause of great embarrassment. Besides, there are so many foreigners here that every child thinks it's completely obvious that the new kids need a chance to learn German.

Since your daughter is bright and motivated, she would do well (as would you all) to learn a little German before she gets here. If nothing else, this will prove her dedication.

Most children, in leaving primary school (and if she can, she should appeal to be allowed to go into primary), go to secondary school. A small minority (depending on your local system) are selected and/or write exams to enter the academic school, called Gymnasium, straight from primary school. Some make a similar transition a year or two later, from secondary school to Gymnasium. Some transition the other way: having tried Gymnasium out, they return to secondary school.

The completion of Gymnasium is called the Matura, and this is a university entrance school-leaving certificate.

The majority of children complete secondary school, do not go to Gymasium, and then learn an apprenticeship. This carries no lower status, here. On the contrary, plumbers, hairdressers, carpenters, and nurses are respected for the work they competently do.

There are many routes to top up an apprenticeship, to become a trainer of apprentices, or to go on to a technical college to do further qualifications.

Some, after their apprenticeships, or parallel to them, complete a Gymnasium, anyway, (perhaps at a school for adults) and then attend such colleges, or to university.

The beauty of the Swiss education system is that - as long as you really gain a proper command of the local language - it is almost impossible to miss the boat. One might take a circuitous route, but there's alway another way to get where you wanted to be, or to where you never could have imagined you might go.
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Old 01.08.2020, 21:35
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

We're in Baselland. We came over from the UK in 2002 with a 4, 6 and 10 year old. They went into local school. We spoke no German, neither did they. It wasn't easy, but they managed.

The schools sytem is slightly different now, but this is our experience.

My son (the 10 year old) was in primary for a year. Then all the teachers, except one, wanted him to go into the middle stream of secondary, as "his German isn't couldn't enough". The schulleiter (like a head or principal, but different) said no. He got the highest maths grade in the test of any in the canton. He'll be bored at the middle level. So he went into the top level (pro gymnasium). He did well at that, went to gym and on to university and has a masters in physics - and is is now married with two kids and an excellent job as in IT.

My daughters went through different routes, which if you search my posting history you can learn all about... There now both at the FHNW (think of old style UK polytechnics), one studying life sciences, the other doing a teaching degree.

At all levels they've heard the same litany "your german isn't good enough". The daughter doing teaching had to get C2 German to be on the course. She heard this same phrase from one of her professors, and exploded. The professor backed down.

Funnily enough, there's one set of teachers who've never said this. That's been their German language teachers...

If you look at the statistics for numbers of kids from parents for whom neither has German as their mother tongue, who've made it to gymnasium and thence to university, you'd see it's almost zero.

When it comes to the law, for the first few years, teachers must take into account the fact that the parents don't have any German when grading. Many teachers don't know this.

Furthermore, the route gym->university is difficult. Very demanding. There are other routes. For example, my other daughter (who was initially sent to the lower level at secondary) got to gymnasium. But after two years, decided to take an apprenticeship at Roche. She did very well. She's the one now studying for a life sciences degree.

The apprenticeship system is brilliant. The Swiss educations system, in general, is very very good. But there are quirks, and it is quite different from the UK system.

It's a huge subject. If you want to meet up and get more detailed information, send me a PM. Maybe I'll get my son involved - he's the one who read the law about education for foreigners.
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Old 01.08.2020, 21:38
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

Thank you so much for taking the time to put these posts together. The education side of the move has been one of our biggest concerns and to see this written out in a straightforward and reassuring way as you have done here is of huge comfort to both myself and my wife!

We're looking at what could be termed as expat areas in Basel Land thinking thinking that the schools in these areas would have the greatest experience of supporting children without German in developing their language skills. Is this the best approach to take or is there a risk that there's so many English speaking children already in the class that the children don't integrate as quickly?
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Old 01.08.2020, 21:41
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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Some, after their apprenticeships, or parallel to them, complete a Gymnasium, anyway, (perhaps at a school for adults) and then attend such colleges, or to university.
Not quite the case. Many apprenticeships are quite advanced. Some need a gym mature to even apply. After an apprenticeship, kids can either do a year's effort to get them into university. Or a slightly less arduous one that gets them into FHS. With an FHS degree (depending which one, but the FHNW, definitely) you can do a masters in Switzerland and many other countries.
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Old 01.08.2020, 21:43
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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Thank you so much for taking the time to put these posts together. The education side of the move has been one of our biggest concerns and to see this written out in a straightforward and reassuring way as you have done here is of huge comfort to both myself and my wife!

We're looking at what could be termed as expat areas in Basel Land thinking thinking that the schools in these areas would have the greatest experience of supporting children without German in developing their language skills. Is this the best approach to take or is there a risk that there's so many English speaking children already in the class that the children don't integrate as quickly?
Unless you go out to the boondocks, it really doesn't matter. Muttenz, Bubendorf, Münchenstein, Binningen, Bottmingen, Oberwil, Therwil, Ettingen... all have many UK foreigners

The more German you and your eldest kids can acquire before getting here, the better.
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Old 01.08.2020, 21:54
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

Thanks NotAllThere - it's very reassuring to read about a family who made the move successfully in similar circumstances (kids ages) to ours, and also the multiple routes into varied careers, compared to the UK focus solely on GCSE/A-Level/Uni route. I'll take a look through your other posts to understand more and will take you up on that PM offer!
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Old 01.08.2020, 23:03
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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We're looking at what could be termed as expat areas in Basel Land thinking thinking that the schools in these areas would have the greatest experience of supporting children without German in developing their language skills. Is this the best approach to take or is there a risk that there's so many English speaking children already in the class that the children don't integrate as quickly?
The schools are equipped to support children in learning German, and your children will encounter German-speakers daily, and soon speak German daily. The children come from... everywhere. English will be only one of ten or more mother-tongues.

I think that the risk is more for you and your wife. If you place your social circle inside the expat bubble, you run the risk of inhibiting your progress in German.

For an incoming foreign child to make it here, as in: to be happy, integrated, at ease with the neighbours, the teachers, peers and coaches in the sports clubs, doing the shopping, finding their way around, it is not only the child but the parents, too, who need to learn the local language.

Teachers tell the parents this till they're blue in the face, often to little avail, and this in direct proportion to how comfortably the family has nestled down into their own language ghetto. My advice is: don't do that. Instead, from day one, try to speak German everywhere you go, even if it is just Grüezi and danke, to start with. By all means, make some friends who speak English, but try to do the mental switch to living Here, not back There, and speaking local (or at least High German). It really is a question of convincing oneself and then working hard at it.

Each time you meet the teachers, do so speaking a bit more German than the previous time. Each time you get a letter from the school, do the work of finding out how to understand it. This will help your children.

Here's an encouraging post by venetian, from another thread. I like his image of sunglasses in the Louvre.
https://www.englishforum.ch/3104690-post8.html

There are lots of threads on this forum about many different approaches to learning German. Good luck!
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Old 01.08.2020, 23:37
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

I will be more critical. Yes, there are success stories - but there are also others.
Make sure that you understand what this really means for your daughter.
She will have to learn three new languages in order to make it to university directly. German, Swiss German and French. That is a lot to ask from someone about to hit puberty. On top of leaving her friends, having no social network etc.
I am not saying don't do it but if you end up doing it, you need to manage your expectations.

I would say only move if you - and your daughter - are happy with your daughter doing an apprenticeship. Maybe together with Berufsmatura, the "vovationsl matura", giving her direct acces to a University of Applied Sciences where she can do a Bachelor and transfer to University after if she still wants to.
Read up on all the posdible apprenticeships, there are man to choose from.

If you are happy with that option and if the move is really longterm, do it. Otherwise only do it if you can afford an international school for her.
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Old 02.08.2020, 01:22
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

I agree with this, about apprenticeships. Definitely, in Switzerland, the system of apprenticeships is strong and good. Over and over on this forum, there are people moving to Switzerland who are graduates and assume that their children will go to university, quite naturally, because, well because they did. So it's worth pausing to understand the apprenticeships, so that you can see this road as open and valid for your children, if that's what seems best at the time.

A basic level apprenticeship takes 2 years, but most apprenticeships last 3 or 4 years. Many require a pass at the end of secondary school, and as NotAllThere rightly pointed out, some even need a matura as entry requirement.

They involve the apprentice working on two or three days per week, and attending apprentice's school on the other three or two days. The employer has a "trainer" who is responsible for guiding and overseeing the apprentice at work, to integrate what is being taught at school. It is ongoing theory and practice, with theoretical and practical tests all along. With each completed module the apprentice gains more competencies. By the time they pass their final exams, they typically know about a wide range of processes across that field.

Many are amazed or amused to learn that Switzerland offers and apprenticeship to become an office clerk, or a shop assistant, since these are seen as jobs that "anyone can do".

A qualified shop assistant, however, knows about all sorts of tills, about security systems, that a shop has a budget for display material, knows about stock control and minimising damage, has some knowledge of marketing, etc., and can then go on to do further courses so as to become a store manager, or run a company. Or to train in something completely different. And so on, analogously, for all the other apprentices.

I don't know the exact statistics, but it's something like only 15 or 20% of school-leavers (with a Matura) go to university. The others do apprenticeships. Of those, some stay at that level, and others go for the further training, which may or may not lead them to a "Vocational Matura" and university, some years down the road.

Edit: To give you an idea of the diversity, here's a list (in German, but some are recognisable, from English) of apprenticeships currently available in Basel: https://www.yousty.ch/de-CH/lehrstellen/BS/Basel

Last edited by doropfiz; 02.08.2020 at 01:34.
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Old 02.08.2020, 01:35
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

OP, you might find the various threads of kayakdad useful:
https://www.englishforum.ch/search.p...rchid=20354849
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Old 02.08.2020, 12:02
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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We're looking at what could be termed as expat areas in Basel Land thinking thinking that the schools in these areas would have the greatest experience of supporting children without German in developing their language skills. Is this the best approach to take or is there a risk that there's so many English speaking children already in the class that the children don't integrate as quickly?
Being among other expat children they'll probably speak English rather than German, so she won't practice and improve her German outside of school.

It's probably better, at least longer term, to aim for the opposite environment, the less English the better. Unfortunately that'll make the transition all the more difficult.
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Old 02.08.2020, 13:02
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

Ignore anecdotal stories and look at the statistics. The percentage of kids who get into gymni (the university stream) who come from households where German is not the mother tongue is in the low single digits. One of the reasons for this is that spoken Swiss German is quite different from the high-German that kids need to be able to write in (different past tense for example). In fact, there are a lot of Swiss kids who don't write high German well enough to get into gymni.

The questions you need to ask yourself are (i) will you be okay with the possibility that higher-end heavily academic subjects like law and medicine may be out of reach for your kids if their German is not good enough? And (ii), would you be willing to pay for private schools that do the IB for a few years which would give your kids the option to go to uni in the UK if they couldn't go here?

I agree that the Swiss system is very flexible and most people here do quite alright without going to the gymni but just as an FYI, if your kids ever want to go back to the UK it is not clear if UK uni's will accept their secondary schooling if it is not at the gymni level here.

Best of luck.
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Old 02.08.2020, 15:39
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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She will have to learn three new languages in order to make it to university directly. German, Swiss German and French.
Not Swiss German.

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if your kids ever want to go back to the UK it is not clear if UK uni's will accept their secondary schooling if it is not at the gymni level here
Although there is some flexibility, especially for older students, all the UK universities I checked require a gym matura for entry. Most FHNW (applied sciences) degrees are usually fine for master's degrees across Europe and elsewhere. Not all such institutions degrees are accepted - it depends on the curriculum
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Old 03.08.2020, 20:14
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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Ignore anecdotal stories and look at the statistics. The percentage of kids who get into gymni (the university stream) who come from households where German is not the mother tongue is in the low single digits.
This is not really so surprising, as the percentage of school-children who get into Gymnasium at all is, in itself, only something between 10 and 20% of all school-children. It stands to reason that, of those, some are Swiss children who speak the local language of the canton in which they live.
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Old 03.08.2020, 20:45
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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Not Swiss German.

Although there is some flexibility, especially for older students, all the UK universities I checked require a gym matura for entry. Most FHNW (applied sciences) degrees are usually fine for master's degrees across Europe and elsewhere. Not all such institutions degrees are accepted - it depends on the curriculum
French??? I thought at least here English was taught as a second language. My daughter is 1 soon - she's already going to have to learn English, Chinese (mums ethnicity), High German and Swiss German. That seems plenty to me.
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Old 03.08.2020, 21:53
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

In Basel, Solothurn and Berne French is taught from Grade 3, English from Grade 5. In cantons to the East it is the other way round.
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Old 03.08.2020, 22:17
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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French??? I thought at least here English was taught as a second language. My daughter is 1 soon - she's already going to have to learn English, Chinese (mums ethnicity), High German and Swiss German. That seems plenty to me.
Yes. French. Although it isn't necessary for admission to Swiss university, it is necessary for a Gym Matura. And it's taught quite early on.

Swiss German and Chinese aren't required.
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Old 03.08.2020, 22:31
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Re: Relocating to Basel with 11 & 7 year old English Speaking Kids

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Yes. French. Although it isn't necessary for admission to Swiss university, it is necessary for a Gym Matura. And it's taught quite early on.

Swiss German and Chinese aren't required.
Thanks for the info. If you could permit me to ask a follow up question: What if you grow up in Kanton Uri - I thought they taught English and Italian as foreign languages there?
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