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Old 14.02.2012, 00:02
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High School for 13yr old

Hi, We need some advice. We are returning to Zurich after 10 years living in NZ, having endured 4 massive earthquakes that have destroyed our home, schooling, and daily life here in Christchurch. My son, born in Zurich, and first 4 years there (Swiss German mother tongue at that time) has done his schooling to date in English. We are not expat's (although I am a kiwi) so want our children to integrate into the local community, local dialect again etc, at the same time we don't want to put a barrier in front of him finishing his schooling. (i.e he understands High German but couldnt write / speak it for any examination e.g. Gymi entrance exam in 1 years time).

Does anyone have any advice for bilingual teenagers (or children from cross cultural families) completing their schooling in Switzerland, but not part of the international (and expensive i might add) English schools.

Cheers Steve
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Old 14.02.2012, 10:17
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Have you thought about or considered a bilingual (private) swiss school. There are many around this area, GVA/Lausanne, that offer 2 languages (ie. french/german/english/italian) and the possiblity to continue with the Swiss matura. I believe there should be some similar offerings in Zurich. Use the search function or seach the swiss private school website, link in sticky above.
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Old 14.02.2012, 10:27
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Re: High School for 13yr old

I think you will find the private schools extremely expensive, whether they offer swiss curriculum or an 'international' option.

Do you know the area (Gemeinde) where you will settle in Zurich ? I would approach their school department and make an appointment to discuss options.

They may offer an immersion programme in the language for 6-12 months to catch up his German, before transferring him to the local schools. Either way, I certainly would not be afraid of him taking a longer period of time to adapt to German (and French) and eventually getting where he wants to go - the fast/straight path may be there for some kids, but most of us get there in the end or make career changes anyway even if the 'path' was laid out...

A friend of ours found the best support in the lowest level 'real schule' and although there were lots of kids there with learning difficulties and behaviour issues, he thrived because he got the attention he needed, is not easily led by other kids, and is internally motivated - the teachers at the 'real' likewise loved him because he was smart and well behaved and motivated, so he got very intense help, tailored to his needs, and is expected to jump after 2 years doing intensive courses at 'real' into Gymnasium, but he may be 2-3 years old than some of the other kids, but that is the least of their worries...as long as he can get what he wants in the end...
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Old 14.02.2012, 10:42
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Re: High School for 13yr old

This is a very difficult age to return to CH for your son. Talk to the Gemeinde where you would live and ask them if they offer a special German integration class. Let him focus on German for roughly 6 months and then see if you can put him in 6. Klasse Primarschule. He might have covered maths etc already so that will give him time to concentrate on German and French. Try to get him into Sekundarschule A (maybe with the help of private tution). He can then take the Gymi Prüfung after the second and after the third year. This could work.

Otherwise let him do a KV Lehre with Berufsmatura which will give him to opportunity to go to a University of Applied Sciences for a Bachelor after which he can go enrol in any university in Switzerland but might have to do another Bachelor. The Berufsmaturität / Fachhochschule / Universität track works, I have done the same.

PM me if you need additional info. All the best with your move.
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Old 15.02.2012, 09:52
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Re: High School for 13yr old

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Does anyone have any advice for bilingual teenagers (or children from cross cultural families) completing their schooling in Switzerland, but not part of the international (and expensive i might add) English schools.
Your son is 13, I think you're being pessimistic to assume he won't be ready for Gymi in a year's time. I arrived at 15 and learned French from scratch in integration classes. If it's anything like in the French part of Switzerland, the program doesn't just abandon you after one year of integration class, but also follows you for the first 2 years of Gymi (Collège in the French part). You have all the normal classes, but German doesn't "count" for the first two years and you're also given additional language courses. The first year was tough, but by the time French started counting in 3 years time, I was fine. If your son already has a base of German, he's well placed to do it.

As swisspea said, check with the local schools where you're arriving and get the details of the integration programs they offer.

EDIT: Wrongly guessed age when it was in the thread title all along. Durrrr.

Last edited by Russkov; 15.02.2012 at 11:30.
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Old 15.02.2012, 10:44
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Re: High School for 13yr old

I think one has to remember though that the situation with language acquisition is different in the Romandie from the situation in the German speaking part of Switzerland.
In Geneva I presume you heard heard a lot of French to 'support' the lessons you had. In Zürich the youngster will hear a lot of Swiss German dialect which is often more confusing than helpful.
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Old 15.02.2012, 11:17
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Re: High School for 13yr old

I'm sorry for wht you had to go through, you must be a very strong family!

we are also new to Switzerland although we didn't have big language problems coming from Germany I agree with Swisspea that the best thing is to seek the advice of the local school authorities. in our experience they have been supportive and open to dialogue and will certainly listen to your personal wishes.
they know their system best, are used (the more so in Zurich) to "complicated" and multinational family and schooling situations and will be able to tell you what is best for your son. by the way there is a political will to "discourage" foreign kids from going to the private english speaking schools because in their eyes this is an obstacle to integration (kids don't learn the language and logically will have problems if they decide to stay on and study or work in switzerland).
so I am confident that they will be more than happy to see that you want him to fit in and will help you competently. as others have said there are many routes you can take and still keep all options open for his future.
what I wouldn't do is put him back a few grades in school just because of the language. someone suggested he starts in 6ths primary? but the kids will be far smaller than him, I'm sure my son would feel terrible having to learn with "babies"
my son is 10 turning 11 this year and in 5th primary, my daughter will turn 14 this year and is in 2. gymnasium (8th grade). although they are both 1 year younger than their classmates (coming from the german system, where school starts one year earlier) they have socialised perfectly (and I tell you, at the beginning they didn't understand a word, especially my son at primary, where swiss german is in many cases still spoken by the teachers, too)

all the best for you and your family in your new life, I'm sure it will work out well!

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Hi, We need some advice. We are returning to Zurich after 10 years living in NZ, having endured 4 massive earthquakes that have destroyed our home, schooling, and daily life here in Christchurch. My son, born in Zurich, and first 4 years there (Swiss German mother tongue at that time) has done his schooling to date in English. We are not expat's (although I am a kiwi) so want our children to integrate into the local community, local dialect again etc, at the same time we don't want to put a barrier in front of him finishing his schooling. (i.e he understands High German but couldnt write / speak it for any examination e.g. Gymi entrance exam in 1 years time).

Does anyone have any advice for bilingual teenagers (or children from cross cultural families) completing their schooling in Switzerland, but not part of the international (and expensive i might add) English schools.

Cheers Steve
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Old 15.02.2012, 11:25
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Re: High School for 13yr old

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I think one has to remember though that the situation with language acquisition is different in the Romandie from the situation in the German speaking part of Switzerland.
In Geneva I presume you heard heard a lot of French to 'support' the lessons you had. In Zürich the youngster will hear a lot of Swiss German dialect which is often more confusing than helpful.
True, but I have no doubts he can get used to it. All teenagers are essentially bilingual as they're growing up, you have a certain register that you use or "dialect" that you speak with friends, that is vastly different from what you use with adults. Learning two languages is doable if he keeps his eye on the prize and knows High German is the priority. I went to a school with lots of "rough" kids for my integration class, and I can tell you the French they spoke was vastly different from the ones I learned in class and heard my teachers speak. It sounds like a rough affair for adults with fully-formed brains (hell, even for me now 12 years later), but we shouldn't underestimate kids' and teenagers' capacity to adapt.

If there's one thing that could help, that my parents didn't do (we just moved and I was told to get on with it), is to be perfectly honest with your son and present to him what's facing him in the next few years and what's expected of him. Though it sounds like he's been through some rough stuff in the last few years and doesn't need anything sugarcoated.
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Old 15.02.2012, 12:08
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Re: High School for 13yr old

What Russkov points out is very important, and I know for sure it applies to BL and BS: local language grades do NOT count in the first few years of integration, and the teachers can choose to not count them for a few years after that.

As far as degrees go, some "degrees" are not recognised outside of CH. But if the student gets one, they can then do a masters, which is recognised.
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Old 15.02.2012, 12:13
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Did you read that we had an earthquake here last week? It was a 4.2. Nothing like Christchurch though.
Can you get him starting German classes before you move?
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Old 15.02.2012, 14:16
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Steve,
Don't be discouraged!
I have found that the school system at first seems very closed to outsiders but if you are prepared to persist and also to insist that gymni is the appropriate route for your child, options become available. I think the 2 year forgiveness period in which german is not counted for newcomers to Switzerland applies in all Kantons, it certainly does in LU and SZ. On the basis of my experience I would find an area to live and insist that your child is given a chance in a nearby gymni.Probably if he already understands German he will improve to the necessary standard before the 2 year period expires.
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Old 15.02.2012, 23:33
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Re: High School for 13yr old

I talked to a friend that experienced the earth quake in CH. Hope it was a one off. Re German we are making a conscious effort to speak more Swiss-German at home, which hopefully helps.
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Old 15.02.2012, 23:35
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Thanks for your contribution. It has been very encouraging to hear from someone that has "been there, done that". : )
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Old 16.02.2012, 00:32
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Hi Steve

We had our then 11 year old who learnt German from scratch ( we are English speaking only) in just a couple of months (was placed in grade 6 and then repeated grade 6 to improve her German) and passed the gymnasium entrance test in less than 2 years and most importantly is succeeding at Gymni while also keeping on par with her English thru an Advanced English Placement Program. Her success in learning the language so quickly is attributed to her amazing teachers.... They supported her which gave her the confidence throughout.

The Swiss system works and offers the children various choices. We as parents kept an open mind especially allowing our child to choose whether to repeat grade 6 or go to grade 7 at the local high school. Had she chosen the local high school she would have had the same opportunity to attempt Gymni in grade 8/9.

I reccommend that you'll try the local school system. Watch plenty of your sons favorite movies in Deutsch so he gets well re-acquainted with the sound of the language before you come. He will have to learn introductory French quickly and they commence algebra in grade 7. Perhaps he might have to repeat a grade but assuredly it will be worth it!
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Old 23.02.2012, 14:11
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Re: High School for 13yr old

Hi Steve,
Schools in Switzerland are very good at integrating non-German/French speaking students. Since your son speaks German and you do as well, he is already ahead of most students who do not speak or understand the local language. Age 13 is a difficult time to adapt to a new school in a different language, but it is not impossible. It all depends on how adaptable your son is and the support network he has (ie: parents, teachers, students/freinds).

We moved to Geneva in March 2010 with our then 11 year old daughter in 6th grade and decided to put her back one year into 5th grade. She had introductory French in her previous school. My daughter was put into an integration class in 5th grade for 3 to 4 months and had a French tutor over the summer. By September she was fluent in French and joined her mainstream French class. My daughter was fortunate to have a very SUPPORTIVE TEACHER.

It is very important you investigate the local school your son will be attending. Not all schools offer integration classes. It might be different at the high school level, but I know not all primary schools offer integration classes and the children end up travelling quite a distance to attend integration classes.

Good luck with your move. In the meantime, find some educational websites your son can use to improve his German skills. My children use gomaths.ch it is a website in French, don't know if it is available in German as well.
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