Cultural immersion exchange programme allows Sheffield schoolchildren to learn new language

(L-R) Peter, James and Uli with Kate's Gran
(L-R) Peter, James and Uli with Kate's Gran

A mother from Sheffield is encouraging other parents to use an language and cultural immersion exchange programme, which has given her children a life-changing experience and allowed them to become fluent in another language.

Kate Caroe, 42, from Totley, has credited the ‘brilliant’ programme which has enabled three of her children to become fluent in languages such as French and German.

She says that taking part in the exchange has allowed her children to learn about different cultures and family dynamics, and has even helped them all pass their German GCSE this year.

The immersion exchange programme is run by The Association for Learning Languages (ALLEF), who provide six-month long linguistic and cultural exchanges for primary school children aged between eight and 11, to France or Germany.

Kate, who is a mother-of-six, said: “It's such a great way to learn a language and such an exciting adventure and life experience for them, but hardly anyone has heard about the opportunity so very few people do the exchanges from the UK, they mostly take place between French and German families.

“I studied French and German to A-level but the children have already surpassed me, I think it's an amazing life hack.”

Emma, aged 15, and David, aged 13, have taken part in exchanges to both France and Germany, whilst 11-year-old James has just completed his first exchange to Germany. 

However, before jetting off, all three children had little to no idea how to speak the language, and after six months came back fluent.

Kate said: “It has been brilliant, they've seen how another family works it’s a different culture and dynamic. It makes them appreciate what we do, and they get a sense of independence and individuality. 

“They’ve grow up a lot and become more confident. The other families sometimes have a different birth order so it can give them a different experience. There's also different dynamics at home when one of the children is away.

“It’s a bit sad when they go, but I know they want to be there and they're well looked after. It’s a right of passage in a way towards independence.”

Kate, and her son Peter, aged 9, also recently took a trip to France to meet his potential exchange family for his first trip in January next year.

Kate said: “It encourages them to just go and join in, it's learning but in a different context. It is a different way of learning as they are using the language every day. 

“They start to understand words about six weeks in, and then about two or three months in they can express themselves.

“It’s such an easy and exciting way to learn, it’s brilliant and a real adventure. It’s with them for the rest of their lives.”

Before an exchange takes place, each family has to fill out a form with details about themselves, which is then sent to the ALLEF committee, to match two suitable children from separate countries.

“They conduct home visits, everything is carefully vetted,” Kate added. “You then visit the exchange family to check each other out. The children also get support from ALLEF who ring the children to make sure everything is OK.”

The children have also re-visited their exchange families, with David planning a trip back to Berlin at the end of October.

Kate and her husband Chris are now encouraging more parents to sign their children up for the educational, life-changing programme.

To find out more about the ALLEF exchange programme visit their website.