Sheffield families to discover 'adventure' of language exchanges

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Sheffield mums have spoken about the ‘adventure’ provided by European language exchanges before an event encouraging families to say bonjour to the idea.

The Association of Language Learning En Famille (ALLEF), a non-profit organisation which organises exchanges for youngsters aged eight to 11, is holding an open day in Millhouses on April 6.

City mums Kate Caroe and Alex Hookins said taking part in the culture and language exchanges had been beneficial to their children in many ways.

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Alex’ son Wilfred, aged ten, has just returned to Sheffield after six months living with a family in Berlin 900 miles away.

Alex's son Wilfred and Lenni skiing in BerlinAlex's son Wilfred and Lenni skiing in Berlin
Alex's son Wilfred and Lenni skiing in Berlin

“He is fluent in German now”, said Alex, a home educator, aged 46.

“He got his report card from the school there and received the highest grade for his listening and speaking skills.

“In Germany, children are more independent and there have been other benefits too.

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“He’s made new friends and been able to travel to different places with the host family, he knows much more about the country.

ALLEF Sheffield mums Alex and KateALLEF Sheffield mums Alex and Kate
ALLEF Sheffield mums Alex and Kate

“He’s been skiing in Switzerland, visited Poland and had many experiences that he otherwise would not have had.

“ALLEF is so much more than just learning a language, it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a different culture.”

In recent years there has been a decline in school foreign exchange trips, in part due to the amount of administration required.

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Fewer school pupils also study modern foreign language subjects past the age of 14.

Kate's daughter Emma and counterpart Paula at the Berlin Mini MarathonKate's daughter Emma and counterpart Paula at the Berlin Mini Marathon
Kate's daughter Emma and counterpart Paula at the Berlin Mini Marathon

Mum-of-six Kate Caroe and her children have taken part in multiple exchanges, to Berlin, Bavaria and across France.

For the 48-year-old’s older children Emma, now aged 20, and David, 18, it is possible to see the long-lasting impact of the trips.

They have made lifelong international friendships as well as having their learning, resilience and confidence boosted.

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Kate, who is hoping to welcome an exchange student from Germany later this year,, said: “I studied languages - French, German and Japanese - but I never got to fluency.

“I thought if my children were going to learn it would be best for them to be fully immersed.

“It is incredible to see your child pick up a new language in a matter of weeks.

“Even ten years after their exchange, Emma and David have the understanding and the confidence to relate to other German people. Although they aren’t as fluent as they used to be, they have good accents and an intuitive grasp of the language.

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“Emma is about to graduate from university, and going back to Germany for further study is something she’s considering.”

In ALLEF exchanges, families must first apply before being visited and carefully matched with a suitable family.

They then visit the other party before any agreement is made.

Children are also interviewed separately to ensure they want to be involved.

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Both the child who visits Europe from the UK, and the guest child who visits the UK from Europe, are fully integrated into their new home.

They will attend school in the host country and pick up the language through games, activities and taking part in everyday family life.

The cost of taking part in an exchange is £650, far less expensive than commercial language exchanges, to fund flights for the volunteer co-ordinators of ALLEF.

Families have telephone calls with their children each week and ALLEF also have regular check-ins with exchange students.

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Kate and Alex both said the distance element of the exchanges was often ‘harder on the parents’ than the youngsters involved.

Kate, who is also Chair of Trustees for Sheffield’s Steel City Choristers choir, said: “ALLEF exchanges are a real adventure that’s so exciting and for the right child it improves their confidence, broadens their horizons and understanding of the world.

And Alex added: “If they are nervous about anything in the future, they can think ‘well, I went to Germany when I was ten, so what can’t I do?”

The ALLEF open day takes place at Holy Trinity Church Hall, on Grove Road, Millhouses, on Saturday April 6 from 2.30-5pm.

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There will be the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from exchange children and their families.

Exchange coordinators will also be available to answer any questions.

David Knight, UK exchange co-ordinator for ALLEF, said: “Anyone who is interested can meet people who have already experienced the benefits, and the challenges, at our open event.

“Everyone involved in ALLEF is a volunteer, whose children have already benefited and who wants others to have the same chance.

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“We have all seen how our children have learned to speak another language fluently.

“They have discovered that there are other valid ways of living than the one they know.”

Find out more about ALLEF and their exchanges at

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