And a personal take on the language divide

October 19th, 2010

Robyn asked if I would move to a different language region. Five years ago the answer would have been, “sure.” In fact, five years ago R was looking for a new job and he was considering something in Geneva that wasn’t the greatest move for him professionally (it was a lateral move at best) but he felt that for me, as an English-speaking expat, Geneva would have offered a lot of opportunities, both professional and social. In spite of all the effort I had, at that point, put into learning German I would have made the move. Today the answer would probably be “no.” The difference now, of course, is the Small Boy starts first grade next year: to move now to French-speaking Switzerland would mean to ¬†throw him into first grade in a French-speaking public school having exactly no French. It seems unfair to make him essentially illiterate without even leaving the country. I could understand the unfortunate necessity of setting him back if we were moving to Norway or Spain, but to become a language outsider in his own country, well, it seems a little ridiculous. (R might think differently about that, having studied for a year in French-speaking Switzerland in order to master his school-room French.) So we’re staying put for now.

2 Responses to “And a personal take on the language divide”

  1. rswb on October 20, 2010 8:13 am

    That’s interesting. I imagine Geneva wouldn’t be the worst place to live, actually, in terms of the foreign population. And the lake, although that’s nicer in the Lausanne region, in my opinion. I think my R would like to live in Zurich, and while I would be willing to do it … well, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

    Shortly after the No was born we got a form from the town asking what her mother tongue is/will be. We didn’t know what to say since apparently they frown on multiple answers, so Reto went to the town hall to ask them about it. Apparently it was vaguely related to the schooling language in the future, and they advised us to write “english” so that (assuming we still live here in 5 years time) Nonie won’t just be funnelled into a german-speaking school. But then of course the big question is do we want her to go to a german school? Or french? Or bilingual? Big questions for such a tiny baby.

  2. Jennifer on October 20, 2010 10:27 am

    Interesting that you had to choose the language – we didn’t have that issue here since this part of Bern is pretty much mono-lingual Swiss-German. Knowing that the boys are going to go through school in German – and that I will have to be their advocate, and help them with their homework – is about the only motivation to keep up my German these days. I’ve reached a very comfortable level where I can understand things, read novels, participate in life and have real conversations with people and I feel no need to push past this comfort zone but for the future schooling issue. Chemistry homework in German? Just thinking about it gives me a headache.

    Re: Geneva I think R was thinking of all the NGOs and international organizations that could use my English skills. And the Geneva Writers Group. And the larger international population. (Even the American Women’s Club in Geneva is larger and more active that ours here.). But I’m not sure about living there – for one thing thanks to those very international organizations it’s crazy expensive and housing is scarce!

    As for the lakes, I agree – actually I think Neuchatel is the prettiest – R went to school in La Nouville and I really like it there. Or Luzern. Somehow Zurich, though I love to go there on my get-away-alone weekends, has never called to me as a place to live…

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