Answer the Question - Andrew Halls writes for The Sunday Times

A term abroad can add French polish to any child's skills

I refer to last month’s correspondence about helping children to speak a second language (Answer the Question, February 14). From my experience, I would suggest that if you want a child to be bilingual or almost bilingual, it is better to delay until they can cope with total immersion in the new language and are old enough to remember it later.

At the age of 10, I spent the Easter holidays and the whole of the summer term in a French lycée. On returning to England, I went on to do French A-level and still use the language regularly. I bless my parents for their foresight. 

Fiona Rolt, Towcester, Northamptonshire

A while ago I heard out of the blue from an Old Boy of my previous school. He reminded me that he had come to see me in 2007 to say he wanted to make a new start with his AS-levels, but would have a term or so in hand before moving to another school and starting his sixth form again.

Because he enjoyed French, I suggested he consider spending the term in France. He liked the idea and spent six months in a French boarding school. He later got three As, became a youth ambassador for the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and went to an excellent university.

He was a lovely, positive young man for whom not everything at the time was going to plan: he made a bold decision to step out of the mould and flourished.

Life is short, but it is not so fixed that any variation to the norm can be viewed only with horror. A term abroad, at the right point, especially for a student who is drifting or uncertain, might be a remarkable way of rekindling the fire.

My son is studying for a sports science degree but has decided to take a one-year work placement before his final year. It is an unpaid placement with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and he is delighted.

His university will charge a much-reduced tuition fee, which he can add to his loan, and he can apply for a “reduced-rate maintenance loan” too. He will be unable to take another job, as his new role is full-time. How can he fund a work placement year? 

Name and address withheld

If you take work experience of less than a year as part of a higher education course, the employer is not obliged to pay the minimum wage. I assume this is the position here, although I note in your son’s case that it is not a requirement of his course.

Given that he is working unpaid for so long, perhaps the WRU could allow him some regular time off when he could take on paid part-time work. The National Association of Student Money Advisers (Nasma) may be able to offer advice via its website,

In the end, however, he has made an expensive, if impressive, decision and he may just need to accept the consequences.

Andrew Halls

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