Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve never done anything like this before, how do I know it’s right for my family?

Learning a new language is an important aim of the ALLEF experience, but our first concern is that the children taking part want to do the exchange and will be happy away from home. An exchange lasts 12 months in total – 6 months with your child away and 6 months with a foreign child in your home. It does not suit every child nor every parent, so we recommend you talk about it as a family in detail including all siblings, not just the child undertaking the exchange. ALLEF strongly recommends that you meet other families that have undertaken exchanges in the past and of course meet the family that your child will be exchanging with. At any stage in the process you, or your child, can opt not to proceed.

Does it matter if I am a single parent?

No. ALLEF has done successful exchanges with a variety of families. The most important thing is to be honest about how your family functions when you apply. There are no rights or wrongs. Problems are more likely to occur if important information has been excluded during the application process.

Can twins take part?

Yes. A number of twins have done successful exchanges. Equally, not all twins want to take part and successful exchanges have taken place when only one does. The main decision for parents of twins who both want to do an exchange is whether you want to do them back-to-back or have a gap. Many families choose to have an exchange child whilst one twin is away and vice versa. You need to think carefully about whether twins, or any siblings, doing exchanges at the same time should spend the best part of a year apart, however in practice, this does not seem to have caused any problems.

What are the benefits of an ALLEF exchange?

As well as learning a new language, your child becomes immersed in a new and different culture. Most children who have done an exchange find that they are more confident and improve academically in other subjects as well as languages. As parents, it is hard work having another child in your home for six months but many ALLEF parents have developed new and long lasting friendships both in the UK and Europe by being involved.

I’m interested in an exchange. When should I contact ALLEF?

It depends on how old your child is. The children on the exchange are aged 8-11, so some families make contact when their children are as young as 7 in order to have lots of time to meet the people behind ALLEF and find out more about the organisation. Because it can take up to a year to arrange an exchange, if your child is coming up to their last year in primary school, it’s best to make contact as soon as possible, even if you later change your mind.

Who do I need to inform about the ALLEF exchange?

Before applying you should discuss the exchange with your child’s school.  They are often surprised by the idea of the exchange but ALLEF can help deal with any concerns they may have. You also need to inform social services and this is best done after you have made the decision to apply. We also recommend you discuss the exchange with your wider family and anyone else closely connected with your family. You may find that some people will be quite shocked that you can contemplate letting your child live abroad for six months, but others will be very supportive and enthusiastic.

When will I know whether our family has found an exchange?

All the co-ordinators from all three countries jointly interview and match the families so placements are offered within a couple of weeks after the last interviews.

How much contact do I have with my child whilst they are away?

Your child should not telephone you themselves. We suggest contact initially on a weekly basis whereby you call your child at the exchange family’s home. The call should not be too long, only about 20 minutes, and it should be at different times each week. Other family members or friends should not call as the more English your child speaks, the harder it is for them to immerse themselves in French or German and get the real language benefits of the exchange.

How quickly will my child learn another language?

It can vary. Most children understand a lot after a few weeks. Some will start to try and speak their new language within days, whereas others may say very little for the first few weeks until they feel more confident. By the end of the exchange most children find it difficult initially to get back to speaking English and you may notice they have acquired a different accent. Their English and accent will return to normal very shortly but they will retain their excellent grasp of their new foreign language.

Does the second half of the exchange need to follow immediately after the first?

We recommend a short period of time between the two exchanges of a couple of weeks so that families can reacquaint themselves with each other. Longer break periods can be accommodated if it suits both families.

When a foreign child is staying with us, how should they use the internet at home?

The ALLEF experience is all about immersing yourself in a new language. Therefore, whilst we would hope that children would only use the internet to view sites in their new language, experience has taught us that this does not happen. Unsupervised internet use should therefore be avoided but if you, or other family members, are able to sit with the child while they use English websites, that is fine. Occasional letters to friends and family in their native language are acceptable and often provide something special to look back on.

Who do I contact if I have a problem when my child is away or when a foreign child is staying with us?

Your local rep is your first point of contact for any queries or problems. If they are away at the time, you can contact one of the co-ordinators.

What happens after the exchange?

Many families choose to stay in touch and continue to visit each other, often for years afterwards. How and when you stay in touch is up to you. ALLEF only monitors the original exchange.

If you can't find the answer to your question here, please contact us.

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