There’s so much stuff written about the positives of raising bilingual children – when the Husband and I were researching and discussing which route to take for our children, the messages we received were overwhelmingly positive. Better able to learn other languages, more opportunities in the employment market should they choose to remain in Wales, better results in IQ tests for bilingual children – all quoted here, and all making a very persuasive case. Looking back it was much, much easier to find positive reasons for Welsh Medium Education, than any real discussion of the potential drawbacks.
The BBC article does quote three disadvantages of Welsh Medium Education, (as opposed to nine advantages) – the first being ‘Exaggerating Weakness’ – here’s a snippet:
‘Problems may also arise in other areas of the curriculum when older children are expected to study other subjects in a language in which they are under developed or below the level demanded in curriculum activity’.
This was my biggest fear when choosing this route – that as English mother tongue speakers, my kids would not get to grips with Welsh enough to take on board everything they would be taught in later years. When I asked an experienced educational professional what would happen in this case – whether a child would be able to transfer to an English medium school fairly easily, he looked at me like I was turning into a Zygon (sorry, blogging while watching Dr Who) and said briefly and convincingly ‘That never happens. There’s absolutely no need to worry on that front. Absolutely no need at all’.
I know now that this does happen – occasionally during primary years and more often when moving from primary to secondary. But at the time, it was so emphatically said that it seemed to back up the many reasons for choosing to send my children to the local Welsh school. So I ramped up my Welsh lessons, enrolled the kids in ‘Cylch Meithrin’ (Welsh pre-school) and embraced the challenges of choosing to educate them a language that was not their – or my – mother tongue.
I suspect that this will prove to be a good decision for two of my three children. It’s early days yet for the two younger ones but my gut feeling is that they are coping well and will carry on benefiting from being educated in Welsh. It’s probably too early on for me to make a final call on this but right at this moment, the signs are good.
I am far from convinced that I’ve made the right decision for my eldest child, for exactly the reasons quoted above. He never really took to the language in the same way the younger two have, and now, although he can manage well enough in Welsh, his vocab is still quite limited – we have to look up the meaning of probably 50% of his spellings. To try and tackle this, we did a huge amount of Welsh reading over the summer, but his reading level remains plateau’d – though he has developed an interest in and enjoyment of fiction for its own sake, so it was a worthwhile exercise from that point of view. And at the recent parents evening his teacher confirmed that his language capability, while not requiring intervention yet, is a cause for concern. I suspect that difficulty in managing in Welsh is behind the fact that his enjoyment and achievement of his favourite subject, Maths, has dropped dramatically – as more difficult concepts are introduced and explained he is just not able to process them through what is effectively his second language.
I honestly do not know what to do at this point. Should I hold on tight and wait for the language to ‘click’? Knowing that already, he is missing out on full enjoyment of his favourite subject, and unless his language improves that this will continue to be the case. Or should I look at the options for moving school? This breaks my heart to consider – of the three of my kids, he is by far the least resilient and the least able to cope with such an upheaval. He has worked so hard to establish himself in his year group – (and it is work for him, as the poor bugger gets his social skills from his muppet mother) and to pull him out and start all over again – I am tearful even thinking about it.
So – a rock and a hard place, then. Pull him out from a school he is happy and settled in, but know he will be managing better going forward with academic work, or leave him where he is, knowing if he is slipping behind now that this will be magnified going forward, thus limiting his options for doing whatever he wants to do. (I don’t much care what that is by the way, I just want him to be able to do what HE wants and not have his choices reduced because I chose to educate him in a different language).
I have a plan for the moment – I am going to ask his teacher if we can drop the alternate English reading books we get sent home and receive Welsh ones every week instead. He reads English fiction of his own choice and I feel confident in my ability to carry on doing this with him at home and making sure his English is up to the standard it should be, so at this stage more school led Welsh reading seems sensible. I am also going to find out if I can access some Welsh literacy support outside school once a week – at the moment he is not quite at the level where he would qualify from in-school support but I don’t see the point in waiting until things get worse if we can head them off now.
And that’s where I am right now, but horribly aware that this time next year I will have to make a call on whether to change schools – I think this would be better to do for the final year of primary so he will have established some friends before moving to secondary school. Either way it’s going to be a massive disruption for him and not something to be taken lightly.
If you or your kids have been through this situation, I’d really appreciate your comments or messages, as I’m flailing in the dark here. Thank you/diolch!