More on Welsh Medium Education

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!



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13 thoughts on “More on Welsh Medium Education

  1. This has made me feel happier with my decision to send my little boy to cylch meithrim. I am not welsh speaking myself, but am welsh. Unfortunately, living in an area where welsh language wasn’t very important. I want M to be bilingual. My biggest concern is confusing his poor little head. He is only just 2 and my dad pointed out the other day he isn’t very vocal. I think he’s put doubts in my head that M wouldn’t be able to cope with the differences.
    Brilliant post though! Hope the issues with your eldest manage to sort themselves out. x
    emilygoesforit recently posted…Blogger Profile: GendermomMy Profile

    1. Thank you – hope your little one is enjoying Cylch!
      I’d say the fact that I’ve done Welsh lessons is a real help with the kids and their homework/reading, so if you get the chance, sign up now!! Or have a look at the Say Something In Welsh podcasts – they are great for learning on your own. x
      LearnerMother recently posted…More on Welsh Medium EducationMy Profile

  2. We decided to go down the other route and go with an English medium school. As a non Welsh speaking Welsh parents (apart from the odd word) any help and discussion with school work, would have been hard for us if we had chosen a Welsh medium school. I also worried that learning subjects such as Biology and Geography, would have been hard, if a child has to translate everything back into English, in order to understand what they are learning. Our local schools are all Welsh medium, so it has meant travelling a distance but it has proved to be the right decision. All children in Wales have to take GCSE Welsh, so they learn some Welsh and can choose to expand on that if they want.

    1. You’re right that homework/reading is hard as a non Welsh speaker. I’ve been learning for a while and could manage the infant homework but it’s getting trickier now!!
      Your worries are the same as mine re: science subjects and managing them through their second language. I wish it had been easier to access both sides of the debate when we were choosing…
      LearnerMother recently posted…More on Welsh Medium EducationMy Profile

  3. With our son only being seven months old right now, we haven’t had to face up to most of these issues yet but it was really interesting to get an idea of some of the sorts of questions that may lie ahead. We’re in an area of North Wales in which there are a lot of Welsh medium or bilingual schools, so our son could well be educated in Welsh for the majority of his schooling. This is going to be a bit of interesting journey for my wife and I as neither of us is from Wales, but I’ve learnt Welsh since moving here and use it quite a bit at work. My wife’s also been learning and took our son to a ‘Cymraeg o’r Crud’ (Welsh from the Cradle) course that was taking place at a local library when he was only a few months old. Good luck with the choices that you are facing concerning your children’s education!
    Jonathan recently posted…Parenting clubs shouldn’t just be for mumsMy Profile

    1. It sounds like you’re well on the way to being fluent which is half the battle…and I’d definitely go for early years childcare in a Welsh setting rather than a bilingual one. I chose a bilingual nursery for my kids, but when it changed owners I took the youngest out (the other ones were in school by this time) and enrolled him in a Welsh medium one, and I can see already that this will make the first year in school much easier for him. Good luck to you too!

  4. As a Czech native speaker I would like to share my experience on learning/speaking in English. I got to the point of my life, where English is so native to me, that I am forgetting my own language. What has really helped was to interact with British people and other foreigners and speaking English. I believe the natural interaction is the best way to learn the language. Did you try perhaps find out out about summer camps, after school clubs or groups, which are Welsh speaking? Finding other Welsh speaking friends might help him lot more, they could practice homework together. Another great way to learn to the language and make it flow is listening to films, TV Channels, radio, even it may be too difficult or too adult like. He will start picking up the words he knows in no time. When I lived in Netherlands I could start understanding Dutch after just two months, speak basics after just four months. Being surrounded by the language is the best way I feel personally and it becomes second nature to him in no time. Good luck xx
    katdesigner recently posted…Day 69: Would you like to help? 23 days to go!My Profile

    1. The difference, of course, is that Dutch is spoken and used daily by over 20 million people in 3 countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Surinam), as well as elsewhere (mainly former Dutch colonies). This even leave out Afrikaans, which, if you know Dutch, is easy to understand, and was known as Cape Dutch up until the 1920s. Welsh, on the other hand, is not language of daily life in Wales, save for about 53,000 people, though about 500,000 claim to understand it. (The numbers are likely inflated due to school children.) And, despite the claims, it is not a language of significant world literature, music, or much else. I’ve lived in South Wales for 20 years and have rarely heard it spoken outside of some official context. What I am trying say is that the “immersion” method of language learning will not work with Welsh as there is very little to be immersed in. SC4 is boring beyond belief, as is BBC Cymru.

  5. It is helpful to find your blog! My daughter had just turned 5 and is in Derbyn in welsh medium school. I am English but understand a fair amount of welsh having lived in Wales for 18 years, and can have good pronounciation to the extent that I can help her with her homework. My husband is a welsh speaker but despite all my encouragement never spoke welsh to my daughter and she went to an english medium nursery as a baby/toddler as there were no welsh speaking nurseries in the area. Like your son it took her longer than the other children in her class to settle in and establish her friendship group, the beginning of this year was very distressing for all of us because of this. But now she has some lovely friends and runs in to school. At parents evening her teacher mentioned that she still doesn’t speak welsh and I have noticed that her peers at school are now – most of them have a welsh speaking parent who uses the language at home. My husband is trying now but my daughter gets cross whenever he speaks welsh to her at home and asks him to speak English. Tonight I read her a welsh story and she said she didn’t understand any of it, and then said she can’t speak welsh but the whole of the rest if her class can. I asked her if she would like to go to English school and she said yes! Which I couldn’t believe as she seems really happy in school with get friends now apart from the language aspect. I really don’t know what to do for the best now. I have always had concerns about welsh medium school, mainly because I am more academic than my husband and wanted to be able to help the children with their homework and be a part of their education. I never expected that my daughter would struggle to grasp the language as she has always seemed bright and hit all her other milestones in life early. I am skis becoming concerned about my son now who is much slower with his acquisition of english language and is due to start in the meithrin after Easter. My husband is adamant that he wants both of the kids in welsh school – it seems to be some sort of matter if pride for him rather than thinking about what is best for them. My main concern about switching to English medium school would be the huge upheaval for my daughter who had never cooed we’ll with change. Big I feel now is the time to make that decision before the youngest starts, and before she goes too much further. Do you have any experience of when children from non workshop speaking families start to grasp the language? Am I worrying too soon?? Any advice/thoughts would be much appreciated.

    1. Sorry – about all the typos/mistakes!! I am using my phone to write and messages keep flashing over my typing so I can’t see! Hope you get the gist of it.

    2. Hello, glad you’ve stumbled across the blog! It’s really tricky to know what to do for the best and I couldn’t really advise either way…
      My kids don’t like me speaking Welsh with them at all, but with my eldest I was able to sell him the fact that I needed some help to get better at the language and for a while, that meant he’d speak it to me, maybe your husband could try the same tack?
      I’d also ask for more specific feedback from the teacher – is she concerned that she’s not speaking Welsh yet, or is she happy to see how things go for a while? If you’re worried then I’d make sure the teacher knows as she might be able to reassure you, or at least give you some pointers.
      One thing I would say is the Summer Holidays is a long time to go without speaking Welsh so it might be a plan to see if you can sign up to activities in Welsh for the kids, and encourage Cyw over Beebies. There’s also lots of games on the Cyw website.
      I wish I could give you some more specific advice on this – I could do with a crystal ball myself I’m afraid!!
      Thanks for reading the blog, I’ll be posting some more on Welsh Medium Education fairly soon…

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