Category Archives: Welsh Medium Education

Considering Welsh Medium Education?

I’ve noticed (or rather those clever bots at Google Analytics have noticed) that the most popular posts on the blog at the moment are the ones about our experiences of Welsh Medium Education. I guess the folk stumbling upon my witterings are probably researching the choices for their own children, so I thought I’d do a quick summary of the advice I’d give to English speaking families considering Welsh Medium Education.

  • If you think you might choose Welsh Medium Education, then start learning Welsh yourself, now. You will need to understand and be able to read/pronounce at least basic Welsh to be able to support your child in learning to read, and beyond the early days, the more comfortable you are in Welsh, the more help you can be.
  • If both parents can learn, even better. If one never gets round to it, the reading/homework burden will always fall on one person. Just saying!
  • I’m sure you’d never dream of sticking your pre-schooler in front of the telly, but you know,  in case an emergency arises and you’re all out of organic baking ingredients or non-toxic finger paints then stick’em in front of Cyw rather than Beebies. And watch with them – it’s amazing how much you will pick up.
  • Same advice for the iPad – there are lots of Welsh language activities on Cyw that you can do together.
  • Choose Welsh medium childcare – or a bilingual setting at the very least. The more Welsh your son or daughter knows when they start school, the more comfortable they’ll be in an all-Welsh environment.
  • Even if you are not at all sure that Welsh Medium Education will be the route you choose, I’d seriously consider doing all the above in any case. That way you’re keeping your options open for as long as possible, and it’ll be a good grounding for your child since they’ll learn Welsh from day one in an English medium school in any case.
  • It’s very easy to find out about the benefits of bilingual education – and quite hard to find out about possible disadvantages. If I was making the choice again, I’d actively seek out parents who feel that their children have not benefited from being educated in Welsh, to find out what issues they faced and what they did about it. It may or may not have changed my decision, but I’d have felt better prepared for the situation we find ourselves in now with our eldest child.
  • You might well be told, as I was, that children not managing in Welsh and therefore switching to an English school, ‘just does not happen’. Well, it does happen  to some children,  so you may want to think through the implications of changing school at a later date. Particularly if you have a large family. I’d probably switch my eldest to English school right now if he was an only child, but what would going to a different school to his siblings mean to him?
  • When you’re looking at schools, make sure to ask about what additional language support is available to children whose first language is not Welsh. Also, ask where the trigger point is for accessing this support, and, importantly if there is flexibility in this.    If your child doesn’t take to Welsh like a duck to water, you need to know that you’ll be able to identify and act on this as early as possible, and with the support of your chosen school.


So, just some things to think about if Welsh is not your family language, but you are considering Welsh Medium Education for your children. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive guide, just a reflection of the advice I’d give now I’m four years into the journey. There may be more to add as time goes by!

As always, your comments/thoughts/suggestions are more than welcome, here or via @learnermother – thank you/diolch!


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!



On Welsh Medium Education/Ar Addysg Cyfrwng Cymraeg

When I make choices for my children, it’s usually with the knowledge that such choices are reversible if need be. I chose to enrol my daughter in ballet at 4 as she was forever pirouetting around the house – it became clear fairly quickly that she enjoyed pirouetting at her own pace, for her own games, but was not remotely interested in learning how to pirouette properly. Fine – we stopped ballet, sold the tutu, and nobody’s any the worse off. (Well, unless you count the astronomical cost of a couple of terms lessons…)  Other choices I make, I am 100% confident in my reasons for making them, so they don’t need to be reversible. Like swimming – that’s one of my non-negotiables – they all have swimming lessons, whether they like it or not, because ultimately it’s something that could save their life.

But some choices aren’t clear cut, like swimming, or reversible, like spending stupid amounts of money on ballet kit (bitter? not me!). And the biggest one I have come up against so far is choosing Welsh-medium education. If you live outside Wales, that means exactly what it says on the tin – all lessons, activities and socialising happen through the medium of Welsh.

It’s not such an unusual choice as some of our friends over the bridge think; according to Wikipedia nearly a quarter of primary school children, and over a fifth of secondary school kids, attend Welsh medium education. Many of these children come from homes where Welsh is not the mother tongue, however the theory is that because they start hearing and communicating in Welsh from such a young age, they will grow up to be fully bilingual by the time they leave school.

It didn’t seem that tricky a choice at the time, to be honest. We have chosen to make our home here, so it seemed sensible to give our children the opportunity to communicate in whichever language they choose as they grow older. I did quite a lot of reading around the subject, all of which pointed to positive outcomes for children raised bilingually, particularly in terms of the ability to pick up other languages competently in later life. The local Welsh medium school had an excellent reputation and an inspection report to match. And last but not least, there is an emotional connection for me to Wales and the Welsh language – I remember as a child my lovely Grandad (from Maesteg) telling me sadly that the nobody really used the language any more – and I often think now, how happy he would be to know that Welsh can be heard again throughout Wales, and how proud he would be that his great-grandchildren are Welsh speakers.

I did have doubts and questions – Would I be able to help with homework? What if my child couldn’t cope? Would my child feel weird coming from a home where Welsh wasn’t the main language? I took every opportunity I could to talk to other parents, both English and Welsh speaking and on balance, felt reassured by their answers, so we enrolled our kids in Welsh education, and I started learning Welsh in earnest (you can read more about my trials and tribulations as a Welsh Learner here). And what seems like about 5 minutes later, my biggest boy is over half way through his time in primary school, my daughter is about to go into year 2 (that’s infant 3 in old money) and my baby is starting at the school’s new nursery unit in September.

There have been some lessons along the way. I started out trying to communicate with the class teachers in Welsh – I figured it was only fair if I was making the kids learn that they should see me trying too. Yeah, dropped that pretty quick after it once took ten minutes and more gesticulating than a bookie on race day to make myself understood on some banal matter, while a class of five year olds waited patiently to be led into class. I also went through a phase of only speaking Welsh to the kids for the first hour or so after school – but they were so tired from speaking it all day that they’d run home and hide in the shed rather than be subjected to yet more. And I also really, really tried to communicate in Welsh with other parents on the yard – but apart from the fact that it makes me feel like a muppet, in a typical Welsh conversation I miss 30-50% of what’s being said, which makes it hard to take part in any meaningful way, and besides, what if I missed some really JUICY gossip??

Aside from my comedy efforts, the kids have become pretty proficient, and when they have friends around, will happily socialise in whichever language is dominant in that particular situation. They’ll also compete with each other to help me with my Welsh homework, and are equally at home watching Cyw or Stwnsh as they are with Cbeebies and CBBC.

I am not sure however that they are fluent – listening to them, they both use a lot of English words in everyday speech. This doesn’t worry me so much with the younger ones – YET – but as I mentioned before, my eldest is over half way through primary school now and it worries me that his Welsh vocab still seems to have big gaps in it. These holes tend to be around everyday words, which although they are very common, might well not come up in a school setting – for instance not long ago he asked me the Welsh word for shower. So now I am in a massive panic and keep trying to randomly introduce words for other basic items that he may not have come across in school just so I can be sure he knows them. Gah. And although he’s been learning to read in Welsh for four years, and in English for just nine months, he is clearly much happier reading English than Welsh. Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the more a child reads, the better their vocabulary gets, so I’m walking a constant tightrope trying to encourage Welsh books over English books, while not trying to squash his slowly developing enjoyment of reading for its own sake.

The trouble is, I have no idea if this is normal for an eight year old or not. I should make it absolutely clear that I have no grumbles or worries about the quality of educational or pastoral care and support my kids receive at school. But should I be worried that his Welsh vocab is smaller than his English? I don’t know. Will this have implications for his being able to express himself properly in written and oral work when he gets to secondary school? I don’t know. He is very good at Maths – but will he be able to reach his potential once more complicated concepts are introduced which require more mastery of language to understand?  No – I don’t know the answer to that either. Am I just adding another layer of difficulty on to his school life that he could do without?  Possibly. All these questions, and more, are constantly swimming around my head.

We’re currently waiting for the new National Test results in literacy and numeracy. As there are tests in both English and Welsh, I hope they will give us a steer on whether he is holding his own in both languages or not. I really, really hope that he is. But if he’s not – what then?  Switching to English school, now or at secondary level, would be drastic for a child who doesn’t cope well with change and who is has only recently begun to grow into himself socially. It’s a nightmare to even begin to work out what the least worst scenario is here.

I would love to hear from any parents who have faced the same worries, and how it turned out for you – and I’d especially like to hear from folk who went though Welsh medium education themselves, and their thoughts on it now. Feel free to comment below, or tweet or mail me.