Deciding which school to send your child to is a big decision for any parent. Location, results, facilities, how happy you think your child will be at the school, whether there’s a space for your child, all play a part. And, here in Wales, we have an extra consideration – whether to opt for a Welsh medium or English medium school.
It’s something thousands of parents agonise over every year. When it’s been debated on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page previously, there has been no end of discussion on the pros and cons with many parents admitting to feeling the pressure of making such a big decision. A lot of parents desperately want their child to speak Welsh but worry about how they can support their child through a Welsh medium education when they don’t speak the language themselves.
With this in mind, I’m excited to announce a new partnership between Cardiff Mummy Says and Cymraeg i Blant, a government scheme supporting parents with children in Welsh language schools, as well as those who are considering Welsh-medium education for their children. We’re launching this new collaboration by asking parents across Wales about their experiences on supporting their children with a Welsh education.
Cymraeg i Blant is part of the wider Cymraeg initiative, encouraging people to use more Welsh in everyday life, whether that is as confident Welsh speakers, learners or non-Welsh speaking parents. The Welsh Government has launched a consultation paper on its proposed targets of getting one million people speaking Welsh by 2050. Education is one of the keys to that, with Cymraeg i Blant supporting Mudiad Meithrin with pre-school activities across Wales, as well as out of school activities and online resources for both primary and secondary aged school children.
It was a big decision for Cardiff Daddy and me when it came to our three children. He is English and it took him a long time to be convinced of the benefits of Welsh schooling. I went to English-medium school schools, but studied Welsh at GCSE, A-Level and at even at university. I worked so hard to learn Welsh. I’ve never had the confidence of a first language speaker, and am conscious that my language skills and confidence have slipped over the years. I wanted to give my children the gift of a language while they were young enough to absorb it naturally and confidently through playing and singing.
It wasn’t until Cardiff Daddy got chatting to a friend with children older than ours and who were already in a Welsh medium school that he came round to the idea. This friend is also English, with no Welsh in the home, but said his children were thriving in their school and he had nothing but praise for the school.
Like many parents, Cardiff Daddy had worried about not being able to support our children with their school work and missing out on things like not understanding school plays.
“But,” he says, “it’s not about me; it’s about the little guys.”
He feels the quality of schooling in Welsh schools is excellent and there are so many advantages to being able to speak another language.
Although I do speak some Welsh at home with my children, English is definitely the language of our house.
In fact, in some schools as many as 70-80% of children come from English speaking homes, or homes with just basic Welsh.
With around a quarter of children in Wales educated through the medium of Welsh, schools are well-equipped to support both children and parents. I’m focusing today on primary schools, where homework comes home bilingually, schools recommend apps and resources that can aid learning, and the majority of pupils finish primary school fully bilingual.
It’s also important to remember that children are not just learning Welsh; they’re learning to be bilingual, so non-Welsh-speaking parents have an important role in supporting the children’s English language development and their translation skills too. Both Cardiff Daddy and I have been amazed at our children’s ability to do an activity in one language and talk about it another. For example, Cardiff Daddy hasn’t got a clue when Little Miss E, our seven-year-old daughter reads books sent home from school in Welsh – but once she’s finished, she’ll translate what she was read into English, so he knows she is processing what she is reading.
As part of my ambassadorship with Cymraeg i Blant, I’ve been asking friends across Wales whose children are in Welsh medium primary education for their advice on how best to support your child. Here’s what they say.
I’d love to hear any advice you have for other parents supporting their children with a Welsh medium education.
Bethan, mum of three
Bethan learned some Welsh at school but admits it was very rusty and has been taking lessons since her eldest child, now in year 3, started in meithrin (Welsh language nursery unit). “It’s hard,” she says, “especially finding time for the homework, and I often feel like quitting, but then what example does that show my children, so I plod on!” She is lucky that her work subsidise the courses and the place she goes has a crèche which can look after her youngest child.
She also attends Welsh language pre-school activities and other language events, including Hei Di Ho, Ffa-La-La and the free Stori a Chan sessions run in several libraries across Cardiff. She also went to Llangrannog (a Welsh language activity holiday centre) on a Welsh for the family weekend. “It was great fun and the best thing I’ve done for my Welsh speaking confidence. I’ll definitely go again once my youngest child is a bit older. I’d love to be fluent and am sorry that I didn’t keep it up after leaving school, but am determined to keep it going and am proud that my children will be fluent and won’t have the hard slog of learning as an adult.”
She says it is getting more challenging now her eldest child is getting older. “We tend to chat about it in English and then he gets on with it, which isn’t ideal but he seems okay with it. The teachers are helpful in that it’s all bilingual.”
She subscribes to Welsh language magazines via the school, which helps with reading, and recommends the app Duolingo for vocabulary and grammar.
Annemarie, mum of two
Annemarie has been learning Welsh to support her children with their education. “My biggest difficulty was initially finding a class to fit my language needs,” she says. “I had basic Welsh language skills but needed something a bit more family friendly.” She says the one she found encouraged her to learn in “a hands-on way, not using text books or writing”, so rather like children begin to learn. “It was amazing,” she says, although finding a suitable follow-up course has not been easy.
Annemarie tries to communicate with the school where she can in Welsh, “for example, in their reading logs”. She has also attended language and reading sessions for parents to understand more about what their children are learning – although she would like to see these run on a more frequent basis. She adds, “The homework is pretty straightforward and comes in both languages mostly. There are some learning apps that are great for kids – and me too – that are easy to access, and act as Welsh translators.”
Neil, dad of two
Neil did speak Welsh at school but admits his language skills are rusty, so he’s been brushing up and is considering a refresher course in the near future. “I have been using the children’s books that I read to my son to get back into it. We watch lots of S4C children’s programmes too. He is getting very good at Welsh now at only aged 4 and my wife and I are saying we need to start ramping up the Welsh revision. It is coming back well but there are lots of little ‘linkage’ words missing.” He recommends a learning package called Tric a Chlic, which has catchy songs on it. “It also lets us interact with him as well as learn/ revise,” he says.
Neil is also a parent governor at a rural school where up to 80% of the children are from English-speaking homes. A lot of them have moved to the area from England and Welsh-medium education is their only choice. “I have recently signed up to be the assistant on the school’s Welsh Language Charter,” says Neil. “My role is to engage parents to learn Welsh and speak more Welsh at home with their kids.” Like many schools, his offers a homework club where children can get support with their homework, and a scheme where Welsh-speaking parents go in to listen to the children read. He also hopes to organise Welsh language events and courses for parents to give learning the language a social aspect.
Emiko, mum of two
Emiko has been attending Welsh language evening classes for four years. Her husband is from Wales, but she grew up in England so knew no Welsh until very recently.
She tries to bring Welsh into her family’s everyday life. “At home we play our usual games with the kids but try to do what we can in Welsh – for example, when we play our shopping board-game we use Welsh food words or while travelling try to play I-spy in Welsh.”
She also finds apps really useful. “There are loads of good ones for children in Welsh education and if I sit and do it with my kids, I find it not only helps with their development but is also useful for me to practice too. The school is pretty good at providing ideas of appropriate apps. My children love all the Cyw (S4C children’s programme) ones and they are also keen on some by Big Click – three are called Llawysgrifen, Llythrennau and Rhifau. I also downloaded an anagram one which I like to play!”
She adds, “Before my daughter started school, I didn’t really know any Welsh. I could understand a few road signs and I could pronounce place names. So although I still feel that I’m still pretty rubbish, when I look back to where I started I guess I have come a long way.”
Sarah, mum of two
Sarah’s husband is a Welsh speaker – but as she is the one who supports her children most with reading and homework she has also started Welsh lessons herself. She says, “My daughter having started full time in September has completely overtaken me with her Welsh and is having full conversations with her brother and dad. I will always try to ask about their day and general times around the house in Welsh. My daughter’s homework is letters of the alphabet and words that begin with that letter, we do it together as it helps me as much as it helps her too.”
She has found a great support network of other parents. “The homework comes home bilingually,” she says. “We will usually message on our class WhatsApp group chat to check what needs to be done and if the kids are doing it right.”
She adds, “Since September when I started the course I’m speaking a lot more Welsh and getting my confidence up. My husband is impressed by my progress. My children however are less impressed as to them it’s not a huge effort compared to what it is for me!”
Rachel, mum of four
Rachel has experience of both Welsh and English medium education with her four children. Having moved back home to Wales from England when her eldest child was in year four, Rachel naturally stuck with an English medium school. However, her three other children have all attended a Welsh medium primary school in their local village, with her two middle children now in secomdary school. “I’ve been really impressed with the support that they offer there, particularly for children from English speaking families who might need some extra help,” she says. “It’s a lovely, friendly school with loads of extra-curricular opportunities,” she says.
Rachel says that although she did learn some Welsh at school she “was never any good at it” and her husband is from the Midlands “so doesn’t speak a word”. She attended a Mynediad (entry level) Welsh course several years ago when her second and third children were 5 and 4, but has pretty limited Welsh, understanding some but struggling to join in a conversation.
“What it did give me was enough of an understanding of the phonics of Welsh to be able to read with my children,” she says. “Even though I don’t know a lot of the vocabulary, I can usually work out how a word should be pronounced. Where I don’t know, we simply write it in the reading record for the teacher to pick up in school.”
Like the other parents, she says that at primary school everything came home bilingually.
Now her second and third children are in years 8 and 7 in secondary school. She says, “They are in charge of managing their own homework and if they need help, we either look it up together using Google Translate, ask friends who are Welsh speaking, or I encourage them to go back to their teacher for more help/explanation. Occasionally they can translate for me into English, for us to work on something together and then they translate it back to Welsh. Usually, however, they just get on with it!”
She adds, “I think not being able to help is actually an advantage. I can’t do it for them, so they have always known that it’s down to them! I support them by trying to ensure we provide the right environment at home where they have time and space to work and feel supported, but they know what ever homework they have is their responsibility.”
She says children become much more independent learners as they get older and any assistance that they need tends to be for clarification of an idea or concept.
“I’ve never been one for doing projects for my kids – if they can’t do something by themselves, I don’t think it is appropriate to expect them to complete it out of school anyway. I would rather that they had the confidence to try (and possibly fail) so that they can learn from the process – if they continue to struggle with something – whatever language they are learning in – we will arrange to speak to their teacher about it, so that they can go through it with them again.
“I am really pleased we chose Welsh education. Three of my children are bilingual and have a very positive attitude towards learning other languages. Because my daughter learnt how to speak Welsh, it wouldn’t even occur to her that she couldn’t do the same with another language and is loving learning French. Occasionally we get a bit confused with Welsh words for maths and science, but Google Translate is a wonderful tool and my 12 year old is now helping her younger brothers with their reading and writing when they get stuck.”