Compulsory Welsh in schools

I believe Welsh was made compulsory up to the age of 16 in late 1999, whereas before it was compulsory up to the age of 14. A couple of questions on this as I’m no expert on Welsh teaching. 1, It obviously varies a bit with each individual but what sort of standard could someone have achieved by the end of their schooling? Fluency? 2, Does this mean that the future of the language is actually quite promising given that in the long term most young people in Wales will have a decent understanding of the language?

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Could - with some pretty dramatic changes to the existing approach - could definitely be fluency. As things stand, though, it’s a very different matter. An A* student will probably have at least some conversational Welsh (although usually pretty low levels of confidence in actually using it) - below that grade, I’d expect a very sharp fall.

This will only be the case once most children are in Welsh medium education (which produces genuine bilinguals). Welsh education in English medium is likely to continue to fail as a project, sadly.



Not so much…

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Indeed. I was 16 in 1998, as such my school year was that the last school year that didn’t do Welsh at GCSE as a compulsory thing. Even though 1999 is the given date, it actually started taking affect earlier - i.e whilst I was in Year 11 in Summer 1998, our Year 10 equivalents had already been going GCSE Welsh from Autumn 1997 onwards.

My wife being a couple of years younger than me, completed GCSE Welsh and passed with a C. She went to an English medium school in Swansea. Her oral exam was very much sort of “Here’s what you need to say, please memorise it for the exam” sort of thing. Within a couple of years she had forgotten everything, and when we both started SSIW a few years back, we were at exactly the same level (i.e near nothing) despite the extra 2 years she had on me.

This may be different in different areas, i.e I know a few people here in Aber who went the English medium school who can speak good Welsh nowadays.

I share a similar view to Aran, I think the situation will only really improve if we move towards more subjects being taught in Welsh (a bilingual school) or schools being Welsh as a first language only.


I went to an English-medium school in Cardiff - I completed my GCSES in 2004 where a ‘short course’ in Welsh was compusory, but I choose to do ‘full course’. That’s as far as I got for reasons I won’t go in to, but…

I’d say those on the short course often didn’t take it seriously and would come out of it with very little Welsh they could use.

On the other hand, for my class, like Nicky says, the assessment didn’t mean you could actually use Welsh confidently. We had an individual oral test where we basically memorised what we said, and had a pretty good idea of what questions would come up. The group oral test was literally memorised and didn’t mean any of us could use spoken Welsh. I only really remember the written component.

In university about 4 years later I was friends with someone who’d gone to Welsh school, for some reason the question of how you said a sentence came up and when I tried it, I was so wrong that she laughed in my face! I wasn’t trying to learn anything at that point, but I don’t think it was a very complicated sentence, so shows how little the system back then actually helped you speak.

Another friend is a primary school teacher who gives me the impression that the system has improved since those days, but I agree that the only way for kids to come out confortable/fluent is Welsh medium education.

When starting SSiW a few years ago, the only head start I had from my GCSE was I knew how the sounds and spellings work (words I remembered when they came up would have gone in anyway!). It even turns out my understanding of grammar was pretty poor, and I’ve learnt much more from the subconscious approach SSiW takes.


I did Welsh at school in the 1980s and got a grade C at O level and couldn’t speak a word, which corresponds to most comments above.

It wasn’t complusary though and I chose to do Welsh and my Teachers were really good. So I was motivated and had good teachers - so what went wrong?.

Answer: I was a teenager and life at that age is complicated. I was embarrassed to speak Welsh in class, not because Welsh caused me any embarrassment, but because speaking in front of people in a different way to the way I normally would certainly did.

I got an A in French, but I think I was at the same standard as in Welsh and I was just as embarrassed speaking French.

I wish there had been a way to learn in my own way and have had more chance at conversations. I didn’t need to spend all that time learning grammar and mutations until I couldn’t string two or three fluently consecutive sentences together. That should be the test - can you talk comfortably - if so we’ll do the grammar bits - if not then we won’t.

That should be the approach for all language really.

I never really did English grammar at school - I learned how to spell and the rules about I before e except after c, which turned out to be false anyway - so why so much grammar in other languages?

I think language learning at school isn’t quite hitting the mark even now and it really shouldn’t be that hard - in Welsh lessons and other language lessons kids should be practising talking to each other 90% of the time - a cocophonous nightmare for a teacher, but more fun for the kids and fun is what it should be about.

Imagine an English lesson, where the subject of the lesson was learning all the past imperfect forms of “to be” and how that would go down with a class of teenagers and then if there’s time trying to introduce the concept of conditionals - there would be a collective yawn and murmours of this is a waste of time, followed by I hate English lessons.

I suspect that after a couple of hours of this course then we all start to realise that there are better ways to do it.


I can’t help feeling something has gone horribly wrong with the way second languages as a whole are taught in our schools.

My mum went to school in NE Wales in the 1940s and left, if not fluent, at least a high-functioning French speaker.

I went to school in Canada in the 1970s and left speaking French not as well as my mother but able to get by pretty well in conversation and having read some actual French literature.

My daughter went to what was supposed to be an excellent school in England where you had to do two languages to year 9 and at least one at GCSE. It was taught in such a soul destroying way she quickly lost all interest and left with a decent grade at GCSE but functionally unable to speak a word.

The teachers blamed it on their not having been taught English grammar before starting secondary school, which I thought was rubbish at the time and which SSiW has blown out of the water.

So what were they doing right at the Alud School in Mold in the 1940s that has since been lost?

(Sorry, slightly off-topic rant, but I needed to get that off my chest.)


Thanks, Cat.

I’ve mentioned this before but for some strange reason I left school in the 70s being able to speak German, even though I didn’t achieve particularly high exam levels. As I remember, we concentrated on speaking the language, with a lower emphasis on written work and grammar.

The inner city comprehensive school that I went to trialled some modern (for the time) testing methods, equipment and highly motivated staff members. I know that the level of teaching was superior to that which my brother received in the City’s private grammar school.

Unfortunately, this didn’t last, but I was able to benefit from it. I think that like me, many of my classmates were able to speak the language to some real extent. I was able to confirm this when I later went on a European holiday. OK, so that school was in Newcastle, but my wife had the same experience in the S. Wales Valleys.

I’m fairly sure that things went downhill after that, which is a shame.

I just found an old document on the net which might help to explain what was happening. It’s slightly heavy to read, but free of modern jargon. It does touch on that window when a minority of schools were equipping pupils with real language skills. Hopefully this link will work.