The teaching of Welsh as a second language in schools

Hi everyone!

This is a call for everyone with experience or opinions about the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools.

I am a primary teacher, and for the whole of the next school year, I will be learning Welsh with Cardiff University through a Welsh Government funded ‘Welsh in a Year’ sabbatical.
This is a pilot project aiming at raising Welsh expertise of English medium teachers in order to contribute towards the one million target, amongst others, by improving provision at their own schools.

Being of German nationality and teaching through the medium of an additional language myself (I started English as second foreign language at the age of 12, following on from French at 10) I take both a personal and professional interest in language acquisition.

Two observations stick out to me (this is specific to my personal experience, and might well differ from other contributors’):

  1. In primary school, the vast majority of pupils develop a distinctly insular knowledge of Welsh, and stay restricted to familiar language patterns, catch phrases and a limited vocabulary. Most pupils will not attempt to rearrange sentences by combining familiar sentence elements and vocabulary into a new pattern. I keep being surprised at how even more able students will not be able to explain what specific words or parts of a sentence mean. In my opinion, this inhibits them from forming different sentences with familiar elements.

  2. (This again is only my personal experience and might differ for others’) I keep meeting adults who, after learning Welsh all the way from nursery to their GCSEs declare themselves as non-speakers, and will openly admit never having used their Wlsh meaningfully after leaving school.

I think both points are a cause for huge concern about the way Welsh is taught in schools. Having gone through Level 1 of the SSiW challenges recently, and beginning to speak Welsh to (and on rare occasions with :wink: ) my Welsh medium educated children, I have begun to wonder how the principles behind the SSiW method could be incorporated into the teaching of Welsh in schools, and what effect this might have.

I am sure I am not the first to have this thought, and I would love to hear from other contributors about the current state of the debate, and if and where attempts have been made to use SSiW methods in school, and what the results have been.

Thanks for reading, and looking forward to your thoughts and experiences!



You raise an interesting subject - I must admit that I saw this post on my mobile first, but didn’t want to answer straight off as I knew this would be something that I would end up writing lots about - so waited to get home to my laptop.

The problem with second language Welsh teaching is that it varies so much around the country - so it is producing incredibly different results. There are of course different methodologies being used across the whole of Wales.

For example, I have a friend who went to what they call a “Bilingual school” in Ceredigion - The subjects are taught about 50% in Welsh and 50% in English, she came out of school totally fluent in both and works through the medium of Welsh now.

On the other hand, my nieces go to a school in Swansea which the website claims is a “bi-lingual school”, however the older one at the age of 8 can only produce stock phrases like “My favourite colour is blue” and “What is your name?” So unfortunately she is unable to communicate with us in Welsh because if we give her any variations on the line she is expecting, she doesn’t understand. She has only been taught to answer the name question with “Nicky ydw i”, so when I answered “Fy enw i ydy Nicky” - she is lost.

The problem is they are not being taught that for example: “Fy” is “My”, “enw” is “name” “ydy” is “is” (in this context!), they are just being taught that this phrase means “that” and not having it broken down to them, so they only know the sentence as a whole sentence, rather than its parts - if that makes sense?

I’ve got strong opinions on it, and I have angered people before with them, so I’ll try to keep them in check here - but I just think the teaching of Welsh as a second language is exceptionally poor across the whole of Wales.

I spoke on BBC Radio Cymru about this last week and I think the line I used was “GCSE Second Language Welsh is Tourist Welsh” - and I think what I meant about that was it was kind of like GCSE French, i.e enough to help you surive in a French speaking scenario, to order drinks and food, to find your way around a town etc - but certainly nowhere near enough to start living and working through a language.

You see so many kids come out at 16 with A*s and A’s in GCSE Second Language Welsh who cannot even string a sentence together - and have never actually taken part in a real conversation with anyone other than their teacher.

My wife (she doesn’t mind me saying, because she tells everyone this anyway!) did GCSE Welsh Second Language for GCSE and got an A or B. She admits that she had no idea how she passed because she couldn’t say more than a couple of things and within a year or two had forgot everything she learned… It wasn’t until taking up SSIW 15 years later did she actually start speaking the language - and then in her words “learned about 1000% more than I ever did in school”.

For me, one of the problems is that schools just don’t give students enough time to actually speak the language. It’s all too guided, all too “written down” and too much about the grammar rules, rather than just getting out there and speaking and then polishing it later on - like you do with your first language.

And also you’ve got the problem of…

Welsh Medium Schools
Kids become fluent in Welsh
and they later become fluent in English

English Medium Schools
Kids become fluent in English
and they later learn a bit of Welsh.

Unless that balance is “re-balanced”, I hold a dim view on how a lot of our youngsters will view and use the language.

There are some good steps being taken in Y Fro Gymraeg (the part of Wales where Welsh is still strong), For example in Gwynedd I believe ALL education now takes place through the medium of Welsh, with the exception of a single private school I think.

In Ceredigion, although they are not going as far as All-Welsh yet, Ceredigion Council have said they are going to change the way Welsh is taught in non-Welsh schools so that all kids become fluent by the time they leave Year 11 - I believe Carmarthen are doing the same as well.


There was a fashion for teaching reading when my friend’s children were young called ‘look ans say’. The alphabet was ignored and words were learned, It was, I always said, like Chinese, in which in most cases, i think, a character = a word. But it is so much easier to ‘grow’ understanding with letters… bat cat sat… And words fit together to form sentences… but now … well what bright spark teaches sentences without explaining which word means ‘me’ and which is the toilet?!! Crazy! Contact Kirsty Williams! (She is still in charge of Education isn’t she?)


We’ve done a few lessons designed to support at GCSE level, but one of our biggest goals is to have the time to build something specifically for schools - or, to be precise, two different things, because I don’t think the full approach is reliably accessible for children until about 10/11.


Part of the problem is that at primary school level you’re asking someone who perhaps doesn’t even speak Welsh to teach the language. Some of the primary schools in South Wales have a “Welsh Language Rep”, i.e someone who is shared between a number of schools and will come in for a visit once a month or so. So it’s not an ideal situation, especially if you’re being taught by someone whose only exposure to the language is during inset days


It is not just a Welsh thing but a UK thing on teaching languages. We just don’t teach people to speak the language, whether that be French, Welsh or German! For any language other than Welsh that is a shame (and a bit embarrassing when going abroad) but, for Welsh, it is a disaster. The answer would seem to teach young and concentrate on speech, not on exams.


I can’t see why we don’t teach Welsh as a second language in some other parts of the UK. I think there are fairly strong reasons to do so. It’s part of the heritage of this island as a whole; we are descended from Britons and Welsh is a Brythonic language. More people from elsewhere in the UK visit Wales than visit Germany each year, and so will get more exposure to Welsh than to German, yet we teach millions of English (and Scottish) schoolchildren German that they are unlikely to ever use. And of course Welsh is differently structured to other European languages. I know some people will say that’s a reason NOT to learn it, but exposure to different language structures can help language learning as a whole, just as learning French can help understand English better.

I doubt mine would be a popular opinion elsewhere in England though…


I think this may be a little optimistic. We have a very bright 11 year old who has successfully done several of the Spanish lessons, but she does find it quite a stressful process. (Until she gets to at least about the fourth repetition - which you may think is overdoing it a bit!) She easily drifts over to Duolingo, which is less demanding and prettier.

@mathiasmaurer is probably the best Welsh teacher in his school. Enough said. :confounded:

(And yes, he’s my other half!)


I think at the very least this is something worthy of a pilot, even if it is only a short scheme of work with five or six lesson plans - loosely based on SSIW materials, where different activities could be tried and developed.

Kids learn a large amount, if not mostly, from each other, with direction from the teacher and it needs tools where kids can develop their sentence structures perhaps within groups, perhaps by learning two or three things independently or in pairs in each lesson. Taking queues from the style and structure of the adult SSIW courses such as e.g. “shwd i wneud e”, “ble mae”, “pam yn ni” etc. “cic yn ei ben nol”. “Y rhai ‘na”, “draw fan ‘co”

Kids could then share and work with other groups to find out ways of combining these fragments with each other and creating sentences – perhaps with examples of how to do it – perhaps where everyone can chip in with their own bits, leading onto short dialogues and maybe after that short conversations.

The overall objective should be to achieve some level of conversational ability, with a limited vocabulary set after five or six lessons. How do you assess conversational ability?? – it’s not the same as fluency, which is a very movable goal. Accuracy and perfect grammar is not really part of the objective – this could be monitored, but the key thing is confidence and learning to play around with the language within a safe classroom environment, where mistakes are received positively.

The key thing as @Nicky says is that non-fluent teachers, which will be the vast majority, will have to have first language speaker resources and voices from somewhere as part of the tools that are used. The hardest thing is going to be pronounciation, without an accurate role model and somehow the resources would need to compensate for that – if that is at all possible. Also will a non-fluent teacher be able to recognise what in fact is happening in a lesson like that and be able to observe and interact effectively??.

Edit: Just thinking of something else - a box ticking, unenthuisiastic teacher would be a killer in terms of enjoyment, but with an enthuisiastic teacher - if the kids actually learn very little, but really enjoy the experience of learning Welsh and it leaves long lasting enjoyable memories of being playful with languages and having the freedom to really talk to each other throughout the lesson in another language, however badly, then that in itself would be a success, in terms of promoting warm feeling towards the language and a desire to learn more.


Hehehe. Fair play to him though for stepping up to the plate.

Out of coincidence, I just went on my niece’s schools website and looking at their Welsh Language Policy. The only member of staff who can actually speak Welsh is the headteacher, who is a fluent speaker - the rest describe themselves (it’s a “self prescribed skill level”) as being Learners.


Oh well it’s out now… :grinning:


Thank you very much to everyone for your interesting contributions so far!

I have recently completed my Masters of Educational Practice with Cardiff University. As it happened, I did mention during my interview for the Welsh course that I would be interested in undertaking a small scale action research project during or after the course.

Leaving completely open what direction this intervention might take, we agreed that it might be an intetesting option once relevant research topics had presented themselves during the run of the course.

Now, I am not quite sure how far the SSiW methodology has made it into the heart of Welsh academia, but maybe a moment might present itself to suggest a small scale intervention, trying to adapt SSiW methods to the Primary classroom. There is a specific passage in Successful Futures, Donaldson’s curriculum review, that encourages the use of technology for the learning of Welsh where such opportunities should arise. This might be an interesting option, as individual device use might be a valid alternative to full class teaching. (There is always hope that the Welsh Government will put their money where their mouth is and start supplying schools with the necessary resources to deliver the new Digital Competency Framework).

This is extremely early days, but if I could convince the powers in charge to consider a small scale intervention to be run in my school, either towards the end of my course, or once I am back full time: would there be interest from other contributors to support me with their ideas, knowledge and expertise?

Thank you for reading.


2nd language teaching was weak when I was at school, which is my experience and it seems not to have improved very much.
At primary school we had a Welsh teacher who covered several schools and just went in to teach Welsh whilst our class teacher escaped to the staff room for a smoke. I learnt how to tell the time, count to a 100, make statements about the weather and one sentence that stuck in my memory " Faint o bobl sy’n yn eich teulu chi?" [How many people are in your family?] a really simple sentence to unravel isn’t it for young beginners, we only needed to remember the answer. We didn’t learn anything useful that i could impress my Welsh speaking Uncle when we went to visit the family.
High school was much the same, i think 2 or 3 half hour lessons a week, diving straight in with mutation exercises and verb forms patterns (in Cymraeg Fyw of course) (Rydw i, Rwyt ti, Mae e/hi, Rydyn ni, Rydych chi…)
Really we just seemed to be taught things that could be easily examined. It seemed so academic before we had a chance to get our heads around the language…
At 10 we got a letter giving me the option of travelling long distances to a Welsh medium school. no-one at my school took up the offer. We also got requests to compete in the Urdd, but no-one organised anything. We did go to Llangrannog for a weekend, had a hours Welsh lesson and then activities for the rest of the day in English, whilst we plotted to get to meet the hot girls from the other school. I was the last year who could drop Welsh for the then brand new GCSEs and that was it for quite a few years.
These experiences taught me that Welsh was difficult and language learning itself wasn’t much fun. I just felt thick, which was a feeling shared with my classmates. The whole experience created this artificial barrier between the Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers. That idea stuck and has done so much damage, by creating this artificial divide in Wales.

I really think they need to take something from the SSiW book and teach people how to speak, how sentences work and build confidence, rather than focus on complexity, that can come much later. Harder to examine, but does that really matter? Instead we could have language acquisition classes, in English medium schools these would focus on Welsh and in other schools the language of the teacher (the language doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t have to be French, Spanish or German)
it’s the same with French, which I did do for GCSE (I couldn’t do Welsh and Music in my ‘options’). When i went to Madagascar, we had about 10 half hour lessons in Malagasy.So when we went to the market, as a group we were much more confident buying food in Malagasy than using GCSE French The stall keepers were very surprised that we couldn’t speakFrench, but impressed that we had some Malagasy. (SSiMalagasy please!) I’ve forgotten it all now, but those lessons were lots fo fun and engaging, and gave us usable sentences, which is what 2nd language classes should be.

I’ve come around to the idea that basically all schools in Wales should be Welsh medium schools. With perhaps a few ‘international schools’ for children who move to Wales later in life until speaking rates are high enough in communities to help the latecomers.

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Sorry - for clarity’s sake, I should have said that by ‘full approach’ I’m talking about the core methodology rather than the existing lessons - at 10/11 (or 9, with my current testing) they certainly need shorter bursts, and a slower initial curve.

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Our Welsh coordinator went to a Welsh medium primary school before changing to an English medium secondary. His Welsh is good, although I am not sure if he still could converse in it, and he is an excellent Welsh teacher. Non of the other teachers speak Welsh, but, given time and resources available, are making a tremendous effort and achieve results that are in line and above with government targets. The problem is that achieving these assessment targets does not require any degree of mastery on any level. As mastery in this context I would understand the ability to use familiar vocabulary and grammatical knowledge to adapt fluently and spontaneously to new contexts and situations.

Oh OK, allowing for general exaggeration, familial preference, artistic licence etc… :sweat_smile:
(Maybe I’ll keep off your thread for a while, this is wierd!!)


It strikes me that the logical place to test out any SSiW-based curriculum would be within one of the designated ysgolion arloesol - innovative schools - that are supposed to be figuring out how to implement the Donaldson recommendations.

What I know of this comes from being a school governor in Gwynedd for the new Ysgol Bro Idris, which is all-age, multi-site, Welsh-medium school. (Prior to last year it was seven separate schools - a bilingual secondary and its six feeder Welsh-medium primaries.) We are one of these schools but I got the impression that there are quite a few around the country. What I can say is that Donaldson is certainly shaking everything up, at least here. Ideas for innovative teaching are up near the top of the list when we’re interviewing teacher candidates, particularly in leadership rôles.

I also agree with the comment on the wide variation of teaching/expectations across Wales. We arrived here when my (American) daughter was 11, just entering the bilingual secondary school with no Welsh at all. Bear in mind that almost all pupils had been through Welsh-medium primary and all teachers were fluent in Welsh. Bilingual here turned out to mean actual bilingualism - frequent language-switching, with both languages needed to follow the lesson. That said, we used to joke that it was called a bilingual school because the teachers spoke Welsh and the parents, only English. (Probably only half of them, but you know how English dominates a room.) Parent nights were like the UN, with half the audience wearing headphones for the simultaneous translation… Following Gwynedd’s policy, my daughter spent her first 11 weeks exclusively in the language unit in Porthmadog. This was expected to give her all the basics she needed to survive back in the school, where she would actually be using Welsh every day and need it for all her subjects. I can’t say it made her fluent: she still won’t use it with me! Also she wouldn’t touch SSiW materials because she said they were too different. I suspect this means that even the language unit, with its vastly greater expectations, could do more to teach building-blocks and flexibility.


I have two grand children, who did not have a Welsh bachground prior to starting school at 4 or 5 years of age. They attended a Welsh medium school and within weeks or months were conversing with the staff in Welsh. My grand daughter is now 16 years of age and is studying for her ‘O’ levels through the medium of Welsh. My view and experience of the Welsh language taught in English medium schools is similar to other contributors on this subject, not very convincing for the pupil. From my experience and seeing how my grand children and their friends have coped with the second language I cannot see why every child in Wales should not be taught through the medium of Welsh. I know there will be objections regarding staffing,imm:sunglasses:igrants etc, but there are immigrants in my daughter’s school who seem to get on with it. Trying to teach Welsh or any other language as a second language is always going to be difficult as there is never sufficient time in a day to practice, but when you are taught through the medium of Welsh you are learning all day every day.


A cautionary tale… (I was in Grammar School from 1953 to 1960, before most of you were born!). In one school I had a friend whose father was German. The school taught French and Latin in 1st year and added German in 2nd year for pupils judged bright enough, based on their exam results in French and Latin. Fay spoke a mix of English and German at home but did not shine in her French and Latin so nobody ever considered that she might do OK in her father’s native tongue!! It seems to me, based on comments in this thread, that not much has changed. BUT… we had a French ‘Mademoiselle’ to help with the spoken language and on BBC TV and on S4C there have been programmes teaching Welsh using methods similar to SSiW, so surely someone in authority should realise the kind of lessons needed???

From my experience, I think that that the teaching of English before the age of seven or eight is a waste of childrens time. We have never had an English Children’s book in our house, never taught our kids how to write or read any English words, the alphabet, phonics or whatever and they have had no English instruction until Year 3 in School (when English lessons kick-in) and even then only a few hours a week if that in school. At the beginning of Year 3 most pupils are reading below the level of pupils in the local English medium primaries, but still almost miraculously starting out on Stage 8 books or higher, with no prior instruction. By the end of Year 3 most pupils are free-reading and writing clearly and with expression at the level expected for their age and I don’t think the teachers or parents can really take more than a little bit of credit for that - the kids generally do it for themselves, somehow (a miracle almost), based on exposure in the wider world and an extra bit iof enthuisiasm at learning something new.

So that wasted time by both parents and teachers, teaching English, before their seven, would be much better spent teaching something else, that they would naturally get less exposure to, like Welsh for instance.