The Welsh Government has set a target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Our schools will have a key role to play in pursuit of this. Secondary PGCE Welsh students went to the Urdd Eisteddfod in Bridgend to see if pupils would benefit from the Welshness of the festival…
While observing a Welsh second language lesson in a secondary school recently, I asked a pupil how the teacher helped him to learn.
Max (not his real name): “Miss is good. She speaks a lorra Welsh.”
Me: “How is that good? Beth sy’n dda am hynny?”
Max: “Well, I don’t hear a lorra Welsh. It’s a dead language innit. Like Latin.”
This was one pupil’s response. I know we shouldn’t over-analyse one pupil’s comment. But, it did make me think how much of the Welsh language pupils in English-medium schools in Wales see and hear.
Is it the role of families, schools or government to provide more opportunities for them to realise that the language is alive?
According to the 2011 census, 19% of the Welsh population aged three and over can speak Welsh – 562,016 people. That is roughly equal to the entire population of the counties of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire… and the town of Neath.
There is ample evidence in our communities that the language is alive, but it is more challenging to convince pupils in areas that are not traditionally Welsh-speaking that we live in a country that is naturally bilingual.
One organisation that strives to do this is Urdd Gobaith Cymru. The Urdd is the organization with the highest number of youth members across Europe. Does the Urdd offer good opportunities for pupils to see that the Welsh language is used socially?
The Urdd is an organisation established in 1922 to ensure opportunities, through the medium of Welsh, for young people in Wales (eight to 25) to develop into mature individuals. The Eisteddfod is an annual festival where pupils enter competitions like singing, dancing, acting and reciting.
The Eisteddfod lasts a week during May half-term and many festival-goers benefit from the social element of walking around the field, visiting stalls and catching up with old friends. UWTSD’s stall proved to be a great attraction this year, the cyclone challenge provided entertainment for both participants and observers!
UWTSD’s trainee Welsh secondary teachers spent a day at the Eisteddfod in Bridgend this year. How would they respond to the experience as trainee teachers?
Owain Gordon traveled by bus with his secondary school pupils, leaving home at 4:30am.
“Although I spent about 12 hours there, there wasn’t enough time to see half the things that were going on there! The pupils reached the stage in the ‘cân actol’ competition and were very pleased to achieve third prize. They were even more thrilled to be on TV.”
Kameron Harrhy realised that the Eisteddfod: “Provides the perfect opportunity for pupils, teachers and speakers from all over the country, to enjoy Welsh culture. It was a very different experience visiting the Eisteddfod this year without competing – and see it all from the perspective of a teacher.”
According to Jade Stone: “It was a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the language. It was so nice to see pupils embracing the language and our heritage. There was a strong feeling of pride in the Welsh language.”
Ffion Williams has competed regularly in Eisteddfodau since childhood: “The experience of being at the Urdd Eisteddfod is emotionally exhausting. The experience has opened my eyes to how much work teachers do to support pupils to succeed.”
Rebecca Morgan visited the Urdd Eisteddfod for the first time this year. She studied Welsh as a second language in school. She is now training to be a Welsh second language teacher.
“As a second language speaker, it was amazing how many opportunities there were to speak Welsh around the ‘field’, from buying tickets to ordering food. I would like to encourage my pupils to attend the Urdd Eisteddfod, for several reasons.
“There are great opportunities to compete and develop in a number of areas, such as singing, dancing and reciting. Also, children should experience situations where they can practice speaking Welsh, and in my opinion, the ‘field’ is the perfect place.”
Likewise, Shauna Dummett is training to become a Welsh second language teacher. Like Rebecca, she has experience of Welsh as a second language.
“It would be valuable for pupils to see the opportunities available in Welsh, and also see the importance of celebrating our culture and Welsh identity, enjoying at the same time of course! It would greatly benefit second language pupils see how a thriving Welsh language community and I think this would really encourage them to learn and use the language.”
For regular visitors to the Eisteddfod, a day can be spent catching up with old friends and acquaintances. It can be difficult to walk from one side of the ‘maes’ to the other without stopping for endless conversations.
It is a wonderfully social environment where children and adults alike can enjoy. It is, nevertheless, a festival mostly attended by first language Welsh speakers.
The Eisteddfod organisers are protective of the Welsh language ethos. Welsh is the only language used during performances, displays in stalls are mostly monolingually Welsh.
Second language Welsh speakers can gain such inspiration from seeing the language celebrated with such confidence. We can place our faith in UWTSD’s future teachers to take advantage of these opportunities.
I would love to take Max to the Urdd Eisteddfod just for one day…
- Aled Williams is the Welsh Secondary PGCE tutor at Yr Athrofa (Institute of Education), University of Wales Trinity Saint David.