A major conference focusing on a cornerstone of Wales’ new national curriculum attracted more than 100 delegates from across Europe.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Yr Athrofa – Institute of Education – hosted a special Languages, Literacy and Communication Conference at its Carmarthen Campus on April 6-7.

Yr Athrofa’s inaugural Research in Education event, it majored on one of Professor Graham Donaldson’s six ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ and examined methods of teaching, learning, acquiring and assessing languages.

One of the most inspiring contributions came from Professor Piet Van de Craen, a neuro-linguist from Vrije University, Brussels, who clearly demonstrated the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism.

Inma Muñoa, from Ikastola Project San Sebastian, showed in practical terms how adopting the CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) approach in classrooms in the Basque Country has developed a new generation of trilingual pupils.

This method, which has been implemented with great success in many countries beyond the UK, involves allowing the second and third language to ‘escape’ the boundaries of the traditional language lesson, and become the medium of teaching for other aspects of the curriculum.

The conference proved to be a useful ideas-exchange, not only between academics and practitioners from different nations, but also from different parts of Wales.

The Gwynedd ‘language centre’ model of immersing newcomers in the Welsh language was energetically explained by language teaching expert Carys Lake, and Ashley Beard a former PhD student at UWTSD revealed for the first time the findings of her insightful research into the teaching methods of what is known as ‘Welsh second language’ in English-medium schools in Wales.

Based on careful research over the course of three years, her recommendations were warmly received.

School teachers, university lecturers, local authority, government representatives and language organisations as well as interested individuals engaged in lively debates after each of the 14 papers.

A special treat mid-conference was a live video link to Ysgol Llangennech pupils who were able to show how they had developed trilingual skills following the Listening to Language project, thanks to the inspirational guidance of ERW language specialist Anna Vivian Jones.

The project is the work of an innovative partnership between UWTSD, ERW, BBC NOW orchestra and British Council Wales, and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

A further musical interlude was offered by a quartet from Ysgol Bro Myrddin, led by music teacher Meinir Richards. Their exquisite singing attracted particular praise from the international delegates.

During the conference dinner, celebrated journalist Ashok Amir, of bilingual creative communications agency Mela Media, gave a keynote address on the benefits of multilingualism, drawing on his own experience as a speaker of a range of languages from Punjabi to Welsh.

He was accompanied by his father in law, Dr Gareth Edwards, former Dean of the Arts Faculty at Aberystwyth University, whose fascinating address threw light on the early days of developing bilingual approaches and methodologies in Welsh universities.

He drew on his experience of working in the same department as trailblazers such as Professor Jac L Williams.

Professor Mererid Hopwood, of Yr Athrofa, said: “It’s a great pleasure to welcome experts from various disciplines to gather together and discuss language in the context of school curriculum, and to lift the lid on the possibilities of learning languages for pupils in Wales and beyond.”

The conference was hosted in collaboration with Cymdeithas Addysg Ewrop Y Rhanbarthau (CAER) – the Education Society of the European Regions – of which UWTSD’s Dr Hywel Lewis is the chairman.

It was sponsored by Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.

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