The right age to start learning Welsh

tri2We’ve talked a bit recently about the problems in secondary education – and I’ve muttered a couple of times that I think language learning really needs to be cracked at primary.  But then I started thinking about my own children, and triggered some lovely waves of residual guilt I have about their lack of Spanish.

Angharad Lliar didn’t pitch up at school (full time from last September) needing to learn Welsh.  She pitched up as a fully-blown Welsh speaker who just needs to carry on building her vocabulary and her control of register – which is probably true of all of us in whatever language we’re speaking.  The same will be true of Beuno Llŷn when he starts doing mornings at school next September.  But despite my ability to get by in Spanish, they didn’t (and/or won’t) arrive at the school gates as bilingual Welsh/Spanish speakers.

From left to right: Swiper (in background), Do...

From left to right: Swiper (in background), Dora, and Boots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It hasn’t been about a lack of desire – or even really a lack of effort.  I’ve spoken quite a bit of Spanish with Angharad Lliar in particular, and she’s got quite a lot of passive Spanish – if I say ‘Come and give me a hug’ or ‘What do you want to eat?’ or (for some peculiar reason) ‘It was the bad little bird’ in Spanish, she understands as naturally and easily as she would Welsh.  She’s had a lot of exposure to films in Spanish, too, and Dora the Explorer – although she now knows enough about language settings to be able to kick up a fuss and demand to have films in English, which she is busy teaching herself at a remarkable rate.

So what was the missing ingredient?

It was just vocabulary.

[So, er, maybe it was partly a lack of effort – but then again, I’ve never tried to hide my fundamental laziness from you all!]

I can spend an evening talking about politics or the economy or (particularly!) learning languages in Spanish and have a relaxed, enjoyable time, scattering grammatical errors around the place like confetti and enjoying the regular surprise of new words adding themselves to my vocabulary without my conscious permission.

Remote control!

But I can’t say any of the things I need to say to try and remote control a child in Spanish – not without thinking long and carefully about it, by which stage she would already have got herself run over or spilt breakfast on the dogs or something like that.  Interacting with children needs to be fast and instinctive – they won’t stay still while you try and conjugate.

Despite buying bundles of different things, I never found the handy collection of orders, threats, bribes and cajolery that I really needed – and that’s why Angharad Lliar isn’t (yet!) a Spanish speaker.

But the little bits of Spanish I did give her were so EASY.

I was amazed at how quickly she matched body language to my intent, and then mapped the verbal cues to the body language – she was like a miniature Bletchley Park all on her own.  If I’d been able to give her more input, I’m entirely certain she’d have hoovered it up without any problem at all – and a wide enough vocabulary to spend just one day a week in Spanish would probably have seen her using Spanish comfortably herself by now.

So maybe it’s not a matter of cracking it at primary school after all.

Maybe it’s a matter of equipping parents with the skills, the confidence and the motivation to make their children bilingual.


Cyw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always caught my attention how many people come to SaySomethinginWelsh with the intention of learning Welsh ‘for their children’, or because there’s a ‘child on the way’, and the parents want the children to have the easy access to the language that they themselves were denied.

We’ve seen many of them succeed – but I know that the content in the courses won’t have been enough for them, and they must have supplemented it heavily by relying on Cyw.

SaySomethinginWelsh mini-course for parents

So I’m delighted to have been able to find some time this week to get to grips with something I’ve been wanting to do for ages – a 10 session quick start course specifically for parents.  After I’d spent ages saying I wanted to do it, Iestyn passed it on as a promise to Twf, the Welsh organisation for encouraging use of Welsh in families – and I started to feel the pressure, and sweat a bit, and mumble about aiming to do something by the end of the year.

But now I’ve got 9 out of the 10 sessions written, so it’s just a matter of finishing off session 10 next week, and then doing the recording (and, in due course, getting it adapted and recorded for the southern version).

I’m pretty excited about it.  I can’t wait to hear the feedback, and what Twf in particular think of it.

And part of me is thinking that if we can get it adapted to Spanish soon enough, I might still have time to help Angharad Lliar add an extra language to her growing Welsh/English bilingualism…:-)


Andromeda Ascendant

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, Ifan is starting next week!  I’m letting my brain cells cool down in the evenings at the moment (as Catrin has disappeared into full speed preparations for the school Christmas fair) by watching the thoroughly silly but rather glorious ‘A for Andromeda‘ science fiction jolly – and every time I think about Ifan starting, all I can hear is a deep voice saying ‘On the website for SSi, hope lives again!’.

Yes, sorry about that.  But it’ll raise a smile for any fellow addicts, so forgive me for now, okay?…;-)

Interesting times ahead!


11 responses to “The right age to start learning Welsh

  1. I feel the same way about not having the correct child rearing language when it comes to my Welsh. Lowri is now almost two and a half and at the start of this journey I read somewhere that when trying to raise a bilingual child each parent should stick to one language only when talking to the child. As a result I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to Lowri directly in anything other than Welsh. In one way it’s helping me out no end by having to look a lot of new words up in the geiriadur but when it comes to needing to say things quickly I struggle and Trace will get there first in English. Also, because she’s only hearing Welsh from me and I work full time I reckon only about 10% of what she hears is Welsh. As a result whenever I talk to her, in Welsh obviously, she will reply in English. It’s frustrating but I’ll keep plugging away. I know she understands a lot of what I say but will only say something in Welsh if heavily prompted.

    A lot of this is slightly off topic but I was on a roll. 😉

    • I think you’ve had the determination that I lacked, and I’m sure it will benefit Lowri enormously – it doesn’t matter what language she produces in, if she’s following you in Welsh, then you’ve already got a very significant amount of syntax and vocab in there for her…:-) I hope the new stuff will be immediately useful for you!

  2. Syniad archerddod! Mae fe’n ddim y rheini, Dwi’n y mamgu sy’n dysgu gymraeg mor bod Dwi’n Siarad gyda fy wyr! Diolchnyn fawr Iawn! Edrych ymlaen e!

    • I should have mentioned that I admire grandparents who learn to help their grandchildren almost as much! [Although I’m told that grandparenting is easier, since apparently you can give them back when you’re tired of them…;-)] I hope you’ll find the new stuff really helpful…:-)

  3. I’m currently raising my son bi-lingual French-English and know other couples who are raising bi-lingal children. I can confirm that you have to be completly consistant with the language you use so that the child recognises that this person speaks this language. In the begining they will just see it as this is how dad speaks, this is how mum speaks and potentially (being in Brussels this is a possibility) this is how the lady at the creche speaks. The child will pick one as the main language (for my son probably French) but will speak the other perfectly. This can lead to some very funny conversations between everyone. My son is still a little baby but I’ve spent time with some friends of mine and their 3 year old son who in one conversation will mix Finnish (talking to Dad), Slovak (talking to Mum) and French (talking to anyone else). It seems incredible when you first witness it but he has had this situation since he was born so it is completly natural. So keep up the good work those of you who are raising bi-lingual children but remember to keep a strict disapline on using the languages, which means that whenever you are talking to the child use your chosen language even if it is part of a discussion with the other parent. Good luck!

    • That sounds as though you guys are having a lot of fun! And that all the children involved will be benefiting enormously…:-)

  4. Any follow up to this story? I’m curious how the 10 lesson course was received. And if it’s still available… 🙂 I have a child and I would having some family themed Welsh words to use.
    So far, he’s saying “hwyl” and “nos da” ….

    • Oh, gosh, yes, that old idea – got them scripted – always seemed to have other fires to deal with that kept getting in the way of them being recorded – they’re still around somewhere, and still not recorded – got some other ideas about app-driven learning for younger children now (which are going to take a fair bit of time and money) – we really ought to try and find the time to record the 10 I did, though. The guilt you’ve triggered might transfer into action some time this summer… 😉

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