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Becoming bilingual


We often talk about supporting children to develop their English language skills and part of the 2015 Ofsted criteria in England is about tracking children's progress in English. However, this blog is going to take a different perspective on bilingualism and look at Wales and the development of Welsh Language skills.

PACEY's very own Shelley Rees will be giving an insight into the Foundation Phase Framework, which is the statutory curriculum for all 3-7 year-olds in Wales in both maintained and non-maintained settings and providing top tips to support practitioners.

Learning a language gives us a sense of belonging and identity. The Welsh Government's commitment to a bilingual Wales is aimed at giving children that sense of belonging and Welsh experiences. 

The Foundation Phase has seven areas of learning which include: 

  • personal and social development, wellbeing and cultural diversity
  • language, literacy and communication skills
  • mathematical development
  • Welsh language development
  • knowledge and understanding of the world
  • physical development
  • creative development.

One key aspect of the Foundation Phase in Wales is the development of children’s Welsh language skills. Practitioners need to look to implement this within the daily routine of the setting, as naturally as possible, to support it becoming part of the child’s daily language and not a classroom-only exercise. Practitioners who are fluent Welsh speakers may not find this much of a challenge and can look to easily embed this into their setting and practice. For practitioners who are less fluent or not confident speaking Welsh, this will feel more daunting. Learning and speaking a new language takes time and practise and everyone will need lots of opportunities to do this. Introducing fun activities where the language is introduced gradually can often be the best way to learn a new language. 

How long will it take children to learn a new language?

Children go through different stages when learning a new language; they will need time to listen to and take in different sounds and words, then map this on to what they already know. Children need this watching, listening and thinking time to absorb everything. Find out more about the stages children go through in PACEY's guide, Introducing Welsh Language.

Reflecting on practice:

Start by thinking where you are currently as a setting. Auditing practitioners' experience and expertise, as well as the resources in your setting will help you to know your starting point. Do you have Welsh speaking parents, staff or Local Authority mentors that can help develop the current practice?

  • What do you already provide? What experiences are already on offer for children? Can I introduce a few words a week into these activities? 
  • What stage are children at and what do they need? Identifying the starting points for children can help you make learning individual for them. Children who are new to hearing the Welsh language will have different needs to children who speak or hear Welsh at home or with extended families.
  • Do you have some vocabulary which you can build on and link to that children already know? Think about signs that we see on the road side? Araf/Slow, Ysbyty/Hospital, colours and numbers are often a good place to start.
  • We can all introduce these words, possibly when the children are running in the park – araf, or when they are role playing – ysbyty.

  • Do you use visual support and pictures to support children's understanding? You could make your own resources linked to a particular theme you may be working on or use playing cards for counting in Welsh activities.
  • Do you encourage children and practitioners to incorporate gestures or rhythm and drama: Use facial expressions to reinforce the message. You could borrow CDss from your local library to play along in the background or during your singing session in order for children to hear the language patterns and sounds. How about using Welsh words when role playing animals or singing the Welsh versions of familiar songs similar to ‘Wheels on the bus’.

  • Praise any efforts children make at trying out their new language skills. They could copy some sounds, a line from a rhyme or try out a new word with friends. Noticing and positively commenting on this can encourage them to try again and maybe say more. 

Top tips for learning new words in any language: 

  • Learn by doing 
  • Use visuals, pictures and photos 
  • Have a relaxed environment 
  • Use music, songs and rhymes 
  • Have a mix of gross motor activities and use movement 
  • Talk to each other 
  • Offer sensory experiences including touch, smell, sound and taste learning opportunities Make it fun! 

Are there any publications that can support me?

PACEY members can access the Guide on introducing Welsh Language, which has lots of ideas to support you. There are also suggestions for activities and key phrases you can download. 

In addition, I CAN's Ready, Steady, Talk is available in Welsh. I CAN's factsheet on learning English as an additional language has many top tips for bilingual learners.

Additional resources

How is my child doing in the Foundation Phase? 

The Foundation Phase

Nursery rhymes in Welsh

Cyw is S4C's young children's website and hosts information in the Welsh language the English language.

Ti Fi a Cyw is an initiative to help you introduce Welsh through Cyw programmes here

Young children are versatile and resilient learners, their brains continually forming new connections. Although we know that language learning is possible at any age, the early years is an ideal place for children to become bilingual for life. With good support children can take the time to hear and use a new language in their setting. 

Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant. 

Shelley Rees is a Quality and Training Officer for PACEY Cymru and has worked closely with a range of childcare practitioners to develop their Welsh language skills, including childminders, nannies, play group staff and youth workers. Shelley has also worked with families that had lost confidence in using their Welsh language skills to upskill and regain their confidence, which resulted in some progressing to working or volunteering within local Welsh medium playgroups and schools. She prepares a monthly Welsh language resource which is published by iChild available to all Gold Members and has produced a Welsh language pack which links to the Seven Areas of learning of the Foundation Phase – ‘Cymraeg Cynnar’ (Early Welsh) which can be accessed via our Welsh workshops or webinars.

andrea turner
Thank you for this blog, especially the links to the Welsh nursery rhymes. Diolch!
06/07/2016 08:39:06

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