Welsh Language Development

Around half a million people in Wales speak Welsh - almost 20% of the population. Most people living in Wales can speak English, making Wales a bilingual nation. 

When we speak about Welsh language development in early years there are many things to consider. First of all the level of Welsh skills from the practitioner or carer's point of view, secondly the access to Welsh language resources available to the setting. Is Welsh introduced to children? If yes, how often? Is the language heard and spoken throughout the day? Is it offered at an early age? Finally how is the language used by the children as a result?

Many practitioners who’ve grown up in Wales will have had some Welsh language taught to them during their schooling, however it's commonly reported that many have not used their skills in their adult life and that they have little confidence in using Welsh as a result.

Happily, learning something yourself when working with children or even with your own family can be a very productive and a progressive method of learning. By learning alongside the children you will be giving them an opportunity to learn a second or sometimes third language; you will be learning Welsh yourself; and will have lots of opportunities to practise with the children you care for, perhaps with fewer of the inhibitions you may have when speaking to another adult. Most importantly you will be learning through activities and informal interaction which is likely to be in a more relaxed and enjoyable manner.

So why is Welsh so important?

We often hear how giving children the opportunity to learn Welsh at an early age provides them with an appetite for learning as adults, and as we know this in turn provides them with an additional tool for their working life. Welsh Government also has a vision of increasing the number of Welsh speakers to a million by 2050, and as part of this work are supporting a number of work programmes to ensure both adults and children have opportunities to learn Welsh and to be offered a truly bilingual community and country.

Some childcare settings may start with circle time where the Welsh language is used for discussions or song time, this is always a good place to start. However, the aim should be for the use of Welsh to become more fluid throughout the provision and introduced at all levels of service, as far as possible.

To enhance your current provision, think about what is working well and why. Do you have a Welsh support officer, member of staff or even a parent that could help with your vision to offer a more bilingual provision? Have you planned any training opportunities for yourself or any staff which you may have to further enhance their skills? Have you thought of visiting Welsh language events or local activities to further develop skills of both practitioners and the children which you care for?

This reflection can be part of your Quality of Care report, which you may find useful to support an action plan of increasing the use of Welsh within the setting which again will show that you are working towards Welsh Government and Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) Active Offer.

Why not set yourself the challenge of learning a Welsh word a day?

It's easier than ever to learn Welsh. Whether you want to learn online, attend an evening class or follow an intensive residential course, there’s something for you and we have pulled together information on learning Welsh as an adult that will be helpful to you.

A good place to start to work out your current level of Welsh language skill would be to complete the Gwiriwr toolkit. PACEY Cymru, alongside Cwlwm partners, has been supporting the National Centre for Learning Welsh under their Work Welsh scheme with the development of a tool called Gwiriwr. This is a Welsh Level Checker (Gwiriwr) is a specifically designed to help the Childcare, Early Years and Playwork workforce to accurately identify their current level of Welsh language skills.

What have we heard from practitioners from their experience of learning and supporting children with their Welsh language skills?

In additional to ensuring that children within the setting are encouraged and supported in developing their Welsh language skills, childminder Julie has also taken steps to increase Welsh language opportunities within the wider community. As a result, Julie has established a bilingual weekly musical group for parents, carers and children at the local community hall. Open to members of the community, the provision is regularly attended by between 10 and 15 children and offers a fully bilingual service.

Julie says: "Learning Welsh has had a positive impact on my business. I have parents choose me for my Welsh language provision, although the children will attend English medium schools, simply to give their children a better start and in knowing they’ll study Welsh in school whichever one they go to. The best feeling is when children bring back their Welsh Speaker of the Week certificates from school - I know I’ve had a good part to get them to that level."

Providing a bilingual service as a professional

As a childcare professional you can make a real difference to ensure that every child has a chance to become a confident learner.

This work links with the Curriculum Cymreig that the Foundation Phase contributes to where it states that children should appreciate the different languages, images, objects, sounds and tastes that are integral in Wales today and gain a sense of belonging to Wales and understand the Welsh heritage, literature and arts as well as the language. In settings where English is the main medium of communication, children’s Welsh language skills should be progressively developed throughout the Foundation Phase by implementing the Welsh language area of learning.

What's stopping you? Go on give it a go!

Why not start with listening to some stories from Pori drwy stori or listen to Welsh rhymes using CDs from your local library or download them to your digital resources.

Select a few key words a week to learn, write them up and place around the setting as prompts, replace each one as you become familiar with a new word. Visit your local library Welsh rhyme time or carer and toddler sessions known locally as Cylchoedd Ti a Fi.

Don’t forget to visit local heritage landmarks and venues in order to provide an opportunity to hear the language and explore new vocabulary. Rhymes and songs can help to reinforce language development. “Singing is also a good way for children to practice the sounds and pronunciation of a new language. Being able to sing as a group provides them with security – it is so much easier to sing in a crowd than individually.”  Welsh Language Development, p34, Welsh Government (2008)

Supporting Children's Welsh Language Development in the Foundation Phase

For some children the Welsh that you introduce could be their first experience of the language. To support their development, think about how you can provide opportunities through play, story, and structured activities, for children to acquire sufficient familiarity with Welsh. There are some links to good practice suggestions, along with resources and ideas to support you contained within this page.

“Hearing and understanding are the first important building blocks towards acquisition of any language.  As a first step children should hear Welsh through incidental Welsh and Welsh rhymes, songs, commands, greetings, and simple stories in informal play situations.”

Welsh Language Development, p6, Welsh Government (2008)

There are many activities which can support the development of children’s familiarity with and skills in Welsh, for example incorporating Welsh rhymes and songs into your routines, sharing bilingual books, reading and listening to Welsh stories, sorting and naming activities, and incorporating Welsh within simple games and every day conversation. Creating a bilingual environment can also promote children’s familiarity with Welsh. Consider how you can add Welsh and bilingual books, songs, posters and displays, and incorporate Welsh resources within CD and DVD collections. There are many bilingual signs and displays to notice when out and about.

There is a strong recognition of the benefits of children learning through Welsh through a variety of experiences within the Foundation Phase. The Welsh language can be used in doors as well as outdoors and as often throughout the day.

Ysgol Gynradd Llantrisant Primary School have focused on encouraging staff to use their Welsh skills throughout the day incidentally whatever their level may be, which has resulted positively on the pupils. This is an example of how the smallest of steps of introducing some words daily can offer a child a good base to their learning. It is known that the earlier the child is introduced to a second or third language the better.

“Welsh is obviously becoming far more important these days in the increasingly bilingual Wales. The academic challenge of learning another language I think is important, whatever that language is. Quite naturally Welsh is the obvious one to teach, but I think the skills they learn through learning one language helps them not only in other languages but in English too. I think what it is important not so much the activities we do so much in Welsh, but the amount of Welsh that is spoken incidentally in each and every class, as much as we can say in Welsh is spoken in Welsh. I have to keep in mind that it’s only a minority of the staff that speak it naturally, well as promoting it as much as we can through incidental Welsh and using it wherever we can we try to teach the children songs from the time they start from the age of 3 and right up until the time they leave.”

David Owen – Deputy Head for Ysgol Gynradd Llantrisant Primary School

The Foundation Phase profile aligns with the framework and can be used as a tool to support the assessment of children’s progress in language skills, and planning for their next steps. The Oracy – Expressive language ladder of the Compact Profile notes that "children who are learning English or Welsh as an additional language may develop correct language structure of English or Welsh at a different pace to their first language."

Welsh Government Foundation Phase Framework document (Revised 2015) states that bilingual and Welsh medium settings would embed the Welsh language within their Language, Literacy and Communication Skills area of learning and that the Welsh Language Development area of learning applies to settings where English is the main medium of communication.

“The Welsh Government is committed to developing and promoting the Welsh language. All settings/schools will implement a Welsh language educational programme in the Foundation Phase for children three to seven years.

Those settings and schools that are defined as Welsh-medium providers should follow the educational programme of the Language, Literacy and Communication Skills Area of Learning. They will not need to deliver the Welsh Language Development Area of Learning.

In settings and schools where English is the main medium of communication, children’s Welsh language skills should be progressively developed throughout the Foundation Phase by implementing the Welsh Language Development Area of Learning”

Foundation Phase Framework (Revised 2015) p7

Welsh policy links

We’ve listed below some links to policy in Wales which relate to Welsh language development and delivery. Take time to have a read through and use to reflect on your practice.

Supporting Welsh Language Development

If you're working in Wales, then the chances are that at least some of your childcare provision will be delivered using the Welsh language.

To help you, especially if you're not a Welsh speaker, to incorporate Welsh into your setting, we've listed below some useful links to support your practice and development.  This will also help you to evidence to parents, CIW and Estyn (if you provide funded Foundation Phase sessions) how you are supporting children's Welsh Language Development. 

Resources and blogs

Useful links

  • The Welsh Government website gives links to apps for mobile devices in the Cymraeg - Live/Learn/Enjoy section of their website.
  • The S4C 'Cyw' website has a range of resources including online games that can support young children's learning in settings and in the home.
  • The BBC website has a section on Welsh learning for primary school children with interactive games and resources useful for use in settings and the home.  There is also a section on BBC Bitesize to support development of second language Welsh linked to the Foundation Phase.
  • Hwb Learning Wales has a range of resources that can help you to introduce Welsh including activities, online stories and bilingual songs and rhymes to play and sing along to.
  • Cymraeg for kids Cymraeg for kids is a national scheme by the Welsh Government that supports parents to use the Welsh language with their children by choosing Welsh medium childcare and education. The scheme is managed by Mudiad Meithrin and they also have a Facebook page.
  • Welsh Books Council The Welsh Books Council is a national body, funded by the Welsh Government, which supports production and publication in both Welsh and English.
  • Welsh apps here you will find a ramge of Welsh language apps on a variety of topics.

Further support

We hope this resource and the links provided have been informative, and that they have helped you to reflect on children’s wellbeing in the Foundation Phase. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this topic, or would like additional support or guidance, then please get in touch with PACEY Cymru on 0845 880 1299 or email paceycymru@pacey.org.uk