Ignore the Guardian: A bilingual education is best for our children

Children at a bilingual school in Wales. Picture: Llinos Dafydd

Ifan Morgan Jones

The Guardian newspaper today has a story suggesting that children in Wales will be disadvantaged by a Welsh-only education.

The story itself is complete rubbish, as I’ll explain. But the Guardian has a history of getting stories about the Welsh language completely wrong. One might suggest that it is too consistent a pattern to be entirely accidental.

Although the newspaper seems keen to promote cultural diversity, when it comes to the UK’s own native cultures they seem to be little better than the Daily Mail or Express.

The story itself is based on a false premise, which is that there is such thing as a Welsh-only education. There isn’t. It should be called what it is – bilingual education.

Opponents will point out that the primary language of instruction in such schools is Welsh. But this makes sense as the primary language of many of these children’s interactions within and outside of the classroom will be English.

They are still taught to speak and read in both languages to an equally high level, and their ability to do one does not impair the other.

As a result, kids in so-called Welsh-language primary schools always leave fully fluent in both Welsh and English. It’s a Buy One Get One Free deal with absolutely no drawbacks.

And when a school does switch from offering an English-only education to a bilingual education, children who are already in the system are allowed to complete their education under the previous system.

The advantages of a bilingual education

The academic literature on the cognitive advantages of bilingualism is growing by the day. Knowing more than one language has no ill-effects and does the brain an awful lot of good.

Bilingualism forces the brain to work harder (under the surface), and a harder working brain is a fitter brain.

There is evidence that bilingualism:

  • Improves cognitive skills not related to language
  • Makes the child better at solving mental puzzles
  • Allows the brain to avoid distractions and stay focused
  • Stops dementia in old age

Arguments that Welsh-English bilingual education was harmful date back to infamous Blue Books of the 1840s, but have long since been debunked.

We all laughed when Homer Simpson said that ‘When I learn something new it forces something old out of my brain.’

But that is, in effect, the argument of those who claim that being able to speak Welsh impairs children’s ability to learn through the medium of English.

The key question: What’s best for the kids?

One argument consistently put forward is that parents should be given the ‘choice’ as to whether their kids are taught in Welsh.

But education is about the kids, not the parents. Denying them a language is to deny them the choice to speak either or both, and also access to the cultures that come with them.

We don’t offer parents the choice of depriving their children of English, maths, art, French, or any other skill the school decides it’s in their best interest to learn.

If a parent didn’t want his or her child to learn about evolution, for instance, we’d be surprised in the school caved in to that request and taught them creationism instead.

At the end of the day, schools are not run by parents, and for good reason. Experts in pedagogy make decisions regarding what would best serve the children’s educational needs.

And the ‘choice’ argument also ignores the fact that nine times out of ten there’s an English-only school just around the corner.

For instance, in the case of the bilingual Llangennech school, about which an almighty fuss continues to be made, there’s an English-only school literally 1.6 miles away.

Enriching children’s lives

So paper thin are the arguments against bilingual education in schools in Wales that one must conclude that they’re mostly based on not knowing the facts.

Unfortunately this ignorance has been deliberatly nurtured by a small number of individuals who have a posionous, xenophobic hatred of difference.

They take advantage of what is always an emotive issue –parents’ gut feeling about what is best for their child- and dliberately use it to drive a wedge in communities.

Unfortunately, they find a ready platform in an equally ignorant (or maliciously) biased British press.

The truth is that offering a bilingual education isn’t a culture war. It’s not about Welsh language v English language, or Welshness vs Britishness.

It’s just about giving children the same opportunities I and many others got – an opportunity that did us zero harm but has enriched our lives for the better.

I have three kids of my own, who go to a Welsh-medium school.

Watching them play, speak, read and enjoy two languages and cultures every day, I know I made the right decision.

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JD
Guest
JD

Fair points, but it’s also about context. WM education in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire (and Carmarthenshire has a unique linguistic mix and always has) and WM education in the former Glamorgan and Gwent are two entirely different things. I’m an ex-Welsh teacher originally from Welsh-speaking Ceredigion who’s lived in the south east of Wales for 12 years. During my time working in two schools (one a middle-class English medium school in Penarth, the other a supposedly first language Welsh medium school in the Rhondda), what I saw shocked me to the core. Whilst the children in the English medium school had… Read more »

Tracie
Guest
Tracie

My children are from an English Speaking background, they attended a WM primary/junior school and go to. WM High school in Ystalyfera. My eldest has just finished her GCSE’s and was set in the top band of all her subjects. My other child also set in top bands, albeit only in year 8 at the moment. I am English, their father a non Welsh speaking Welsh man. All three of my children are very passionate about their language and culture. I’d like to think that not all children are struggling like those that you have mentioned, indeed that isn’t indicative… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Lovely to hear from everyone living in Cymru and thanks for sharing!

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Forget what the Guardian says, forget what the rest of the British press pumps out, at the end of the day it is pure propaganda to continually ‘prop’ up a dieing regime. Forget what anyone else says whether English or (so called) Cymreig, this is our language and it will be spoken by every Cymrieg man, woman and child in the not too distant future or we can kiss our nation goodbye. Let us look at it from any other nation’s point of view. If you go to any country in the world they produce the same level of intellect… Read more »

Peter jones
Guest
Peter jones

Here we go again , Welsh language equals Welsh.

Self evidentially this is untrue . 85% of the Welsh people speak only English . Therefore the national language of Wales is English QED .

I’ve been and passionate Welshman for 52 years now ,it would be a bit of a shame if some day soon I can’t be Welsh anymore because Ido t speak Welsh

Ben
Guest
Ben

Peter, I agree with the overall sentiment, but to suggest in turn that the Welsh language is not ‘Welsh’ in turn, as it’s now only spoken by 19% of the population rather than a majority, is rather hypocritical. Both languages make Wales, both are just as important.

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

I did not say anything about, “can’t be Welsh anymore because I don’ t speak Welsh” nor do I read anyone else’s comments making that statement. When it comes to here we go again I totally agree Peter, but it isn’t necessarily just about the content of the article, more like the fact that it has been printed now. This is at a time when there is more interest in many things re Cymru. Whether social, being the poorest of the 4 regions or political with the rise of YesCymru (which by the way appeals to whatever language(s) people do… Read more »

iantoddu
Guest

Well done for getting a well-written piece up in such short order. I do take issue with one bit of it – I don’t agree that the Guardian is “little better than the Daily Mail or Express” when it comes to Wales and the Welsh. It is much worse. There is a very strong “anti-Welsh” side to English liberalism, and this shows in such papers. Along with the “but we are/read the Guardian! I can’t possibly be unreasonable when it comes to other cultures. It’s you, you silly little Welshman”, attitude of arrogance they often have, I am beginning to… Read more »

Cynan
Guest
Cynan

I absolutely agree. Some of the most archetypal liberal English people I know have an extremely condescending view of the Welsh. It is a very deep-seated, pernicious predjudice indeed. The English left will do us no favours.

Peter jones
Guest
Peter jones

It’s a very poorly written piece . Please read it again. It is about choice and change

Jack Kinnoch
Guest
Jack Kinnoch

Nonsense, the whole bilingual debate misses the point. It’s multilingual education we need. The whole concept of language streams in Welsh and/or English is what’s holding us back.

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Multilngual just causes more confusion. It isn’t that difficult, surely, to look at any country in the whole darn world that speaks its own native tongue and also other languages. The fact the UK is classed as a lazy nation when it comes to languages is down to Westminster and English policy, that is why they don’t want us to speak our own language because they know we will leave them behind, all alone in their monoglot country.

Nicholas Stradling
Guest
Nicholas Stradling

Mention Wales (or Scotland) , and the liberal English left’s entire worldview flips on a dime.

Hf
Guest
Hf

I started primary school able to read in English so I was then taught how to read in Welsh. I have certainly benefitted from a bilingual education. The Welsh language is a beautiful melodic language, and is older than the English language. Welsh poetry follows various patterns combining vowels and consonants on paired lines. The poetry flows off the tongue when read or recited out loud. I only wish my children had had the benefit of a bilingual education. It certainly enriched my education.

Peter jones
Guest
Peter jones

Why does bilingual have to be exclusively Welsh ?

Niall
Guest
Niall

It doesn’t. But if you have teachers who are fluent in Welsh, the obvious language for them to teach is Welsh — you can hardly ask them to teach a language they don’t know!

Liza Penn-Thomas
Guest

Yes to multilingual education! But you do know Welsh schools also teach foreign languages don’t you.

trailorboy
Guest
trailorboy

Gut wrenching article. The guardian has hit an almighty low and lost all credibility with regards to respect for multiculturalism. There is definitely something in the air these days that smells really bad. What on earth have we done to attract such deliberate efforts to pour contempt and scorn on our attempts to foster and protect one of the most beautiful cultural assets of Western Europe. This article really was the lowest of the low and its nastiness and antimulticuturalism aka assimilatory tactics needs to be held up as a mirror to these so called liberals to show how disgusting… Read more »

Peter jones
Guest
Peter jones

It’s a pertinent article . Can I suggest you read it again without blinkers .

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

I have re-read it and I can’t see anything of merit in this article at all. It is not an insightful look at issues relating to Welsh medium education. It is a loaded attack, littered with nasty hyperboles and cliches. It is a truly horrible article I’m afraid and I can’t even break it apart and develop a critique, because it is simply a piece designed to provoke the feeling that people who want English only Education are a victimised minority – who simultaneously happen to be the majority (bizaare twist on things) and are being subjected to some form… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Well said!

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

The, Guardians, hemorrhaging sales figures shows their former readers aren’t buying their narratives.

Lee
Guest
Lee

Opening paragraph of this article is a lie. The Guardian does not imply what the author above claims. Fighting straw men will get us nowhere.

Dafydd Williams
Guest
Dafydd Williams

Really sad that papers like the Guardian spread ill-informed propaganda.

Cynan
Guest
Cynan

Agreed. And just by looking at some of the letters in reply (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/23/the-long-struggle-for-the-right-to-speak-the-welsh-and-irish-languages) it seems to have had the desired effect. People erroneously believing that Welsh-medium education produces Welsh-speaking monoglots. Appalling journalism.

Niall
Guest
Niall

The problem with this debate is that both sides conflate two separate issues — Welsh-medium education in Welsh speaking areas and immersive introductory Welsh for kids in English speaking areas.The Guardian article is about Welsh education in rural Carmarthenshire, where there’s a heck of a lot of Welsh, and incomers shouldn’t expect free English-medium schooling any more than they might in rural France. And if Welsh medium is mainstream, then having to travel 3 miles to send kids to what is effectively a “special school” is really nothing, and the article is a storm in a teacup. However, Welsh-medium is… Read more »

Jon Coles
Guest
Jon Coles

Having written extensively about the Llangennech saga and kept a weather-eye on what other outlets were saying as well, The Guardian article seems to have trotted out the same canards that disfigured the Llangennech process in the first place. The Guardian article fundamentally misrepresents certain key events – for example the decision to move all schools in Carmarthenshire along the language continuum was made by the Labour-led administration and not, as the article allowed readers to infer, the Plaid-led one. In addition, it repeats allegations of intimidation and fails to say that none of those purported incidents were reported to… Read more »

txerren
Guest

JD, did you just copy paste a comment from the Guardian article?

osgarpenmaen
Guest
osgarpenmaen

I have two grandchildren aged 3 and 5 who live in Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a small country of less than 600,000 population. It has 3 official languages, Luxembourgish, French and German. My grandchildren go to the Luxembourgish school in their village. The only language spoken is Luxembourgish. Their parents do not speak Luxembourgish. Their mother speaks Welsh with them; their father speaks English with them, Their grandmother speaks French with them. They have no problem changing from one language to the other. At their school there are parents of numerous nationalities. One set of parents are French and Russian, another… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Man, anyone of the slightest intelligence (and, of course, it helps if they do not read the British press) cannot fail to see the obvious in your comment! Language is life and we have a right to our life as a nation. I totally agree with everything you say and I, for one, thank you for a very personal, simple and informative response that like many of us will realise comes from the heart. The negative attributes that you point out are only just a few of the other problems we have and many suffer from. However, frustrating as they… Read more »

DE
Guest
DE

Its quite straightforward. The best performing school in Wales in 2016 was Ysgol Plasmawr. Its in Pentrebane, Cardiff (which is neither middle class nor affluent). The second best school was the fee paying Cathedral School. One set of pupils comes out guaranteed bilingual as a bare minimum. The other lot don’t. Capiche? Me entiendes? Deall? Now tell me again, ohh wise monoglots, how being bilingual is in any way worse!? Totally defies logic and credibility and exposes their prejudice.