Dyslecsia / Dyslexia

According to an article I came across today, dyslexic children tend to it easier to read and write Welsh, with its regular and consistent spelling system, then English, with its somewhat eccentric orthography. Similarly, few children have problems spelling other regular languages like Italian and Spanish.

However dyslexic children who start by learning Welsh, then later learn English tend to find English spelling very challenging and often use Welsh-style spelling when writing English.

Here are some examples of English spelled with Welsh phonetics:

Ddy cwic brawn ffocs jymps owfer ddy leisi dog.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Tw bi o not tw bi: ddat is ddy cwestiyn.
To be or not to be: that is the question.

The article also mentions that dyslexic children tend to have more trouble getting to grips with Welsh grammar than with English grammar.

It’s never too late to learn

The University of Wales Lampeter’s Welsh Department runs a number of e-learning courses which can lead to degrees in Welsh or Welsh Studies. The courses are delivered mainly over the web, but students are encouraged to go to summer schools at Lampeter.

Recently a retired telecommunications engineer from Nottingham was awarded the Lampeter’s first e-learning degree in Welsh Studies. He didn’t speak a word of Welsh before he started the course in 2002, but got interested in the language when his son married a Welsh-speaker. He now speaks Welsh well and there is a regular Welsh class in Nottingham thanks to his enthusiasm. He graduated in July last year at the tender age of 74.

So don’t let anybody tell you that it’s too late to start learning a language!

I myself was originally planning to study German and Swedish at Lampeter and was offered a place there. Later I decided to study Chinese and Japanese at Leeds instead. I plan to attend the Welsh language summer school at Lampeter in June this year, and am considering having a go at some of their e-learning courses.

Teaching Mandarin

With the recent increase in the number of people studying Mandarin, I’ve been wondering where all the teachers are coming from. Most are probably from China, but there are some non-Chinese teachers of the language.

In the UK there are only a handful of training courses for those wanting to teach Mandarin:

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London runs a one-year part-time course that leads to a Certificate in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.

The University of Exeter offers a PGCE* in Modern Foreign Languages with Mandarin – a one-year full-time course. Interestingly, students on this course have to have some competence in a European language such as French or German because “there is normally insufficient timetable space on school-based work for an exclusively Mandarin programme.”

At the University of Sheffield you can do PGCE courses in Mandarin with a specialisms in French, German or Spanish – as at Exeter, you can’t specialise solely in Mandarin.

Goldsmiths College offers a PGCE in ‘Community Languages’ (Arabic, Mandarin, Chinese, Panjabi and Urdu).

*PGCE = Post Graduate Certificate of Education, one of the main teacher qualifications in the UK

Do you know of any similar courses and qualifications in other countries?

Languages in primary schools

There was some discussion on the radio this morning about a plan to make the teaching of foreign languages compulsory in primary schools in England. A review of languages policy has been undertaken by Lord Dearing and Dr Lid King, National Director for Languages at the Department for Education and Skills. They are recommending that languages become a compulsory part of the curriculum for children between of 7 and 14, that language courses are made ‘more engaging’, and that there is more investment in the training and support of teachers. A summary of recommendations can be found here.

Apparently languages are already taught in 70% of primary schools. In secondary schools, the number taking languages after the age of 14 fell dramatically after they were made optional and the government wants to try to reverse this trend.

Only a few obstacles will stand in the way of this plan: the lack of language teachers, trying to fit language lessons into an already over-stuffed curriculum, and the possible negativity or indifference about languages among the kids and their parents.

At what age are languages introduced in your country?

Language exports

The other day I read in an article on the University of Notre Dame website that 51 universities outside Ireland teach Irish and that 29 of them are in the USA. Some of those studying Irish in the USA have Irish roots; others came to the language through an interest in Irish culture. The other countries where Irish language is taught include the UK, France, Canada and Germany. Does anyone know in which other countries it’s taught?

These factoids got me thinking about how languages are exported and promoted outside their original homelands. The most successful language export is obviously English, which has spread to every continent. Other successful language exports include French, German, Spanish, Italian, and increasingly Chinese and Japanese.

What about ‘smaller’ languages like Irish and Welsh? Well, Irish seems to be almost more popular outside Ireland than it is in Ireland. In the USA, Welsh is taught by Cymdeithas Madog, an organization that describes itself as being “dedicated to helping North Americans learn, use and enjoy the Welsh language.” There are quite a few other Welsh societies, some of which teach the language, in the USA and Canada. I understand that Welsh is taught at at least one university in Moscow, and there’s a small Welsh colony in Chubut province of Argentina that’s home to several thousand Welsh speakers.

Does anyone know of any other courses in Welsh or other Celtic languages outside their homelands?

Welsh and Gaelic education

According to an article on Eurolang, education through the medium of Welsh is becoming so popular in Wales that there aren’t sufficient places in Welsh medium schools for all those who would like to attend them. As a result, the growth of Welsh medium education is being held up.

Increasing numbers of parents are wanting to send their children to Welsh medium schools, even in mainly English-speaking areas, such as Newport, where 31% of parents surveyed said they would probably send their kids to Welsh medium schools if such schools where available nearby.

At the same time enrolment in English medium schools has been dropping and many schools have empty places.

In other news, a brand new Gaelic medium school opened in Glasgow recently. It has 320 places and provides nursery, primary and secondary for children between the ages of 3 and 18.

Education through Welsh or Gaelic seems to be a very effective way for kids to acquire fluency in those languages, and the popularity of such education is encouraging.

Chinese and Arabic to be taught in UK schools?

According to British Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, UK schools should have more flexibility in the choice of languages they teach. He believes “it is right to vary the curriculum to add languages which might be economically useful or help community cohesion.” The languages he’s talking about include Arabic, Mandarin and Urdu.

I wonder where they will find enough teachers and how they will fit the extra languages into an already over-stuffed curriculum. Since the foreign languages were made optional in UK schools after the age of 14, the numbers of pupils studying them has fallen dramatically. The government worries about this and keeps on coming up with ways to try to encourage more kids to continue learning languages.

I’ve met numerous people who tell me they studied French, German, Spanish or whatever language at school, but who have since forgotten it completely, or only remember bits and pieces. This seems to suggest that language teaching in schools is not entirely effective.

Learning any language is a good thing, even if it isn’t ‘economically useful’. Learning a language spoken in the area where you live is perhaps better in some ways than learning a language perceived as ‘economically useful’ because you will be able to use it regularly. You will probably also learn something about the culture of those who speak the language and come to understand and appreciate it more, which is what Mr Johnson means by ‘community cohesion’.

Sources: 24dash.com and The Guardian

Quote of the day: “Happiness comes from wanting what you get, rather than getting what you want.” from the Carpetblogger.