Welsh is not one of my strengths. As a teacher in Wales, this is a problem.
Languages always were my kryptonite in school, whether it was French, German or indeed Welsh. Through my adult life this didn’t cause me any problems until, of course, I came into teaching.
The expectation in Welsh education is that I teach Welsh lessons, but also to use Welsh incidentally in the classroom. I have no issue with this, I support a bilingual education system for many reasons. My issue is with myself, and my own ability to competently play my part in the system. Upon beginning the Primary teaching course I knew that Welsh would be an area I would really have to focus on to be able to say I’m at an ‘acceptable’ level.
Not ‘good’, but good enough.
In my first school placement in 2017, I found myself teaching a Reception class, 4-5 yr olds. In terms of Welsh, this was perfect for me since they were only expected to know very simple vocabulary, such as ‘bore da‘ (good morning), ‘prynhawn da‘ (good afternoon) and simple sentence structures such as the weather – ‘mae hi’n bwrw glaw‘ (it is raining, which is often was). I could get away with lots of ‘da iawn‘ (very good) and ‘dim siarad‘ (no talking) peppered throughout my teaching, yet I still came away knowing I would have to up my game for my next placement. I’d managed to tick enough boxes to get through first placement, but I knew there would be many more boxes to tick in the future.
My KS2 placement would require a serious raising of the bar.
I wouldn’t say I was overly confident of my Welsh speaking ability going into my KS2 placement this year, but being placed in a Year 4 class certainly made me believe I had a shot at ticking this hypothetical ‘Incidental Welsh’ box. An upper KS2 class would have made me feel very inadequate, but Year 4 I felt I could manage, just maybe. I revised my Welsh vocabulary as much as I could, and I was certainly better prepared than I had been been for the previous placement. However, I found a little trick along the way which I was to rely on for much of my placement – post it notes.
Every phrase that I planned to use went on a post it note, either in my pocket or strategically placed somewhere around the classroom. For instance, if at the start of the lesson learners would be discussing something in their groups, I’d write ‘traffodwch gyda grwp‘ on a post it and stick that near the register. When their discussion time was over, I would ask them in Welsh to look at the board by saying ‘llygaid ar y bwrdd‘ (eyes on the board). That one would be stuck to the side of the board, where I would be positioned before giving the instruction. Then, I might ask learners to stop and listen for a mid-point plenary using ‘stoppiwch a gwrandewch‘. That would go on a post-it in my pocket, because I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to be in the classroom at that particular moment.
Using this strategy I managed to get through the first few lessons, and over time something amazing happened. I actually started to remember these phrases without having to look at the post-it notes. Then I stopped writing the post-it notes altogether. Then I started accidentally using the phrases outside of the classroom (I coach football on a Saturday morning, and stopped myself at ‘llygaid’ when I wanted my class of 3 yr olds to look at me!).
I even got confident enough to take on the mother of all challenges. Every year to celebrate St David’s Day, schools in Wales hold their own Eisteddfod. This typically consists of a series of competitions and general celebration of Welsh culture. All classes in my school had to prepare a Welsh song to perform at the Eisteddfod, a task which somehow became mine. Now, I’ll let you in to a little secret here – Mr Hann can’t sing.
Not. At. All.
Worse still, our song was Calon Lân. Yes, the traditional sound of every international rugby game, sung with passion and gusto by many a patriotic, devoted supporter. You can hear the song performed the way it is intended by clicking here.
So the problem is this: Mr Hann can’t sing, Mr Hann has not idea how to teach children to sing, but Mr Hann has to prepare prepare a class of 8/9yr olds to perform something to the entire school. The answer? You don’t sing.
You teach them to rap.
And rap we did! In just two 30 minute Welsh lessons we had learned the first two verses (more or less perfectly) and we’d created our own chorus. It’s not the finished product by any means, but on the last day of my placement I recorded my class performing what we’d learned so far.
You can watch it here:
I am still utterly blown away by how quickly they remembered the words, and how enthusiastic they were about performing it at every opportunity. They even sung me out on my last day with ‘ooooh ahhh Mr Hann’ instead of our chorus. I will never forget that.
So my point is this: I’m not good at Welsh, or so I believed. But with a bit of focus and effort, it turns out I’m ‘digon da‘ – good enough, to achieve these results. I’m proud of that. If I can do it, so can you.
Beth fyddwch chi’n ei wneud yn dda? What will you do well?
Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!