Welsh Medium Education  Problems - hgunn.uk

        Welsh-medium education was not introduced in Wales to teach native English speaking Welsh. It was introduced to allow native speaking Welsh children to learn through their most fluent language. Research into working memory and more recent neuro-research illustrates that children will always learn most effectively in their most fluent language.

      Although the Welsh language is a national language of Wales, Welsh remains a minority language in Wales, which is only spoken fluently by 11% of the population. The future of the living Welsh language in Wales will be dictated by science

    The issue whether children should be educated through the medium of Welsh has become a very political issue in Wales which  is being debated by "Tom, Dicks and Mary's" on the street. The issue is a very deep professional one. The language that children learn through is fundamental to their learning success.

        Developing language fluency is always a matter of degree. It enables social mobility. The choice of the language children learn through should not be considered as superficially as choosing the colour of a new car.

Language Fluency

        The more fluent children are in a language, especially literacy, the more successfully they will learn. The research on this issue is extremely secure. Research in the United States that most children can read, but many children struggle to learn through reading ().

     Research also illustrates that it takes around 10,000 hours to develop fluency in a new language. Concert pianists practise playing the piano for four hours a day to maintain their playing fluency. Native spoken language(s) is spoken extremely fluently.


      Although very young children are biologically primed to learn oral language, they do not fully learn new languages instantly.  When native English speaking parents chose for their children to learn through the medium of Welsh, they will be choosing for them to learn a new language and then be educated through it.


        It will take around five years for an average child to develop native-like fluency in a new majority language. The Welsh Language is a minority one. It is not all-around learners. This makes it more difficult to learn.


     There is a range of distinct Welsh language dialects. There can be five different words used through Wales for common words. There are differences of grammar in different dialects. Dr Margaret Newcombe (2009) refers to someone who had learnt Welsh sufficiently to speak Welsh to his friends in Pembrokeshire, but he could not speak to his wife in Welsh, who spoke a different dialect. The dialects make Welsh more difficult to learn also.

      Working memory is the gateway to all learning. There is a spread of seven years in working memory capacity at the age of seven. It does increases as children grow older, but the spread of it increases also. Research indicates it cannot be trained.


         Most children will have around average working memory capacity. Gathacole (2018), Cambridge Insitute of the Brain contends that working memory remains the most reliable predictor of children's attainment. Recent research has illustrated that intelligence and working memory is attributable to efficient brain circuitry, the white matter that connects the hubs of the brain.

     Children with average and low working memory capacity, especially dyslexics, will find it extremely difficult to learn a new language and a subject content simultaneously. This will apply to all learners until their new language is fluently grown. It is the equivalent of trying to use a mobile phone whilst driving a car. It will cause cognitive overload.


Early Language Learning

       There is growing secure evidence that children's early language development from birth has a profound influence on their later development of their literacy skills. The foundation of the development of their oral language skill initially develops from their being drowned in their native language(s) where they hear millions of words. Quigley () refers to children in socially deprived families hearing 23 million words less than academic families from birth to 48 months.

     Children early language development is developed through negotiation with their parents, family and siblings. If children ask for something that those who receive it do understand they will seek clarification and vice versa. Native English speaking parents cannot offer that support in Welsh to their children at any age.




    Most people do not understand bilingualism. There has been a traditional notion that if a child is brought up learning two languages, it will cause interference. This is not the case. The concept of language cognition and bilingualism is now more clearly understood.


      Whilst there are common language processes which are interrelated, like speech production and process of reading, there are also distinct aspects of languages such as vocabulary which must be learnt in each language. Children must learn and develop fluency in a vocabulary of thousands of words in each of their languages. They must also learn an academic vocabulary in their schooling.


      The human brain is very plastic. The old adage ‘Unless you use something you loose it’ has validity. Bilinguals cannot use two languages at once. There are balanced bilinguals who have equal fluency in each of their languages, where one language tends to be dominant. The balance of my bilinguals language reflects their usage of the language.


             Although certain Welsh language campaigners appear to view the English Language as a threat to the Welsh language. The English language is becoming the language of basic communication, higher education and commerce throughout the world. It would be naïve for anyone to believe they will be able to live their everyday lives through the medium of Welsh exclusively. There are around 300.000 fluent Welsh speakers in Wales. There are around 400,000 million native English speakers in the world.


      George Yule () linguist:-


"At the individual level language tends to be a feature of the minority group. In this form of bilingualism, a member of a minority group grows up in one linguistic community, primarily speaking one language, such as We1sh in Wales. Gaelic in Scotland or Spanish in the United States.  But learners learn another language, such as English,. in order to take part in the larger, dominant, linguistic community."


Dr Margaret Newcome Cardiff School of Welsh has claimed that English became the official Language of administration as a result of the Act of Onion with England in 1536, the Welsh language has been limited to predominantly cultural and social spheres and used minimally in commercial fields. Wales has always been a bilingual country since that time.


      The notion that in the modern world that children should not be taught to speak and to become literate in English, which will always be a matter of degree, is unacceptable. The English Language is one of the most difficult languages to read in the world. 33% of children in the United Kingdom fail to reach acceptable reading standards at the age of 11 (Astle,)


Educational Research


        There is no overwhelming evidence that the learning potential of children is not equal. Learning to any given level will be far more difficult and longer to achieve for certain children rather than others. There are so many variables involved in educational evaluations and research that it is very difficult to reach firm conclusions. The research into Welsh learning and Welsh-medium education is meagre.


          There is nothing special about the Welsh language in comparison with learning any other language. It may be an easier language to learn than other languages. The problem for native speaking Welsh and more especially native speaking English children is the Welsh language is not all around them. It is not the majority language in Wales. The opportunities to use it is very limited unless learners are living in Welsh-speaking families.


        All the problems that children encounter in learning English, which is extremely well researched, will apply to the learning of all alphabetic languages throughout the world. Whilst it not essential for native English speakers to learn Welsh. It is essential for Welsh speakers to learn English. It must be accepted that English is one of the most difficult to languages to learn. It is also one of the most useful.


      The associated concern as Dr Margaret Newcome (2009) contended that many children in Welsh-medium schools are speaking Welsh in the school yard and and home. However unpalatable this may be to certain Welsh speakers technically, this means that English is their first language. This raises serious concerns about what is the fluency their a developing in Welsh.



      The fundamental problem that exists across the world is we all so fluent in our native language is that we do not have an appreciation of how complicated languages are, and how difficult new languages are to learn. 

      As Professor Sarah Eaton () in Canada explains, there has been a history of aggressive marketing of new languages that implies that can be very easily learnt. There have been Welsh language campaigners making out the Welsh language is easier to learn than what it is.

       The brain is the most complicated thing in the universes. There is considerable reliable advances taking place in cognitive science, which is being supported by neuro-science.  Cambridge University Institute of the brain has children’s clinics. John Sweller () work on cognitive overload. Attempting to learn a new language whilst generally learning will make demands upon working memory and reduce the scope for learning.

      Welsh-medium education was not introduced to teach children Welsh. Welsh speakers are born into a bilingual Wales. Children’s education cannot be sacrificed in an attempt to save the living Welsh language. Research suggests that 30% of children across the world have learning difficulties. Any given level of learning will be much harder for certain children to achieve than others. The English language is one of most difficult languages to learn in the world and one of the most useful. At the very least Welsh Medium must prepare children to live in a bilingual Wales.      


        The evidence is that currently, Welsh-medium is preparing children to live their lives through the medium of Welsh exclusively, but there is no evidence that children will ever be able to do this. Dylan Wiliam (), a leading authority of education, who went to a Welsh medium primary school in Whitchurch Cardiff, contends that no one know what the world will be like for our children. All children in Wales must be prepared for an uncertain future.





The Cause for Concern about Welsh Medium  Education

      There remains a notion in a society that children are empty vessels that education can be poured into, and that what they are taught will remain with them for the rest of their lives. . There has been a political unwillingness to accept that the learning potential of children can and never will be equal. 

          It is extremely easy for politician’s and the public to make demands about what children should learn and achieve, but the fundamental question which is not always considered is the how. Michael Gove, when he was an English educational minister, promised that his ‘rigorous’ assessment reforms would raise English Pisa international school rankings so it would become amongst the highest-ranking countries in the world. It has not happened.

      There have been demands that the living Welsh Language should be saved in Wales. Despite all the support that the Welsh Government has devoted to attempting to save the Welsh language over the last decades, this does not appear to have had a significant impact on the survival of the living Welsh language. There are concerns about the quality of Welsh that is spoken in Wales. Many children in Welsh-medium education are speaking English in the schoolyard and at home.

        There tends to be a possessiveness about a proportion of those who speak Welsh that only Welsh speakers can inform on Welsh language issues, but there will never be insufficient informed Welsh speakers to address all the Welsh language issue in Wales. Welsh speakers are clearly the authorities on the form of the Welsh language, the learning of Welsh and the survival of the Welsh language are pedagogic and cognitive issues. 

         Baker () contends that there tends to bias in all bilingual research. Many of the answers about the future of the Welsh language lie outside the domain of the Welsh language. 

Language Learning

      Oral language is a biologically primary skill. We are evolutionarily primed to learn it. Children are actively involved in their early language learning. The only significant difference between native language monolingual speakers learning their native language from birth and bilingual speakers is that the bilingual children will need to give active attention to learning two languages.

      The balance of their fluency in each language they will develop will reflect their exposure and usage of both languages.

    The tipping point of a living language is 67% fluent speakers of it. This can refer to a country, a city a town, or village. Although 11% of Wales are fluent Welsh speakers, the distribution of them is far from even, the issue of Welsh dialects also makes the situation more complicated. 

      Although the Welsh language may be an easier language to learn than English, the challenges and difficulties that children will experience will reflect the vast amount of research that exists into learning the English language and learning English as a second language. Most of the research into learning English as a second language is where it learnt as a majority language. There is the issue that Welsh is a minority language, and there opportunity and resources to use Welsh in Wales is extremely limited.

    Baker () contend that's English speakers, who learn French to be educated through the medium of it in Canada, benefit from the fact that it is a world language. French is the majority language in Quebec with ©

    The notion that children in Wales should not develop fluency in English is unsustainable. Children’s cognitive development endures into their twenties. Even if students take further education or higher education courses in Welsh, they will still need to read the researched literature that exists in the English language. Many initial degree courses in Europe are now increasingly being provided through the medium of English. 


       If Welsh-medium educated children are to become balanced bilinguals in Wales, then at the very least they will need to devote a very significant amount of time learning English as well as Welsh. This task will be much greater for certain children than others. It will be greater for non-native Welsh speakers. Quigley () refer to many children, who struggle to cope with the new English academic vocabulary they are required to learn when they enter secondary school. He contends that many children initially cope with it and then sink. The English vocabulary that all children possess in schools is shrinking.

 The importance of early years learning is now well researched. It has been established that their early years  language learning correlates with later reading success. It is a concern that native English speaking children are devoting these years to learn a new language. The impact upon each children of this will not be identical. 


     Although it is possible for a child to educated and successfully live in Wales without speaking Welsh, Welsh speakers cannot live a fulfilled life without being fluent, especially literate in English. There are 10% of children across the world who will have such low working memory capacity that they will struggle to retain a simple instruction. Dyslexics also have working memory problems. It must be seriously be questioned whether it is in those children’s interests to learn through the medium of Welsh. 

        There is a report in Ireland that the Irish language is becoming a language of education. There cannot be any intrinsic value of children learning a new language simply to be educated through it. This does happen across the world, but children normally learn the majority of a country. There are children in Spanish speaking home in the United States, who have lost their capability to speak Spanish to their families.
The Cognition of Language 

      Our native language, which lives at the tip of our tongue and point of our ears, is an integral part of bodies. If we hear someone say something nasty behind our backs, we automatically understand what is is being said. We cannot turn our ears off. If we read a sign, we will automatically read and know its meaning. When learners are less fluent in languages, these will require more thought to process. In learning situations, this thought will impinge on their working memory, the space available for learning.

 Native languages are developed from birth in the here and now. If a parent warns a child that “The child can quickly find out what will happen if they do not take that advice”, especially what the word “hurt” means. Learning is a process of cognitive growth. Words grow into fluency. In fluent languages, when actors use the words ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, they will emotionally feel them in the same way as if the words ‘vomit’ and ‘banana’ are used, it automatically creates a feeling of revulsion.

  There is the serious issue of language transfer. If children are living their lives through the medium of English outside of school, then very often they will be translating their experiences and what they have learnt outside of school into the Welsh language, then this will make demands upon their work memory. There is also the issue of whether they will have the necessary Welsh words to express their experiences or what they know in the Welsh. 

    There is also the issue of which language they will retain when they are taught through the medium of Welsh. There is an issue of how they will translate it back into English. Context is very important in memory. There is evidence with episodic memory, which utilises words to store experiences in, are more easily recovered from the language they have experience it in.

  There is the issue of when  children who takes summative examinations through the medium of Welsh whether they are being equipped to apply that knowledge through the medium of English. Quigley () refers to a whole technical range of words relating to history. It is not assured that these will exists in the translated Welsh vocabulary. Even if they are, children will not necessarily be familiar with words that are used in English to describe history in English, which neeed to be grown into fluency.                

      There is also the issue of maths. The brain is very plastic, and unless what is learned is used, it will be lost. An inherent problem of learning maths is a great deal of what is learned in the classroom will not be used outside of it. If children are speaking English outside the classroom, then they will have little opportunity to apply maths on Welsh outside it.

      Children spend a vast amount of time bringing their multiplication tables. If they practice computations sufficiently, they will fluently recocall them. The fact they use Welsh number terms may not easily apply them in English is more advanced maths.

      The issue with applying maths is that maths is more that just doing sums. Everyday mathematical problems are not presented in neatly presented exercise books. Children need to become familiar with the language that mathematical problems that are dressed in.

      The final issue with maths is that it makes vast demands on working memory. This is why so many children struggle to learn it. Children with undeveloped language fluency will find maths even more difficult.


    Welsh-medium education was introduced in Wales for very valid reasons. English speaking children have drifted into learning Welsh and then be educated through the medium of Welsh out of historical accident as opposed to deliberate intent. The evidence is the practice was influenced by the fact as Baker refers to that certain native English speaking children in Canada choose to learn French to be educated through it.

      There are 77% native French speakers in Quebec, Canada and there as 7.2 million French speakers in Canada as a whole. Even if French was not a world language. This is a huge differences with 300,000 fluent Welsh speakers in Wales. The must be many opportunities to use French in Canada, and there must be a huge range of literature in French that children can refer to also. .

      Research suggests that the fluent application of skills requires less mental effort. The fact that many children use English in the schoolyard and at home suggests that English is their preferred, most fluent language. The fact that many Welsh-speaking youth are not speaking Welsh proper Welsh and do not view themselves are proper Welsh speakers suggest that are not using Welsh sufficiently to develop well rounded accurate proper Welsh fluency.

     The concern is whether even Welsh speaking children are using Welsh sufficiently to develop well rounded Welsh language fluency, especially as they are not applying outside their classrooms. This is even a greater concern in respect of native English medium children in Welsh medium education.

    The other is that Welsh medium is preparing learners to do everything including maths through the medium of Welsh. Most children are not using Welsh even in their school yards. The probability they will use most of what they learn through the medium of Welsh is low.

       Children only have one education. There is evidence that the world is becoming smaller, and ever more competitive place. Some of the changes will be opportunities and other threats. 

      The evidence is that Welsh-medium education is preparing children for a Wales that can never exist. This is not to suggest that any Welsh person wants to see the living Welsh language die. This is not to suggest that Welsh-medium education should be abandoned, but there is a need for a thorough reappraisal of the Welsh-medium and the Welsh language.

    There has been a failure to understand that language is fundamental to all learning. The future of Welsh children’s education is too important to be left to hope, optimism and guesswork. 



           Howard vision of education is that it must be evidence  based.  The conclusions have been reach from reviewing detailed research. Anyone who wants to counter challenge these professional opinions are most welcome to do so, but the fact that children will always learn most effectively in their most fluent language cannot be disputed.