A pilot project called Listening to Language/ Cerdd Iaith, which aims to encourage language learning using music as a resource, is being delivered in ten primary schools across South West Wales. The trilingual music project addresses the decline of language learning in Wales.
Led by BBC National Orchestra of Wales, British Council Wales, ERW (Education through Regional Working) and University of Wales Trinity Saint David, musicians from the orchestra alongside language specialists have been working with teachers in schools across Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion to develop creative approaches to learning Welsh, Spanish and English.
The project, which is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, looks at how musical elements of language such as rhythm, repetition and rhyme can aid learning. The workshops are encouraging pupils to listen to the sounds of languages, to enhance the process of developing and understanding new vocabulary.
Both the Language Trends Wales report (2016) for British Council Wales and the Successful Futures report (2015) by Professor Graham Donaldson for the Welsh Government identified that language learning in Wales is in decline.
Chris Lewis, Head of Education at British Council Wales said: "Take-up of modern foreign languages in Welsh secondary schools has been in steep decline for more than a decade. Last year our Language Trends Wales report, the second national survey of modern foreign language teaching in Wales, found that schools are struggling to increase the number of pupils enrolling for GCSEs in foreign languages, with more disadvantaged areas seeing the lowest take-up. The report found that the majority of schools - more than two thirds - had less than 25% of pupils studying a modern foreign language at GCSE level.
"As part of its strategy to arrest this decline, the Welsh Government wants children to start learning languages earlier, and this project aims to support that ambition by working directly with teachers to develop new and exciting, arts-based approaches to language teaching and learning in a primary setting."
Listening to Language also aims to develop and strengthen the relationship between Wales and Patagonia, following the 150th anniversary celebrations. Combined with developing language skills, pupils are learning through music about the history of Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia. This project builds on the ground-breaking community residency that BBC NOW delivered in Patagonia, as part of their tour to South America in 2015.
The first two terms of workshops have looked at developing new teaching methods, using resources such as trilingual songs, written by Welsh composer Gareth Glyn. The third term will help teachers explore how these new methods can be put into practice. The final workshops of the second term, take place on 21 March in schools in Aberystwyth, Llandysul, Swansea and Kidwelly.
Deputy head teacher at Burry Port School, Odette Nicholas, said: "Listening to Language is an inspiring opportunity to work in collaboration with teachers and creative partners to motivate and develop reflective, imaginative learners."
Menna M George, a teacher at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pontybrenin, Swansea said: "This project develops the language skills of pupils who start learning a third language in school - Spanish. They see the relationship and links between Welsh, English and Spanish in terms of vocabulary, structure and flow of language, and the use of rhythm and pitch are proving to be valuable in this regard. The pupils also get the thrill of working with professional musicians and a linguist from Patagonia."
Head of partnerships and learning at BBC NOW, Suzanne Hay said: "Listening to music in almost all circumstances evokes an emotion. Listening to Language asks students to do this; listen to the sounds of a language and consider the emotion and its meaning. We are finding that by responding to the sounds of the words, children are developing a more meaningful connection to the language they are learning."
Professor Mererid Hopwood from University of Wales Trinity Saint David said: "It has been an excellent opportunity to explore with primary school teachers how pupils respond to the sounds of words. The approach seems to be developing an appreciation of the importance of deep-listening and the need to create the right environment to encourage risk-taking as we learn new languages."
Listening to Language is part of Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s £1m Teacher Development Fund, a UK-wide initiative to enable teaching professionals to access high quality, sustained professional development and support effective arts-based practices in the primary classroom.