By Natasha Nicholls, Project Manager - Cerdd Iaith, British Council Wales

03 December 2020 - 16:29

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Cerdd Iaith is a powerful new resource that uses music and drama to help primary school children learn Welsh, English and Spanish. It is packed full of unique and exciting activities, including many original songs created especially for Cerdd Iaith. 

This creative learning resource has been developed by linguists, musicians and drama practitioners, working closely with primary school teachers in Wales. 

Cerdd Iaith supports teachers to build on learners’ knowledge of Welsh and English to introduce a third language to the classroom, as required by the Curriculum for Wales within the Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience and aims to inspire and stimulate children to learn actively and begin speaking new languages. 

The resource has been designed for use with primary school pupils age 7-11. It is especially useful for Year 6 pupils who are preparing for the transition to secondary school. Most importantly it aims to inspire children to learn actively and to begin speaking new languages in a fun and engaging way. 

You can find it here: https://www.cerddiaith.com/

Starting with simple phrases, such as I like/ Me gusta/ Dwi’n hoffi

The programme began life as a pilot project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund, enabling linguists and musicians to work with teachers and senior leaders in ten primary schools in South and West Wales to explore new approaches to music and language learning in primary schools. The aim was to build teachers’ skills, knowledge, confidence and interconnectedness to maximise the impact of arts for young people.

The partnership consisted of British Council Wales, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Yr Athrofa (Institute of Education) University of Wales Trinity Saint David and ERW (one of the four regional education consortia in Wales). Linguists from the university and ERW, along with musicians from BBC NOW led sessions in schools using Patagonia as a theme. Teachers and senior leaders attended Continued Professional Development and Learning days to become familiar with the resources and the methodology, and to develop the ‘network of learning’ that consisted of all of the teachers, musicians and linguists who were able to share their own experiences when using the resources.

Starting with simple phrases, such as I like/ Me gusta/ Dwi’n hoffi, teachers used a combination of rhyme, rhythm and repetition to introduce vocabulary in the three languages. Pupils responded amazingly quickly and linguists soon moved onto reinforcing more complex phrases (ones which don’t translate exactly) through carefully composed pieces of music I am hungry/ Mae eisiau bwyd arnaf i (There is a want of food upon me)/ Tengo hambre (I have a hunger.)

Composer Gareth Glyn and linguist Professor Mererid Hopwood worked together to create the music and lyrics, to instruct pupils where to place correct stresses on the words in the sentence, to reflect how a first language speaker would speak.

Team work means there is little individual pressure 

The learning didn’t remain just in the classroom. Teachers reported pupils using their newly acquired language skills in the playground, and to other members of staff. One teacher noted that pupils from her class had gone onto become language ambassadors upon their transition to secondary school, making up half of the total number taken from at least four other primary schools in the area.

One pupil said “Using music and rhythm made learning easier and more fun for me than if I had to sit in a classroom learning the new language. Now, when I learn new, or difficult words in English and Welsh, I normally use the tactic of clapping the rhythm, which really helps me remember. I also use this to help my friends who didn’t do Cerdd Iaith to learn and remember new words.”

Her teacher also praised the project’s approach. She said: “This method opens up language and puts pupils on an equal starting point. There is team work which means there is little individual pressure, but chances to shine individually if they want to. The project opens up the whole world of other languages and cultures and provides a hook for learning.”

Cerdd Iaith has evolved since its first inception. British Council Wales have been working with creative education experts and musical animateurs to develop the website that was first used as a simple storage facility for the resources created by the partners for the project.

Including language in mathematics or learning about time and space

The new revamped tool is designed to support primary school teachers in delivering the Languages, Literacy and Communications Area of Learning in the new Curriculum for Wales and will enable learners to gain knowledge and skills in Welsh, English and Spanish.  

It contains a set of ‘whole body’ physical activities that enable young learners to process and acquire new languages.  New themes have been developed in order for teachers to decide how to implement activities in their classroom, whether it be a term’s project on the theme of Patagonia, or including language in existing classroom activities such as mathematics, or learning about time and space. Some new resources have been kindly lent to the Cerdd Iaith project by original project team member, music animateur Tim Riley, who worked with staff and pupils at Ysgol Llansannor using the original activities as a starting point.

Learners are encouraged to become aware of the links between languages

The key difference between what Cerdd Iaith is now and what it was and what other language projects do, is that we aren’t just using song to increase vocabulary. The project now uses the wider expressive arts to make use of experimental and kinaesthetic creative learning techniques. This approach is proven to increase the scope, depth and long-term impact of the learning experience. Learners are encouraged to be aware of links between languages and develop an appreciation and interest in language patterns and how languages work.

The new resource is designed to sit alongside a new (now online) teacher training programme offered by the British Council. The training introduces teachers and senior leaders to the project, familiarises them with the resources available on the website, and encourages and supports them to develop lesson plans and activities to use in their own physical or virtual classroom with confidence.

The training can be undertaken by any teachers, regardless of their previous experience in either music or international languages. Whilst teachers who have no previous experience in these areas are given step by step guides and videos to become familiar with the content, music teachers can use the sound files and sheet music to develop their own ‘verses’ to existing songs, and teachers who already speak Spanish can have fun adding vocabulary to featured games.

 If you are interested in benefiting from this training, please contact British Council Wales by email TeamWales@britishcouncil.org

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Natasha Nicholls

Project Manager - Cerdd Iaith, British Council Wales