How Sully Primary pupils are making a ‘song and dance’ of language learning

Sully Primary in Sully, Penarth, is teaching their pupils Welsh, Spanish, German and even Italian through Cerdd laith – a unique music training resource which has been developed by British Council Wales alongside linguists, musicians, and drama practitioners. An increasing number of teachers across Wales are using the resources and signing up to the training.

Cerdd Iaith, which roughly translates as ‘the Music of Language’ in Welsh, is full of activities and original songs, which help support teachers to build on Welsh and English learning and introduce different languages to the classroom by combining traditional language teaching with music, movement and drama. So far in the suite, resources in Welsh, Italian and Spanish are available, and French has just been added this week.

At Sully Primary, they have recently started using the Cerdd Iaith training resources and have seen a marked pick-up in interest for languages from the pupils.  Over eighty pupils between the ages of seven and eleven took part in a performance session to showcase their new-found language skills. Training for six weeks in the run-up to the performance, music leader Tim Riley visited the school each week, developing lessons with the children using song, music, and movement to prepare them for their stellar show.

Speaking about the project, Tim said: 

“The pupils have done so well over the last six weeks, we’ve used the same songs first in English, Welsh, then expanded out to Spanish and German, I find the children really respond to switching through the languages and exploring the way they work, I know if I can get the children up and moving – it really helps with their learning. This performance has been a great showcase for the Cerdd Iaith resources that are being used in their classrooms and are available online”.

Also praising the project, was year three teacher, Aimee Bishop, who helped some of the pupils train for their recent performance sessions, “It was brilliant to see the kids’ confidence develop in the run up to the performance, and the resources provided a great basis for Tim to weave songs, costumes and props to go alongside the learning, and even some added dramatic elements. This helped the kids to learn through play and really learn without realising it. It was fabulous to see the show come together and to hear the kids using new words and phrases in Spanish, Italian and German.”

David Jarvis a year-six teacher at Sully added:

“Since the performance session and the training with Tim, we’ve had some pupils set up a Spanish club which is now very over-subscribed, it’s kick-started language learning for them. We’ve had weekly language lessons based on some of the resources in our classes and I can see they’ve got a new-found love for it. One of the pupils has even started German lessons outside of school which is very encouraging.”

While Andrea Waddington, Head Teacher at Sully Primary, has seen a huge increase in the children’s confidence around languages through the Cerdd Iaith performance training, and believes languages are so important for young learners.

She said: “We jumped at the chance to bring in this expertise into the school, especially as we are a British Council ‘International School’. Our teachers and pupils agree that learning a language through music, song, and dance is an effective way to connect with young people at an early age. We know that education plays a huge part in widening horizons and that learning languages helps pupils to be knowledgeable about and accepting of other cultures.

“We hope that more of our teachers will do the Cerdd Iaith training, we’ve always promoted languages at Sully Primary - but this has given us a boost through this six-week period and the fabulous performance. We’ve seen a real love of languages blossom.”

Commenting on the development of the Cerdd Iaith training programme, Rebecca Gould, Head of Arts for British Council Wales said:

“Cerdd Iaith is really at the heart of what the British Council does, we are passionate about people learning international languages because we recognise the importance of languages in building friendships and empathy between cultures and we believe that young people having the ability to speak and understand international languages is essential to this.

“We also know from our research at the British Council that it’s super important to get started as early as possible in language learning, and that people even regret it in later life if they don’t pick up another language – this is where Cerdd Iaith resources can help – to instil a love of language at an early age, that hopefully children can carry forward and use”.

Teachers from across Wales can avail of training resources through Cerdd laith online for help in introducing an international language in any setting. Information about forthcoming training sessions available through British Council can also be found on the website.

Originally developed by British Council Wales as part of their work internationalising Welsh culture and education, the programme has received great support from the Welsh government as teachers have found the resources a perfect way to help deliver the new curriculum.