I write in response to a letter written by Mr Rodney Taylor in the Tivy Side dated 03.04.12.

I spent 4 years training as a Speech and Language Therapist on the only course in Britain that offered a module in bilingualism and the opportunity to study the phonetics and linguistics of the Welsh language. I then spent 16 years working as a Speech and language Therapist and have been fortunate to have been able to use my Welsh language skills and knowledge of bilingualism to support many children in the South Wales valleys and further West. I believe I am qualified to put some facts to paper as follows: 1. There is a vast difference between having a ‘grasp’ of a different language (the kind of grasp that a GCSE in French will give you), and being a ‘balanced bilingual’. Being a ‘balanced bilingual’ means that you are equally skilled in two languages and can just as easily converse and write in both. This is the kind of bilingualism enjoyed by French Canadians, Swiss Germans and children attending Welsh Medium schools all across Wales. 70% of the World is bilingual in fact.

2. In order to achieve this level of bilingualism, children need to be ‘immersed’ in the language for the first few years of their education. Welsh mediums schools and Nurseries are skilled at sensitively providing this ‘immersion’ and by the age of 4_, children are able to converse in either language depending on their listener. Given the opportunity to continue their education in Welsh and study for some of their GCSEs in the language, they are balanced bilinguals by the age of 14 years.

3. Being brought up in a bilingual environment has fringe benefits. Scientific research studies carried out across the World have shown that children being brought up with two languages are quicker to develop a ‘Theory of Mind’ – they are about 6 months to a year quicker in understanding that other people have a different perspective to themselves. A useful skill in developing appropriate social skills as life progresses.

4. In later life, they have been shown to be better ‘lateral thinkers’ – thinking ‘outside the box’ to problem solve and find solutions.

5. Significantly, their meta linguistic skills – their skills in analysing language – both the speech sound system and structure of language are far more advanced than those of their monoglot peers. This means that they are better able to pick up third or fourth languages.

6. What this means in practice in terms of their English language skills is that on the whole, they achieve better results at their English GCSEs than their peers attending English only schools, and the same is seen in Canada and Switzerland.

Our brains are designed to sift through the streams of sound we are presented with from the womb. Little children absorb language like sponges and are perfectly capable of absorbing more than one as 70% of the World’s population will testify. Only a small minority of children (those with language disorders) need a monolingual environment in the first few years and some support. In my experience, even these children – given the appropriate help – go on to be good bilinguals later in life with their meta linguistic skills coming from having to learn the rules of language and speech step by step in a structured way.

Far from being disadvantaged by bilingualism, Wales has turned out scholars in all fields of academia. Children growing up learning both Welsh and English to a high level have access to a wealth of literature, opportunities and culture that the two languages can offer. In terms of Welsh this means access poetry, dancing, reciting, singing, acting and much more locally- not just an attraction for visitors - but a living cultural heritage to celebrate and enjoy.

Rhian Rees BSc.Hons 14 Greenland Meadows Cardigan