Dwy Iaith O’r Dechrau    Two Languages From The Start

Tucked away on a residential road in Caldicot, South Wales is a little primary school. It’s what you might call a hidden gem, especially as it lies on a border Wales-England town close to the banks of the River Severn. As it is a place where the children who go there, take part in lessons and playtime through the medium of Welsh.

Ysgol Gymraeg Y Ffin, meaning Welsh School of the Border, was the school we chose to send our daughter to and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

I will admit initially, it was a brave step into an unknown for us, choosing to educate a child in a language neither of us spoke at home. And I won’t deny, it also raised a few eyebrows for some friends and family, asking us why two non-welsh speakers  – we’re what you might call life-longer learners – could have made such a choice.

Along the way we’ve faced the questions, such as “how will you help her with homework?” Or statements like “well I think you’re brave, as I’d want to know what my kids are saying about me behind my back!” To answer the first, she’s pretty amazing at translating her school work between two languages when she needs to and to respond to the second, well… don’t they talk about us in any language?

To give some background, we were some part convinced that this was the way to go as she approached pre-school. Mainly due to her father, who was born in Montreal Canada and who went to a French-speaking school for the first few years of his school life. He has maintained his French having not lived there since he was 10 years old.  Also I have older nieces, who I’ve watched in amazement as they grew fluent so quickly and are using their Welsh not only across Wales but in other communities across the world. To give the opportunity, a gift of another language for our own child, was an easy decision in the end. She’s now been bilingual since five years old.

However, there is more to the reason than this and this bit is really quite special, as I know that many schools and home-educating communities across the country offer positive learning experiences for children and families alike.  So to watch our little girl walk into a school with a deep-routed passion for the Arts and for the Welsh culture certainly helped create the trust and belief we needed. With smaller class numbers and wellbeing right up there with these children’s academic learning experience, it became a journey we embraced rather than the original leap of faith we held. The teachers genuinely know and take pride in all the children and their unique achievements.

This is also a little school where we’ve made the best of friends. Not just people that have grown up living in our community, but people from all over the country and world that have lived elsewhere for years and have now returned to Wales with their own families. Not always Welsh-speaking, there are those who see something familiar and fitting from within their own international culture that links in so well. Quite often Welsh or English aren’t the only languages you’ll hear at the school gate.

The positive effect of seeing these children take care of each other is profound. They are walking, talking voices of reason. I’ve spent time over the years volunteering at this school, enough to see beyond the magic of classroom learning. There’s kindness and respect between these kids which speaks volumes. Whether they openly hug and console on mass, someone who’s fallen on the playground, or the times they’ve spoken up with a  zero-tolerate approach to a mean remark to another child they barely know. I also remember with fondness, how she’d come home and talk animately about a tribe of infant kids she’d just become an adopted ‘school mum’ to!

Bore da – good morning

Nos da – good night

Hwyl fawr – goodbye

Diolch yn fawr – thank you

Croeso – welcome

The Welsh word, hiraeth (pronounced hear-rithe) has no direct translation. It’s a bit like the Danish word, hygge, only it’s more a feeling than a way of being. It’s a feeling of nostalgia, a yearning and a sense of longing. Imagine that it’s not necessarily connected to a physical place, but that it can be of a yearning for an era, a person or even somewhere you’ve yet to experience. Your spiritual home.

I’ve experienced the the magic of my daughter becoming bilingual from a young age, I’ve watched her embrace her Welsh culture with friends she’ll have for life wherever she goes in this world. Hiraeth explains the feeling to me well. I have nostalgia for Ysgol Gymraeg Y Ffin and I truly hope that others will get to feel this for years to come.

Featured in the Spring 2020 issue of JUNO Magazine