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Magnifique fun to learn French

"Fantastique, Madame Jones," cannot be the usual feedback for teacher Anna Jones. Learning French is not that much fun - is it?

But that is the word used by Year 6 pupils at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Bryniago, in Pontarddulais, Swansea, to describe their weekly 35-minute lessons in French, introduced last autumn.

The 220-pupil Welsh-medium school is one of 96 primaries across Wales piloting modern foreign language lessons for key stage 2 pupils, in a bid to reverse the fall in numbers studying French and German at secondary level (see page 1).

Anna Jones is head of languages at Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr, a comprehensive in Gowerton, Swansea, of which Bryniago is one of four feeder schools. She is an enthusiastic champion of teaching primary children languages, and all four schools now teach French in Y6. A fifth school, Brynymor, asked to be involved and a crash course is under way.

Mrs Jones uses masks, songs, word cards and a light board as props for her animated lessons. More complicated expressions are written on the board while common words are on cards used by the children.

Carys Richards, 10, has a Welsh mother and an English father. She speaks both languages and is enjoying getting her tongue round a third.

"We learn French through fun - games and pictures," she says.

She has never been to France but is looking forward to a visit, and believes starting French now will be an advantage. She can already count from un to vingt and talk about the weather.

Samantha Nicole Thomas, 11, who says her mother speaks little Welsh but describes her father as fluent, is also a budding Francophile. "It gives us a start. The way Madame teaches is fun."

Introducing a third language is not without its difficulties, says headteacher Cathryn Davies, who consulted parents first.

"We have to cover the curriculum, and what would have been taught in that period is now pushed into the week. Materials were not readily available so the course was created from scratch.

"But we still find time to re-inforce the French by slotting in five-minute sessions about numbers or the days of the week. It can be done when a teacher is breaking up a lesson. It is not that difficult. The children appreciate that they are already bilingual."

Welsh-French resources are scarce. But there is a Welsh-French dictionary - and all of Y6 will receive one as a leaving present next month. C'est un secret.

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