Hang ups: Heavenly talk on the Internet

28th February 1997 at 00:00
It is St David's Day tomorrow so this might be an appropriate time to draw attention to a gross inequality in our education system.

As well as having to meet all the demands of the national curriculum, pupils in Wales are also obliged to learn Welsh. Why should other British children - for no other reason, other than they happen to be born on the wrong side of Offa's Dyke - be disadvantaged in this way?

Obviously, all pupils should be given an equal opportunity to learn Welsh.It is, after all, one of the oldest European languages, certainly one of the most beautiful and - although this isn't orthodox C of E doctrine - widely regarded by those in the know as being the official language of heaven.

Common sense says that the language should have died out centuries ago, but, in fact, there could be as many as a million fluent speakers. The reason is probably simple. Like other beleaguered nations, the Welsh have always been aware that their culture will only survive if they do something about it themselves.

In the educational sphere, for example, this DIY approach has led to the creation of hundreds of thriving Welsh medium schools and a unique system of nursery education which has transformed countless monoglot English toddlers into bilingual Taffs.

Since the early days of the printing press, the Welsh have assiduously exploited every technological innovation and quickly saw the potential of the Internet. Offer any of the search engines the word "Wales" or "Welsh" and you will discover so many sites that you could be forgiven for believing that the World Wide Web was created exclusively to promote the language and culture. But there has never been a comprehensive computer-based language course for Welsh learners. Until today, that is - and the launch of a multimedia package, Dyna Hwyl (There's Fun) .

Boffins at W S Atkins, an engineering and management company, did the programming, but the material was created by teachers at Swansea College - a tertiary described by the HMI as being "as good as the best in Germany".

Two CD-Roms contain more than 100 hours of interactive tuition. They combine all the tricks of multimedia - animation, video clips, sound files - with a thorough no-nonsense approach to learning the language. There is enough material, in fact, to help the complete beginner become a fluent speaker.

The 14 graded units have been sub-divided in a series of manageable steps.A tool bar allows learners to select from a series of activities. They can, for instance, receive tutorials, revise vocabulary, mug up on grammar or complete written exercises by keying in their answers. If they want to have these exercises marked and assessed by a real Welsh speaker, rather than the machine, they simply post them to Swansea College where tutors are waiting with red pens poised.

The fee for this service is included in the purchase price of the package.It's thorough, gimmick-free - and has obviously been written by practising teachers who know that there is much more to learning a language than a few flashy graphics and a selection of digitised sound bites.

It doesn't offer miracles, but good teaching, carefully tailored to the peculiar demands of individualised learning. It is, in fact, a model of what an educational CD-Rom should be.

I don't suppose many teachers in English schools will be rushing to squeeze the language of heaven into the timetable but they will realise that Dyna Hwyl does have other important lessons to offer. The package proves that if the software you need isn't available, you don't have to sit around waiting for Bill Gates or the big software houses to come up with the goods. Instead, all you need to do is to follow the excellent example that has been set in Wales. DIY.

Dyna Hwyl , #163;99.99 for software and site user licence. W S Atkins, Caradoc House, Cleppa Park, Newport NP1 9UG. Tel: 01633 815500


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