Multilingual swap shop

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Christine Davies may have a Welsh name and speak with a Welsh lilt but she is actually French. The head of modern languages at Newcastle Emlyn comprehensive remembers arriving in Pembrokeshire as a foreign language assistant fresh from Lille university. She could teach French as a foreign language - but knew no Welsh.

"I felt quite threatened," she says. Soon, however, she settled into teaching two days a week at grammar schools in Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. She found Hywel Davies, who was to become her husband, took a PGCE at Swansea and stayed.

Now she is learning Welsh and believes the language gives pupils some advantages when it comes to French. Both languages have male and female genders for nouns and two forms of "you".

Mrs Davies was perfectly placed to reassure this year's foreign language assistant, Leonie Ott, when she arrived in this largely Welsh-speaking part of rural Carmarthen.

"I tell her, 'Don't worry, it's their first language!' And I can explain the syllabus to her."

Leonie was already well prepared. She comes from Nantes in bilingual Brittany and had attended a three-day induction course for foreign language assistants in west Wales in early October. She is with her French boyfriend, also a foreign language assistant in nearby Llandovery. The two plan to qualify as teachers in Wales and stay here.

Leonie is clear about the difference between Welsh and French schools.

"Here the teaching is much more fun and nothing is learnt by heart," she says. "But there's less grammar. Grammar is useful in French."

Last year, there were 122 assistants in Wales under this programme, run jointly by the British Council and CILT, the national centre for languages.

In a Welsh competition called "Getting to Know your FLA", Newcastle Emlyn pupils won prizes in two categories last year. They are now working on entries for this year's competition, which aims to improve motivation to learn languages by submitting presentations or videos based on question-and-answer sessions with their assistant.

A typical exchange:

"Aimes-tu le pays de Galles?"

"Oui, mais il pleut beaucoup."

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