Tongue of the dragons

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Maldwyn Pryse takes a look at some of the best Welsh-language software now available

Wales has seen a dramatic rise in the number of primary pupils taught in Welsh. But the key question for ICT is "Is there adequate software in Welsh for the delivery of the curriculum?" Having a growing number of pupils studying in Welsh-medium schools is futile without the right software.

Here is a look at what's on offer. Granada has purchased Black Cat software and translated its excellent SuperTools package. Many authorities offer it to their schools thus ensuring parity in both English and Welsh medium schools, at least in key stage 2. So there is now a Welsh version of Write Away (word processing), Fresco (graphics), Information Workshop 2000 (database), Decisions3 (branching database), NumberBox2 (spreadsheet), PawPrints (desktop publishing) and SlideShow (multimedia presentation).

SuperTools gives a fairly comprehensive coverage of the programme of study for IT in Wales. (In Wales it's called IT when studied as a separate subject but ICT when applied to other subjects.) It does, however, leave gaps in the coverage for sound, graphs and simulations.

In our search for a key stage 1-friendly package we could not better the excellent Infant Video Toolkit and Modelling Toolkit from 2 Simple, a company renowned for its quality software. Infant Video Toolkit covers the need for a graphing program in Welsh along with nursery, reception and key stage 1-friendly software. 2paint is a very simple drawing program, 2publish is a creative program to combine text and graphics, 2count is a simple data-handling program to make pictograms, 2go allows you to give simple instructions to move objects around the screen and is an introduction to pre-LOGO activities, 2graph allows you to make graphs, bar charts, pie charts and line graphs easily and 2question makes simple branching databases.

The Modelling Toolkit is aimed at early years and key stage 1 and consists of five core modelling activities, each with three tasks. Task 1 is aimed at nurseryreception, task 2 at Year 1 and task 3 at Year 2. 2Simple must be congratulated for not only translating the text but also the audio support, a crucial factor for young pupils.

Recently the Welsh Books Council has been commissioning CDs and although targeted at home use, many can be used in schools. One outfit that has regularly come up with ideas is the Cardiff-based Productive Play Company.

Having previously published Sam TanFireman Sam, Blobs and CD-Romuald they have extended their excellent software with original Welsh material. Recent publications include Cosyn, Sali Mali (both based on well known characters in books for early yearskey stage 1 pupils) and Morus y Mwydyn which introduces the alphabet.

Another company to benefit from the support of the Welsh Books Council is Sain. Originally concentrating on translating English CDs, it is nice to see them venture along the same route as Productive Play and start producing original Welsh material such as Wil Cwac Cwac.

Other companies such as MEU Cymru, Sycharth and AVP produce CDs that are cross-curricular in nature. MEU has also specialised in supplying Welsh fonts and drivers, along with Celtic patterns. The keyboard driver AcenSyml which is included in Ffontiau Cymraeg enables you to type the accented characters easily from the keyboard; it is available for Windows and Apple.

Even Microsoft is joining in with its free offering of a Welsh spell-checker to work with Windows XP. To see how to download and install this along with many other free Welsh medium materials such as how to adapt Google to appear in Welsh, go to Further good news from Microsoft is that, in conjunction with the Welsh Language Board, it will soon launch its Office software in Welsh.

Special needs software is not as easily available although the situation is improving. Click Soft, a small company in north Wales, has secured the translation of My World 3 and produced numerous curriculum support files in Welsh to run on My World and TextEase. Xavier Educational Software, based at the School of Psychology, University of Wales, Bangor, has produced Pwmpiwr Brawddeg - a translation and improved version of Sentence Pumper.

This is a simple program using words from the O Gam i Gam publication for presenting sentences containing words that have been taught individually.

Dyfal Donc is a recently published CD and is an adaptation of Catch Up into Welsh by Anne Kenyon and Yan James of Powys LEA. This CD targets struggling readers in primary schools. One major cause for concern was the lack of a speech engine in Welsh and, until this was developed, Welsh-speaking pupils remained at a distinct disadvantage. The excellent news is that Canolfan Bedwyr, who produced CysGair and Cysill, have just received funding from Interreg and the Welsh Language Board to develop speech technology for the Welsh and Irish languages. The Welsh and Irish Speech Processing Resources (WISPR) project is being developed jointly by the University of Wales, Bangor, and Trinity College, Dublin, with support from Dublin City University and University College Dublin.

So there is now adequate software to deliver IT in Welsh for mainstream primary schools. But it would be nice to see the Welsh curriculum authority ACCAC moving towards commissioning material for the web, because, although we have come a long way, much remains to be done.

Advice on how to download and install the free Welsh spell-checker for Microsoft products is available from the Powys IT team at:

Companies and organisations supplying Welsh language resources:

Maldwyn Pryse is joint co-ordinator of ICTsupport services with Powys LEA

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