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Wealth of languages ignored

Survey shows the richness of community bilingualism but few opportunities to take exams. Karen Thornton reports

At least 93 languages other than English and Welsh are spoken by more than 8,000 pupils across Wales, according to a new survey. But outside of Cardiff there is little provision for children to study their family language to exam level, either in school or after lessons.

CILT Cymru, the national centre for languages in Wales, is hoping the survey findings will encourage more local authorities and schools to work together to provide joint lessons and exam opportunities for young people.

At present, some children in Flintshire travel to Chester for Arabic lessons and to Liverpool for Cantonese.

Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, said: "One of the problems is there are lots of languages and learners out there. But except for some schools in Cardiff, it is difficult to arrange any provision or exam entries.

"Schools and local education authorities have to rationalise and collaborate.

"We are always saying Britain is very poor on learning languages but we have this big native resource here that is ignored. The armed forces and other employers are looking for people with Arabic and Urdu skills.

"If children can get recognition for their abilities via qualifications, they might have more confidence to use their languages in work," he added.

The survey figures are believed to be underestimates because only 13 out of Wales's 22 LEAs were able to provide information about community languages.

Only nine mainstream schools were found to be providing lessons, along with three "complementary" schools run by community or religious groups. But these, too, could be underestimates, with some schools that offer extra-curricular lessons in community languages failing to publicise them on websites or in prospectuses.

Joanna McPake, the report's author, said: "Just as Welsh children spend many years studying Welsh and English at school, children who speak community languages can benefit greatly from opportunities to study formally the languages they have acquired."

In 2005 in Wales, 474 candidates sat GCSEs and 256 took A or AS-level papers in languages other than Welsh, French, German and Spanish.

According to the survey, which was carried out by the Scottish CILT, Cardiff had the largest numbers of languages and speakers, with Bengali speakers forming the biggest single group.

Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have 1,777 pupils speaking at least 67 community languages.

Conwy and Denbighshire also provided joint data, with 38 community languages spoken in their areas.

In Flintshire, nearly 100 children speak 24 languages. Carmarthenshire identified 44 languages spoken by 290 pupils, with rising numbers of speakers of Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines. Gwynedd, Anglesey, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Monmouthshire are among the LEAs that do not collect data on community languages.

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