Inspirational Billie champions Welsh language revolution
An "inspirational" Welsh learner who hails from Yorkshire is leading a classroom revolution in the Wrexham area.
Tutor Billie Owens is helping 18 teaching assistants from local schools who have signed up for a pioneering scheme to learn conversational Welsh.
The 20-week course called Cwrs Iaith Meithrin (Nursery Language Course), is being held at Gwersyllt Resources Centre.
It is the first initiative of its kind to run in North Wales and the experience is proving educational and enjoyable for the students.
The course is aimed specifically at teachers, nursery workers and childminders who work with very young children and who want to start learning or build their confidence with the language.
Under the guidance of tutor Billie Owens – herself a Welsh learner who hails from Harrogate – the students learn everyday words and phrases which a growing number of children now use in the classroom and playground.
Billie’s interest in the language began when she spent a holiday in North Wales at the age of 13. Until then she didn’t even know the language existed, and she later learned her first phrases from a fellow student at Manchester University who was from Anglesey.
She met her husband Geraint, who hails from Rhos, in 1996 and they married in 2000, when she took an intensive three-week Welsh course while still living in Manchester.
Other courses followed, including GCSE, A-level and, currently, a two-year course through the North Wales Welsh for Adults Centre to teach adults.
“Now my obsession has changed into my job,” she quipped.
The family now lives in Ruthin, where children Catrin, eight, and Math, five, attend the Welsh primary school Ysgol Penbarras.
Several of the assistants on the Gwersyllt course explained that they had asked their headteachers to find out whether any such courses existed so that they could improve their skills.
“There are plenty of courses for teachers but until now there has been nothing for teaching assistants,” explained Viv Valentine, one of eight assistants from Borras Park Primary School on the course.
Viv herself is a former pupil of Borras Park and her two daughters have also attended the school. She has been a classroom assistant there for eight years.
“When I was younger I spoke some Welsh although my parents didn’t and although the children in our school are largely from English families I think it’s important to be able to understand fairly elementary phrases,” she said.
“At the end of this course I may well want to take it further,” she added.
She said she found the weekly two-hour sessions not only stimulating but also relaxing.
“The way the lessons are conducted there is no pressure,” she added.
Karen Moore has been at Borras Park for about the same length of time and was also a pupil there as a child. As the family moved to live in Barmouth her son Liam quickly learned Welsh and after returning to Wrexham he attended Ysgol Bodhyfryd and then Ysgol Morgan Llwyd.
“He is fluent in Welsh but doesn’t use it at home because no-one else in the family can speak it, so when this chance came I was glad to sign up,” said Karen.
“It’s an opportunity to progress in work and the course has been even better than I expected,” she added.
Meinir Tomos Jones, Coleg Harlech’s Welsh For Adults co-ordinator, said the next step is to expand and run the course throughout North Wales and North Powys.
She said: “Wrexham was chosen for the pilot following the National Eisteddfod last year and because of the surge of interest in Welsh in the area with a significant increase in the demand for Welsh medium education.
"Gwersyllt, where the course is held, has been identified as a possible location for a new Welsh medium primary school.”
"The Cwrs Iaith Meithrin course builds on the success of Coleg Harlech’s Welsh For The Family courses which were delivered in conjunction with the North and Mid Wales Welsh for Adults Centres and the Mudiad Meithrin which helps parents play a more active part in their children’s education, language and development."
Coleg Harlech Principal Trefor Fon Owen believes that Billie is the perfect role model for her students.
He said: "I am full of admiration for Billie who is a real inspiration
to her students - a Yorkshirewoman who is proving to be an effective champion
for the Welsh language."