The Dragon in the Room: Pedagogical reflections on teaching and learning in a bilingual environment

In universities in Wales, some undergraduate courses are offered in two languages: English and Welsh. The recently established ‘Coleg Cenedlaethol Cymraeg’ seeks to promote and increase Welsh language provision in HE. This reflective paper explores the experiences of students and lecturers in a setting which enables total engagement through Welsh or English. Often, the option to use Welsh is limited to assignment writing but some courses are offered entirely through the Welsh language. While this offers many benefits to first-language Welsh speakers who are better able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in Welsh, it also creates two distinct groups of students. This study compares two such groups, both studying identical degree courses delivered for the most part by the same staff. However, the Welsh-medium group is much smaller (n = 15) than the English-medium group (n = 59). Questionnaires were given to students of both language groups concerning the potential for drawing these two groups together and the responses give an interesting insight into students’ views of their studies according to their chosen language. This is considered alongside reflections from two lecturers teaching the same module (one teaching in Welsh and the other in English) on their experiences with these two groups. The results are used to consider issues of best practice when providing the same content to two groups that differ in size, ethnic/regional diversity and language use. Recommendations are made for pedagogy and policy to allow all students access to the full range of university experience while maintaining first-language use.