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Novel website opens the door to Welsh literature for youngsters during lockdown

Morgan DafyddMorgan DafyddA PhD student from Bangor University has launched a new website to open the door to Welsh literature for youngsters during the coronavirus crisis.

The Sôn am Lyfra (Talk About Books) website created by Morgan Dafydd offers bilingual reviews of Welsh children’s books to help them develop a passion for reading in Welsh.

The former primary school teacher said children studying Welsh as a second language often struggled to grasp Welsh literature which affected their confidence and enjoyment of reading.

The aim of the website is to make it easier for parents and young people to find the perfect book.

The new venture has been launched amid the Coronavirus lockdown as parents struggle to entertain their children and deliver home-based learning.

It features a wealth of resources including useful reviews, guest vlogs and educational tools and introduces children to an array of exciting authors.

Welsh-speaking Morgan, 29, who lives in Llandudno Junction, is currently studying a PhD at Bangor University’s School of Education and Human Development.

The three-year research project, funded through a scholarship from the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and match-funded by Bangor University, will examine the extent to which different types of bilingual books contribute to children’s enjoyment, understanding and willingness to read in Welsh as well as improve their vocabulary.

Morgan, who previously taught at Ysgol Dolgarrog in the Conwy Valley before it closed, has created the free resource in support of the Welsh Government’s ambitious goal to achieve a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

“It’s all stemmed from my background as a teacher,” he explained.

“There are lots of children and parents who don’t engage with Welsh literature at all. It can be a confusing area for them. 

“The children I taught were from non-Welsh speaking backgrounds and they found reading in Welsh difficult. I once did a show of hands and nobody in the class had ever been to the Welsh book shop down the road. 

“I did a little bit of work in the classroom without really thinking about it, making adjustments to the teaching resources and that really has become the basis of my PhD. 

“I thought this website would be a good idea to specifically support children and their parents on which books to buy. It’s more than developing comprehension it’s about getting them to enjoy Welsh books more and encouraging them to read for pleasure. 

“It’s essentially a ‘good reads’ website providing reviews of Welsh language books for children and young people.”

Morgan grew up in Conwy, attending Ysgol Maelgwn in Llandudno Junction and later Ysgol y Creuddyn. Following school, he completed a degree in Geography at Bangor University before going on to do a PGCE teaching course there. He then studied a masters’ degree in Educational Practice whilst teaching as part of a government-backed programme.

While still teaching, Morgan worked with Prof Enlli Môn Thomas from Bangor’s School of Education and Human Development to put together a PhD proposal for a Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol grant. 

The topic was inspired by an influential report commissioned by the Welsh Books Council in 2017 and written by Dr Siwan Rosser, from Cardiff University’s School of Welsh, which looked at the Welsh books industry in its entirety. It set out a number of recommendations including the need to research the nature and purpose of bilingual books further. 

“I feel very passionate about this,” said Morgan, who volunteers as a crewman for the RNLI in Conwy.

“Reading plays a big part in everything. You can normally tell the children who read and those who don’t. 

“There’s a lot of pressure on schools to deliver a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Yet we know that second language speakers are often unwilling to use Welsh for various reasons, which limits children's experiences of using Welsh conversationally with others. 

“Unlike speaking, reading is a solitary activity that does not require a conversational partner, whilst still offering new vocabulary and phrases for the learner to explore. 

“However, at the moment, Welsh literature is something a lot of children and young people only associate with school and they would not necessarily buy and read in their own time. We want to get them enjoying it. 

“When I was teaching, I’d swap certain difficult Welsh words with English words so you get a kind of bilingual mishmash book in the hope that it makes it easier to understand. There are really difficult Welsh words which we don’t use very often that we find in Welsh books.

“My aim is to help children understand the book so they enjoy what they’re reading and are reading for pleasure.”

Morgan built the website  with the help of his partner, Llio Mai Hughes, a Welsh language officer with Gwynedd Council, but without any external funding.

He has already amassed 100 reviews including helpful tips such as content and difficulty level to help children get started and the lockdown restrictions provided the perfect opportunity to launch. He hopes to continue improving the service through donations.  

“The Welsh Books Council have been very supportive and we are grateful to them for their help.

“We are currently  looking for funding for the website, it’s all being done voluntarily,” he said.

“I ideally want children and young people themselves to contribute to the website. Children would much prefer to read content from their peers although parents appreciate my reviews. This is something I want to develop further. 

“It’s still early days and the message is still getting out there. This is a time where people are stuck at home and there’s little else to do so it’s a good time to try and get children reading a book, especially if they don’t normally read.

“We’re plugging all the new books as well as the industry and publishers, and drawing some attention to the older classics too. 

“My plan is to increase the number of book reviews on there so it becomes the biggest collection of bilingual Welsh language book reviews on the web – it possibly already is. I’d like it to be known as the ‘go-to’ place.” 

The website is available at: https://www.sonamlyfra.cymru/

Publication date: 21 May 2020