One aspect that I need to think about relates to student motivation and hence retention. Almost all the current Welsh courses begin with colloquial language, but become more academic and literary when you get to the higher levels. The class I attend (Llanllawen) is the only one that doesn't and our tutor is trying to pioneer ways of keeping a course focused on practical, everyday language whilst at the same time tackling longer and more complex sentences. Is this good or bad? Is it necessary to be able to read and write the language, or is it enough to be able to speak confidently? Is Llanllawen neglecting something important, or is its popularity with students an indication that the spoken language is what most adult learners want.
In fact, what do adult learners want? I suspect that colleges haven't really given this much thought. Another thing on the list to be investigated.
Anyway, over the next 9 months or so, my research will be focusing on the following courses:
Llanllawen (colloquial Welsh throughout): This is the course that I personally attend and have done so for 4 years. This is the longest I've ever stuck with a course, so that says something right away. This course is very different from any others and the method basically boils down to learning stories by heart. In case this sounds dull, the tutor has devised many ways of making it fun, such as word bingo and miming sentences. I'll say more about this next week because an academic is coming up from Cardiff University to talk to us about the course, how we feel about it and how effective it is. Grammar is explained in the lessons, but only in context and as it arises in the story. Non-technical language is used at all times to talk about the grammar. (Terms like "glue" are used instead of "preposition".) Questions of a technical nature about grammar are usually headed off at the pass whereas in other classes I've attended, they are often used as a way of diverting the tutor from the lesson so the students don't have to actually say anything.
Wlpan or Entry 1/Mynediad 1: It's many years since I did Wlpan so I'll need to familiarise myself with the current version. It is colloquial and based on everyday language. However, sentences are studied in isolation rather than as part of a story. There is pair work where students practise the patterns learned that week.
L196 Croeso: beginners' Welsh (Open University): I have signed up for the course starting in November, so I'll know more about it when I get the materials! Although it says that you don't need any prior knowledge and I've been learning for umpty-mumble years, it claims to reach roughly GCSE level (grades A-C), Scottish standard Grades 1 and 2 and the WJEC’s Defnyddio'r Gymraeg: Sylfaen (Use of Welsh: Foundation) level. The level is also supposed to be comparable to A2 as defined by the Council of Europe. This is probably much more basic than my current level of spoken Welsh, but as I've spent 4 years without doing any writing, it should help with the written aspects of language. (I then plan to take the Defnyddio'r Gymraeg (Use of Welsh) exam next May.) Also I get to see a completely different way of teaching using distance learning and technology such as online audio conferencing.
Intensive courses: These come in various lengths...
Day courses: such as the Sadwrn Siarad (Speaking Saturday) held at the local college every so often.
Weekends: for example at the Welsh Language centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn.
A week or more: I have attended these in Aberystwyth and Denbighshire. G did one that he found very beneficial in Coleg Harlech. I see that Bangor Universty also run them.
So, that's a quick run down of what the study will involve as I attempt to answer the question:
How can a college enable a student to become a confident and fluent speaker of a language?
By the way, though I'm focusing on Welsh for obvious reasons, any comments about methods or courses that you have found particularly useful or particularly offputting are very welcome, whatever language you are learning.
(Crossposted to LJ and Dreamwidth. If you want to comment, please feel free to do so at whichever site you find most convenient.)
[ETA: I'm sure I put cut tags in here last night and I'm also sure I checked to make sure they were working OK, but when I looked here this morning, they were gone. Very strange... Anyway, I've now put them back.]