“ Undergraduate Language Program „
I have been an on/off OU student since 1999, and over that time have studied in a variety of areas from social sciences to music, psychology to religion, and on levels 1, 2 and 3, so like to think I have a reasonable amount of experience when it comes to the OU.
I had had a break of around 3 years from studying with the OU, between 2005-2008, mainly because I had had 2 children in 2002 and 2004, and honestly found it a bit of a strain to juggle that as well as an older child, alongside some medical issues, as well as study. I must have still been on a mailing list somewhere though, as I received a letter from the OU to inform me that they were launching a Welsh course in November 2008 (L196, Croeso:beginners Welsh), and inviting me to register for the course.
-WHY I WAS INTERESTED IN THIS COURSE.
This course primarily interested me as a way of brushing up on my Welsh; I moved to Wales at the age of 5, and attended a Welsh medium primary school, but then went on to an English language secondary school, and over the years had forgotten most of the Welsh I had once known. I had also never really learnt "grammatical" Welsh; I would mutate out of habit but have no idea why I was doing it! As Welsh GCSE is now compulsory in Wales (unfortunately I missed this by about a year and took German instead...nothing like the lure of a foreign exchange holiday to tip the language choice balance!), I also felt improving my knowledge of Welsh may help me to help my children with their Welsh, both now and in the future. Although I do live in Wales, the area I live in is predominantly English speaking, so everyday use of Welsh wasn't really something on my personal agenda.
- COURSE INFORMATION AND SUITABILITY
The L196 Course Description website states that "This is a key introductory Level 1 course. Level 1 courses provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning.
No prior knowledge of Welsh is required to study this course."
As an "almost 1 year" (my OU record informs me that I began the course on 25/10/08, and completed it on 28/09/09) 30 point course, I would agree that this is a fantastic entry level course for anyone new to the OU, as the pace of study is relatively easy and light on the work front compared to 30 point shorter duration courses, or 60 point 1 year courses. The course is made up of 6 Tutor Marked Assignments (TMAs), approximately one every 6 weeks, but with breaks over Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and one final Examinable component, at the very end of the course. I felt this to be a steady workload and more than manageable, but I do feel my previous knowledge did enable me to "skip" areas on occasion, so overall would say approximately 4-6 hours a week, split into smaller sessions, should be plenty to study this course.
Having said that, I would honestly question the OU slightly about their statement that no previous knowledge of Welsh is required to undertake this course. I was very active on the students' forum for L196, and noticed on many, many occasions people with no prior experience of Welsh struggling, particularly during the "mid-section" of the course. This applied to people with extensive knowledge of other langauges, as well as those completely new to studying a language. Whilst obviously prior experience is always useful, some people commented that they felt a little bit "left high and dry" by the course, particularly those people who lived outside of the Principality, so had little opportunity to hear spoken Welsh in its "natural" state.
I definitely think that the pace increases sharply from about TMA03, with an awful lot of new grammatical information and vocabulary to try to cram in if it is all brand new to you. I also sympathised deeply with those who struggled with the aural aspects of the course, as accents from all over Wales are covered in various study exercises and assignments, and even I found some of them required several listenings to attune my ear, despite living in Wales and having travelled to many parts of it. For these reasons, whilst it is definitely not impossible for a total beginner to undertake this course successfully, I honestly think it requires a lot more effort and ideally the time to make use of additional resources outside of the course, such as Welsh media broadcasts and other websites, to make a good result a guarantee for anyone who isn't particularly proficient at languages.
-THE STUDY MATERIALS
A key factor on any distance learning course is the quality of the materials received. On this front I was reasonably satisfied; the books are fantastic, clearly laid out and easy to follow, with plenty of illustrations and fairly fun activities to help you to remember vocabulary and grammar rules. The CDs on the other hand can be a little bit more difficult to interact with, and in all honesty I skipped using several of them as I found them frustrating more often than not. In some cases this was because I felt the speakers spoke too slowly, which, whilst I appreciate the intention behind this, to make it easier for new learners to pick up words etc., I actually felt made things harder as the lilt and sense of a sentence could often be difficult to detect as the speaking sounded so stilted. On other occasions I felt that the "thickness" of some of the regional accents bordered on caricatures, and made exercises a lot trickier than they needed to be.
The tutor support was generally adequate, but very much hampered by the notoriously buggy Lyceum system used for tutorials. This system is basically glorified webchat; a voice system with a whiteboard attatched to it, which in theory enables students to receive tutorials over the internet. I expect it would, if it was even halfway reliable; on many occasions the tutor or students were randomly disconnected from the system, or blocked from entering rooms for no apparent reason, or the system would crash and boot us all off into cyberspace and not let us reaccess the service. Despite complaints from both students and tutors, these issues were never resolved during the duration of my course. This meant that those who really needed aural practice often didn't get it, and this was a major flaw in the course, as I really feel this was the one area that tutor help was needed most for many.
"Real life" tutorials were provided but were not as frequent as I may have liked, and we also had problems with these as the venue would change rooms on us at the last minute, leaving some of us spending half the tutorial time trying to find where the tutorials were being held!
Our tutor was very friendly and helpful and answered emails or telephone calls promptly, but this is very much down to the tutor you are allocated and I feel should not be such a large factor in determining the ease of studying the course. Some tutors will go the extra mile, but others will only do what they are expressly contracted to do, and I do feel that with the bugginess of Lyceum, this may prove a problem if someone was struggling and had a less co-operative tutor than I had!
- COURSE COST
The current cost of this course is £480, but financial assistance is available in some circumstances, as are Budgeting Accounts, so it is definitely worth checking if you may be eligible for part or full payment to be made for your course before registering. I have included some links at the bottom of this review which will take you to detailed information about these services, as I don't feel an in-depth evaluation of these really belongs in a course review!
In all honesty I did feel this price was a little high, especially considering that in Wales itself it is often possible to attend free Welsh classes with a similar level of "tutor support" and end results. Having said that, the OU points system means that this course can be used to count towards further qualifications such as diplomas or degrees, unlike local Welsh courses, and if you live outside Wales it is unlikely you would find a local Welsh class in your area, so I suppose these things are the selling points of this course.
- COURSE AIMS, AND WERE THEY MET?
The OU website for L196 states that "Croeso will give you the skills you need to speak and understand simple Welsh in everyday contexts.....And while you're learning the language, you'll gain a real feel for the Welsh way of life too. "
My personal experience of the course would really only support this about 40%; whilst the course would probably give a complete beginner enough knowledge to ask for something in a shop, for example, if the shopkeeper then said it wasn't available for whatever reason I am not convinced that someone who studied this course would completely understand such a response, or know how to respond to it. In all honesty, I felt that the course overall was a rather long winded way of enabling someone to get a level of language knowledge comparable with those little phrase books people often buy before going on holiday!
This may seem a minor problem, until one realises that the OU has no plans at present for any other Welsh language courses. Whilst this course could be seen as a good starting point to learning Welsh, I definitely feel that further courses would be required to take a person up to a fluent level of Welsh, even on basic everyday things. The fact that this is currently unavailable via the OU is another factor which would make me hesitate in recommending this course.
I didn't feel I got any real impression of "the Welsh way of life" from this course. Admittedly it probably isn't that different to life in the rest of the UK, but things I feel are very culturally Welsh and could've been included, such as Eisteddfodau, are absent from the course.
This is a relatively unusual and interesting course if you have an interest in languages, and may be a handy 30 pointer to pick up if you need said points towards another OU qualification. Having said that, I don't think it represents good value for money as a standalone course, and don't feel that it is entirely suitable for total beginners unless they are willing and able to make use of resources outside of the course materials. And I still mutate without knowing why!
L196 Course Description and registration - http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/l196.htm
Financial Assistance Information - http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/explained/financial-support.shtml
Financial Assistance Eligibility Checker - http://css2.open.ac.uk/fafcalculator/eligibility.aspx
Open University Budget Account information - https://css2.open.ac.uk/ousbaonline/landingpage.aspx
I can't begin to tell you how many times I been asked "but why?" since I started learning Welsh last year with the Open University. How about because it's interesting? How about because I have a lot of friends who speak it as their first language? And how about because I need something to do at my often boring job? All good reasons and that's why I enrolled onto the first presenation of the OU's Beginners' Welsh (code L196) course.
I have studied through the OU before, but only short courses so this was to be my first full-year commitment to study. Fortunately, the course was completely paid for by their excellent financial support service, as the £430 price tag would probably have put me off otherwise!
All of the OU's beginner language courses run from November until October, with this particular one being offered each year until 2017 as the current estimate. When my books arrived a few weeks before the course was due to begin, I looked at them fairly confidently and was excited to begin. When I received a second mailing of books a few months later, I was slightly less excited and more overwhelmed! The first package consisted of audio CDs, a textbook and practise book, study calendar/timetable and the assessment book.
Now, in my past short courses with the OU, and with a subsequent course I did at the same time as this one, I have found that a good tutor makes or breaks a course. I have to say that from the beginning I was thoroughly impressed with my tutor for L196. He wrote a friendly letter stating he would be available for additional practise on the telephone if required, and has throughout the course emailed and telephoned whenever I've needed help very promptly. None of my questions have ever been too stupid (including one which was settling an age-old debate between my friend and I on a ridiculous Welsh-related matter).
As fellow OU students will know, each course is set out very differently, which can also make a huge impact on your enjoyment. The layout of the textbooks made it very easy to know what I should be doing and when, as did the study calendar. I would simply turn to the chapter I was on and work through until it told me to listen to a CD track. Once I had finished the chapter, I would answer the very thorough questions in the practise book. They are structured in such a way that it makes it impossible to get by without learning all the patterns taught in that section.
However...as always I did get somewhat lazy, mostly due to going on lots of holidays. I have, however, found that the course-load is quite slight. Yes, I haven't kept up with my study calendar and yes, I could be learning more vocabulary and utilising my dictionary less if I really wanted, but I have been busy and I get really good marks in my assignments, which generally don't take more than a couple of hours. I have one assignment left to submit, and two end of course assessments - one written and one oral. I am confident that I will also do well on these, and the assessment book makes the somewhat daunting speaking test seem more accessible - as it tells you which topics will be covered.
I am certain I will pass this course, as the pass mark is 40% and I am currently averaging about 85! The fact it is so easy to pass is perhaps partly to blame for my laziness. It is supposed to be roughly the equivalent of GCSE. Had I worked through the book and put in the required effort the whole time, then I can imagine I would be of the same standard I was at Spanish when I took my GCSE exam. However having read the Welsh GCSE Bitesize book, I would say this course covers a lot more ground.
I haven't managed to attend any of the online tutorials, which is a shame, due to my erratic work hours, but the one in-person one I attended was a nice introduction to the course. I'm pleased with my decision to take this class, but definitely feel you get out of it exactly what you put in. Meaning once I'm done, I will probably promptly forget everything if I don't make an effort once in a while to learn some new vocabulary and use my skills.
Now...let see how many Welsh speakers are on Dooyoo, who knows what my title means?