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An Introduction to Diwan

The following information is from a publication produced in 1998 by Diwan, designed to introduce its schools and pedagogy to prospective parents, or to others interested in better understanding its operation. I have translated approximately half of the information found in the Diwan booklet, and in some cases synthesized or rearranged a bit of the information. The best way to keep informed of what is going on in the Diwan schools is to consult the Diwan website: 
- Lois Kuter -

Some Key Dates

Diwan in Numbers (2002-03 School Year)

33 preschools & primary schools (119 classes); 4 middle schools and a high school
In the 2002/03 school year there were 2,780 students enrolled in Diwan schools (2,139 in the preschools and primary schools, 504 in the middle schools and 137 in high school)

Why Diwan?

Inspired by the Ikastolak (of the Basques) and Meithrin (of the Welsh) Diwan's first preschool opened in 1977 in Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau. Diwan means "sprout" in Breton and is an association loi de 1901.

The Breton Language

There are Diwan schools because there is Breton-a living language with a unique oral culture and literature growing out of a European Celtic line going back 2000 years. It is the language of a nation that was independent until the 15th century and spoken up to the 9th century throughout the Armorican peninsula.

In 1900 Sébillot estimated that there were 1,300,000 Breton speakers; today we are at 400,000. That is still a lot if one compares Breton to the minority language of western Europe (of which there are some 40!) which range from 150,000 for the least spoken up to 2 1⁄2 million for the most widely found. Some with less speaker than Breton, but with official recognition, have ceased to decline and are even developing.

The survival of the Breton language will be played out through Diwan. The possibility of transmitting our language to future generations will require a positive political will in the area of the media and in public life in Brittany. If not, the race against the clock could be definitively lost and one of the most important elements of the Celtic patrimony will be no more than a curiosity in the archives. But beyond Breton, it is fundamental democracy and its respect that will be stuck down. To defend Breton is to chose diversity over uniformity, variety over monotony.

The Objectives of Diwan

The Diwan Charter

The Objective: Early Bilingualism

The Strategy: Immersion

Scientific research has shown the importance of all the early learning that takes place in acquiring knowledge and skills through ones schooling. The child in its youngest age is, in fact, in the optimal conditions for learning. Because, it's during early childhood that most of the development of the brain and intellectual capabilities are developed. The richness and variety of external stimulations play an important role in each individual's capacity to develop certain areas of knowledge. In fact, it is between birth and 6 years old that most learning must be awakened. This is the ageduring which the child is very receptive and learns without effort. What is true for learning anything is true for learning most fundamental skills is true for learning languages.

Thus, learning another language must be introduced very early. The ideal being that this learning starts in the family.

Early bilingualism needs one or the other of the following combinations to succeed:

Immersion teaching which has been experimented with for thirty years in Canada has given provides a satisfactory answer to meet our objective: to foster early bilingualism in a linguistic situation (ours) characterized by an total imbalance between the two languages of the larger community. The exclusive use of Breton in school up to elementary school classes has the goal of correcting this imbalance. The fundamental learning is done without recourse to French (i.e., without translating) which would unnecessarily complicate the work of the child to learn. This is the paradox of immersion: one becomes bilingual through monolingualism.

The very principal behind immersion is not to teach a language as a goal in itself, but to use the language as a means of learning in various areas of activity. A child will not willingly learn a language when he does not see what this serves. His attitude is different when the language becomes a tool to acquire knowledge.

The other aspect of teaching by immersion which meets our objective of early bilingualism is its intensive character. The ineffectiveness that one often regrets to find in the teaching of foreign or secondary languages is linked in large part to its spread out character: few hours of classes over a span of seven years. We are not mistaken here; the objective of such teaching is not to produce bilingual individuals.

The Diwan Pedagogical System

As outlined in its Charter, the Breton language is used as the language for teaching from preschool through high school. The pedagogical plan put in place by Diwan takes into account:

The Preschool

The only language used by the teacher is Breton, in the method of immersion. At the beginning of preschool the child uses either French or Breton if he or she already uses it. In the case of children starting with French, the use of Breton comes progressively at the individual's own rhythm. This "natural" system of teaching by immersion has been practiced successfully in Canada for 30 years.

One looks at three stages of development in the acquisition of a language:

Benchmarks in the Diwan Linguistic Strategy:

2 years old Preschool Language for teaching: Breton 26 hrs / Breton
6 years old CP Language for teaching: Breton 26 hrs / Breton
7 1⁄2 years old CE Language for teaching: Breton 24 hrs / Breton
Introduction to the dominant language: French 2 hrs / French
10 years old CM2 Linguistic and scholastic: Breton 17 hrs / Breton
Achievement equal for both: French 6 hrs / French
11 years old Collège, 6th Introduction to a 3rd language: English 6 classes a week / English
French & Breton as languages for teaching 22.5 classes / Breton
6.5 classes / French
13 years old Collège, 4th Oral and written competency English in 3rd language,
now used as language for teaching
5.5 classes / English
Introduction of a 4th language: Spanish or German 4 classes / Spanish-German
14 years old Collège, 3rd 3 languages used as languages for teaching 18.5 classes / Breton
8 classes / French
6.5 classes / English
Oral and written knowledge of a 4th language: Spanish or German 4 classes / Spanish-German

Elementary School:

In CE1 (7 1⁄2 years old) French is introduced. Mechanisms acquired in Breton are rapidly transposed. At first it is a matter of becoming competent in learning different spellings for certain phonemes. Very rapidly, one moves to the study of the language and its oral and written use. At this level many concepts can be transposed from one language to the other, directly or by comparative study. The time reserved for French progressively increases until the end of the primary level in the following way: CE1 has 2 hours, CE2 has 6 hours, CM1 has 6 hours and CM2 has 6 hours (see chart which follows).

At the end of the primary school level children in the Diwan schools should have a knowledge and a competence in French which is equal to that of children coming out of the unilingual school system, and their competence is equal in both languages.

The teaching material follows the official programs of the National Education system

Middle School and High School

The Diwan Middle Schools are the outcome of the work of some fifty people who have been working since 1985 to elaborate study programs and create school books in Breton. This allows for teachers today to work with a solid base and to use modern teaching materials.

The Diwan Secondary level is also the fruit of the work of parents and children who have all thought through and laid out the basic lines of the educational project.

Diwan Cocktail: 1.3 French and 2/3 Breton

The two languages are languages of learning and study.

In Breton: History, geography, physics, natural sciences, math, art, sports, music and computer.

In French: Civics, technology, math (one third of the program is studied in French in the 3rd level and exercises to use math in French are used at other levels)

English-a third living language

Because students are already bilingual when they arrive at the middle school level. English is a third language for them. To accelerate the learning of English, the students have six (45-minute) classes a week As is done with Breton, English is approached as a language for discovery and interaction and not as a "scholarly materials." Radio and television programs in English are used for teaching as are correspondence and exchanges with a Welsh middle school, and travel in Great Britain.

English-a language for teaching

Subjects taught in English are: History and geography of Great Britain (in the 4th level) and Natural Sciences in the 3rd level (the official National Education curriculum). When student reach the 3rd level (14years old), English becomes a medium for teaching alongside Breton and French. This program put into place with English-speaking teachers, allows for English to become a truly living language and readies students for the Europe of tomorrow. In the same spirit, the study of a second foreign language is begun (Spanish or German).

The rhythm of the school program

Classes are 45 minutes long to take advantage of student's attention span. Days are lengthened two times a week with a long break at noon to allow students to participate in various leisure activities: radio production, theater, sports, Welsh classes, music, etc.

Dynamic and active Middle and High School students

It's their school and they have worked with adults to prepare it during their primary school years. Today they live it with passion and enthusiasm through sports competitions, participation in various daily tasks, in School Council meetings, and a regular weekly meeting with the principal of the school.

The Pedagogical and Educational Team

To form a team means you must have the same goals, the same preoccupations and to work together. At the middle schools and high school, the teachers and those that manage school life (animateurs) - often the same-are part of the same team and work together so there is no gap between daily life and teaching. Two times per month the team meets to take stock and put new projects in place-educationally and pedagogically. These meetings have allowed them to decide how to put into place programs to support students or create new classes of methodology, but also to individualize the path of students, providing tutoring, for example.

Now, the High School

The Secondary level began in September 1994 with the 1st level starting in 1995 and the final level completing the Diwan schooling in 1996 to arrive at the doors of the university. For the first time in 1997, Diwan high school students took (and successfully passed) their Baccalaureat exams.

Questions Potential Diwan Parents Ask