Living Welsh in a globalised world

Rhys David makes a plea for more radical thinking on how best to fit the language for the modern era

There will be a significant number of individuals with a knowledge of Welsh at the start of the next century. We know that much from the encouraging evidence in the latest census of more three-year-olds with Welsh – and the likelihood that, with improving health care, further advances in longevity will occur. But just how much Welsh will the then 90-year-olds of the next century and those who have come after them be using in the early 2100s and what sort of ‘Welsh communities’ will then exist?


Welsh is a language just like any other

Dafydd Glyn Jones answers Rhys David’s argument by warning against the perils of linguistic re-invention.

The hour glass profile of Welsh speaking – with the middle aged the least likely to be proficient out of Wales’s 3.1 million population – is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise chastening 2011 census report. The bubble of optimism generated by the 2001 report, which showed the first rise in numbers for nearly a century, has been pricked by a fall of some 20,000, and by the sobering loss of majorities in two heartlands – Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Within a generation there might be no single area of Wales where most people can speak Welsh. The growth of numbers in areas such as Cardiff and Monmouthshire, where opportunities to speak Welsh are limited, can be seen as only limited consolation. The evidence is piling up, too, that while large numbers of Welsh children are being taught through the medium of Welsh, fluency is being lost once they enter the worlds of higher education and work, whether they stay in Wales or, all too frequently, move away.

Meri Huws, in post for a year as Welsh Language Commissioner, the successor body to the Welsh Language Board, recognises the challenges and believes they can be overcome. The elephant in the room is, of course, English. In May nine language commissioners, representing Kosovo, Ireland, South Africa, Catalonia and Wales among others, met to compare notes. “Whatever our languages we all agreed the dominant issue was how to work within an increasingly Anglicised world,” Meri Huws observes.

In its role of encouraging the use of Welsh, as well as ensuring Welsh speakers receive equal and fair treatment, Meri Huws’ Commission wants to see priority given to ensuring young people educated through Welsh go on to use their language skills. That means working with a whole range of organisations to see that Welsh is available in fields as diverse as sports coaching and the arts, in apprenticeships and workplaces, and in higher education. Just as importantly, Welsh has to be a language young people will want to use to communicate with each other in social situations and on social networks, she argues.

Some progress is being made as a wealth of entries to the IWA’s Welsh at Work category in the Inspire Wales Awards makes clear. Individual businesses have made the use of Welsh their calling card in literature and signage and in their greetings and dealings with customers. In bigger organisations and, in particular, the public sector, where a requirement to give Welsh equal status exists, a real culture change is in some cases being achieved. Some of the best work is being done by fire and police authorities, further education colleges and local government. This is helping to create a ‘water-cooler Welsh’ atmosphere where individuals are happy to use their Welsh for casual conversations, as well as in discussions in meetings, in letters and minutes, and on demand with clients and customers. Banks, too, have a good record in this field.

Yet, the challenge of normalising Welsh and getting it off the back foot outside domains such as the home and school, remains vast. It is hard not to conclude that there is a failure to address some of the bigger questions surrounding the future of the language. Difficulty is one of these. Welsh is a hard language to learn, as the legions of people throughout the past century who have learnt it in school but who emerged barely able to put a sentence together, and the equally large number of drop-outs from adult education and home learning also testify.

Nor is it just learners who have had problems. Indeed, a consistent theme running through the entries for Welsh at Work every year is the lack of confidence people have in using Welsh, even individuals brought up in the language. “My Welsh is not good enough,” must be the commonest refrain in Wales. Many proficient speakers will not write in Welsh. Writing in the language is now a craft increasingly confined to a cadre of super-literate Welsh.

What are the problems and can they be resolved? Although it has been around in these isles for 2,500 years or more, perhaps we should think that, as in software, we only have the beta version at present and it needs some reworking to make it fit for purpose. Perhaps, too, we should acknowledge that the idea that more efforts along present lines will ultimately lead to a bilingual Wales where large numbers of people will be able to switch effortlessly between languages as a matter of choice is an unrealistic target. The reality will always be different because not everyone will see the merit of being able to communicate in two two languages.

These observations will inevitably raise hackles but consider the first point, the difficulty of Welsh. The grammar is highly complex with particularly awkward ways of making all forms of subordinate clauses, complex negatives, archaic declensions, and unique formulations such as sydd, a combined relative pronoun and verb (who is, that is). Moreover, there are multiple plural forms, masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives, and a not very satisfactory method of expressing negative commands involving the verb-noun ‘stop’ (peidio). This is before even mentioning mutations which will have entered the language to ease its spoken flow but which because of their irregularity now make writing accurately very hard.

It’s not hard to see why a young person would choose to use English, a stripped down language that is consistently simplifying itself, on Facebook. Welsh suffers, too, from the way the spoken, heavily elided forms have invaded the written as well as the spoken language, obscuring for readers full words and hence their meaning, and adding to the difficulty for listeners not completely familiar with the language. It is as if Cilla Black had been put in charge of English and we had all been taught that “worra lorra” or “you’ve gorra lorra” were the new correct forms of speech.

As a language with a relatively small number of speakers Welsh is always going to be dependent on dominant languages and, in particular, English for the creation of words for new concepts and ideas. Yet, as any visit to a supermarket will demonstrate, little thought seems to have been given to the best way to generate neologisms and how best to get back to roots that fit in with Welsh orthography. Welsh lacks letters for sh, j, and ch  (as in church), yet many English words that are adopted contain these, leading to some very ugly words, such as siwrnai and coetsys, which detract from the dignity of the language. A Welsh equivalent of the Academie Francaise, the body that preserves the purity of French is urgently needed. In principle, languages should always evolve dynamically but Welsh is not currently strong enough to allow this to happen and some guidance is required.

Much more serious and not yet being properly addressed is the atomisation of the speaking population and the loss of communities where most people one might meet in the street would be able to return conversation in Welsh. Valuable as it is to have Welsh speakers in Newport their opportunities outside some very specific domains to converse with other Welsh speakers will be limited and both their fluency and grammar will suffer if Welsh remains only a second or occasional language.

There is the final problem that the small number of creative Welsh individuals writing books, or making films and television programmes, cannot hope to compete for variety and cultural depth with the huge universe of English speakers. Very little of this wider world culture from outside Wales is accessible to Welsh speakers through translation or dubbing. Even the most dedicated Welsh speaker will by default absorb much of his or her culture through English language television channels, newspapers, magazines and books, and will find little similar material on offer in Welsh. If the French are willing to translate Tom Clancy and John Grisham, should Welsh be too proud?

This may sound like a counsel of despair but it is really a plea for greater honesty about the future of Welsh and for more radical thinking on how best to fit the language for the modern world. It is a valid point, as Meri Huws points out, that Welsh has not been considered a factor in policy consideration to date in a way that for example environmental and energy sustainability has. Indeed, though there are hopes this might change, planning guidelines have not made the impact on development decisions on Welsh language communities a consideration in a way it should have.

Encouraging Welsh language speakers to stay in strong Welsh-speaking areas should also be examined. Can we secure their greater participation in sectors such as tourism that now provide the bulk of income and opportunities in those areas? After all, there is little point in Welsh speakers filling posts as translators in Cardiff while English speakers from outside Wales take the opportunities that undoubtedly exist in Welsh speaking heartlands.

The mechanism employed over the past 25 years to support the Welsh language has been to legislate (to ensure fair treatment), to provide (to ensure children can be educated in Welsh) and to facilitate (to encourage use of Welsh in the outside world). This is no longer going to work. If the 90-year-olds of the next century are going to be talking to their grandchildren and posting on whatever takes the place of Facebook in Welsh, the issues facing the language need to be looked at honestly and professionally, and in a much broader context. This work needs to start well before the next census, in 2021, offers us further reason for discomfort.

Rhys David is a Trustee of the IWA. This article was first published in the current issue of the IWA’s journal the welsh agenda.

41 thoughts on “Living Welsh in a globalised world

  1. First and foremost Welsh is NOT a difficult language to learn. No more or less that is than any other language. All languages have their quirks but many languages (if not quite all) have mutations – yes even English. The main problem is not in the Welsh language but in the mental insularity that frequently comes with English.

    Even English is under pressure. It is retreating in the USA in the face of Spanish and the hybrid version of what is referred to as English in Asia is completely incomprehensible to your average English-English speaker. Yet this hybrid Asian English is the most common form.

    English is itself a hybrid language, neither Case nor Romance with a mish-mash of other bits thrown in which make spelling so difficult that few, even educated English speakers, can do it. It is not the “right” language or “better” language. It’s prominent in the world because of force of arms, like Latin was and Spanish was and is. The biggest thing for any English speaker to learn, in learning any another language, is simply to open the mind up and take their heads out of the sand.

    Welsh has been put down by the English and Anglicised establishment for centuries. The only reason we’re still here is because we’re bloody-minded. Unfortunately, this goes for those of us who have suffered forced Anglicisation as well. For this reason we all, Welsh speakers and not, ought to be very vocal and confident in speaking the language up. It’s the best asset we have.

    Wales was the first completely literate country in the world because of Welsh. The Chapels reckoned they could teach an adult to read and write in Welsh in only 6 weeks, because it’s structure was easier than English. It’s the fault of our education standards and systems and prejudices during the 20th Century that failed to build on that success and to evolve intelligently.

    Welsh was forced to become, in effect, a private rather than public language. We must now make Welsh a fully public language and, through it, make Wales not just bilingual but multilingual. Which means that we must use Welsh more and more in education.

    Languages evolve their own way, you cannot plan how they will change, but change they all will. I’m sure that Welsh will still be a living language when English will only be studied by academics, like Latin and Ancient Greek. They’ll be arguing over how the written words should be pronounced.

  2. Rhys David- I find some of your points here lacking even the slightest background knowledge. No offence intended but the level of ignorance inherent in some of the points is startling. HOWEVER, I’ll start first of all by saying I do agree with some points you make. I agree 100% for example about the brain drain from the west and north, and I also agree totally that bats and other wildlife are given more consideration (and have even stopped developments) than Welsh is, and that is wrong.

    However, the underlying problem is alluded to by the very title ”how best to fit the language for the modern era”. Actually Rhys, it is fit. If it was fit to describe even the most minute legal, medical and scientific detail in the middle ages, suitable for a European standard literature, right up to our time being suitable for Welsh medium university courses in Law, Modern Languages, ICT, Film among other degrees, a whole radio and TV station, schools up and down the country and even government, then isn’t it obvious that the language has proven its suitability to the modern world? It has the ability to adapt to any register, and is flexible enough to discuss anything. Indeed, this is proven by the coming of Welsh medium university courses most recently and being used in government and the workplace, S4C/Radio Cymru in the past among other domains.

    Gwerddon is a quarterly published Welsh academic journal containing a mixture of different articles on research from German literature and European politics to the Sun’s atmosphere and dementia, all written in Welsh (link below) and published four times every year for example. I bet those who are loudest about how useless Welsh is has never heard of Gwerddon or the Coleg Cymraeg. Did you look at Welsh medium academia, as an example of a modern language being used in the modern world, before purporting that it needs to ‘modernize’? It was claimed back in 1847 in the infamous Blue Books that Welsh was not fit for the modern era, even though the reason being at that time that the colonizing power stifled development of Welsh academia and education. Since the end of the 19th Century, Welsh has developed. Given the fact that Welsh is about 1,500 years old, that is quite an achievement.

    And another point, Welsh is about 1,500 years old, not 2,500, and predates English in the British Isles. Welsh is considered this old as this was the point that Wales was isolated from the British speaking north of England/Scotland by the English (i.e. Saxon) speaking invaders. As such Welsh then began to develop out of Brythonic into Welsh)

    Another facet of this is the evolving spoken language. Younger speakers have come up with a number of different grammatical neologisms that make it easier for them, you only have to listen to them.

    Welsh is not a difficult language. No language is any more easier or more difficult than the next. It is absolute nonsense that Welsh is any harder than English to learn. Have you tried learning English? The difficulty of any language relies entirely on two externals and has nothing to do with the internals, i.e. the language itself. The first external factor which makes a language easy/difficult for a person is his/her first language. If the language being learnt is so different from the first language of the learner, then it will be difficult. Is Chinese in itself hard? No. Would I find it difficult to learn? Yes, because Chinese is so different from my own languages. Would a German speaker find Japanese hard? Probably. Would he/she find Danish easier? Yes. Second, is the ability of the individual speaker, if it is just too hard, then don’t blame the language and state that it is a failure on the part of Welsh for just being to difficult – the “how dare Welsh be so different and challenging” attitude. Look closer to home. It depends on the skills of the individual as well.

    You call in a ”a counsel of despair” when really ..”it is really a plea for greater honesty about the future of Welsh and for more radical thinking on how best to fit the language for the modern world” but when confronted with actual phonological change and development to incorporate new sounds into the language, such as z, j, ch, you deplore it as ‘ugly’. ”Coetsys’ has been in use for about 300 years for a start, and so is no new bastardized version. This is an example of the speakers themselves innovating within a living language and adapting and adopting; this is what happens in a living ,spoken tongue. Only dead languages have ”academies ” where experts and elitists dictate how a language should sound or look. French being the exception, but are exceptionally conservative with French anyway.

    I also suggest you do some research on a concept called linguistic relativism, i.e. all languages are equal and equally capable of expressing any idea in their language and it equally is capable of development.

    Hir oes i’r Iaith Gymraeg.

  3. Gwyn you can be as ‘bloody-minded’ as you like… you will never force this particular Welsh person into learning Welsh. I’m not interested in how easy it is to learn either because, like the rest of the Welsh public, I’ve been free to learn Welsh my entire life. However, like the vast majority, I have chosen not to. Now if I’ve not learnt in a free society, what makes you think that I will be compelled to do so under the sort of pressure currently being applied by the likes of yourself and Meri Huws?

    Finally, I take offence at your insinuation that people in Wales who do not speak Welsh somehow have their heads in the sand. I speak conversational Spanish and French to an intermediate level through necessity. However, despite living in Wales nearly my entire life, necessity has never led to me learning Welsh. I did not ‘bury my head in the sand’ though, I thought about it and decided I did not need or want to…. and no current political fad or pressure from QUANGOs with vested interests will change that.

  4. I’m English and do not recognize the picture portrayed of Welsh being difficult to learn. It is no more difficult to learn than any other language, and some aspects are actually easier (verbs not changing depending on whether you are referring to he/she etc, and phonetic spelling). I could not tell you what a subordinate clause or archaic declension was because I am doing a course (saysomethinginwelsh) that teaches the language naturally. Teaching people complex grammatical structures is probably the least effective way of learning a language and why many people fail at learning languages. My ability in Welsh is now far far better than German which I did for GCSE.

  5. Gwyn – you say ‘First and foremost Welsh is NOT a difficult language to learn. No more or less that is than any other language. All languages have their quirks but many languages (if not quite all) have mutations – yes even English. ‘

    True – learning any language is a doddle for infants, but most certainly not for adults, especially for English speakers from whom most of the Welsh adult learners will come. And what kind of Welsh does the infant learn? Once you are in formal education the language has to develop otherwise it cannot become a vehicle capable of anything beyond childish thoughts.

    Again – ‘The main problem is not in the Welsh language but in the mental insularity that frequently comes with English.’ A matter of opinion, like most of this response, unfortunately, and not one likely to improve the image of Welsh speakers amongst the English, or indeed the English-speaking Welsh.

    As for English being under pressure, that is absolutely, totally irrelevant, whether true of not. Similarly with regard to its deficiencies. The question is one of saving Welsh.

    And – ‘Wales was the first completely literate country in the world because of Welsh.’ I think there are many countries who might dispute that, but if indeed, – ‘It’s the fault of our education standards and systems and prejudices during the 20th Century that failed to build on that success and to evolve intelligently.’ – the questions have to be, how do you rectify all of this – more money, more resources, more time? All of these are in desperately short supply, indeed it could be argued that time has run out.

    And by the way, you can still listen to the ‘dead’ language of Latin for news on a weekly basis.

  6. This piece seems to me a bit of a mixed bag which makes some good points but, like Ben and Gwyn, I am shocked by the level of ignorance and the lack of wider awareness the author displays when he speaks about Welsh as a language. This is not the first article on Click on Wales about the Welsh language written by someone with no cited authority in the field. Apologies to Rhys David if I have this wrong, but is he a trained linguist, a language teacher, or has he at least achieved fluency in at least a couple of other languages in different groups? The blog’s treatment of the language issue gives off a strong whiff of amateurism and rabble-rousing which is disappointing given the place to which the IWA aspires in Wales’s national conversation.

  7. “Writing in the language is now a craft increasingly confined to a cadre of super-literate Welsh.”

    I would also dispute this statement, and point to the increasing use of written Welsh in it’s multitude of dialectical and accented forms on the web. A look at the 10,000+ users of Welsh on Twitter and the many more on Facebook shows that people are increasingly comfortable wiriting in Welsh, just not the kind of Welsh you’d see in the bible. This increasing use, and arguably, acceptance through novels and other of an oralised written form means that there is probably an increase in the use of written Welsh taking place due to the the move from read-only culture to a read/write culture.

    I think that contrary to your view, Welsh is simplifying itself, on Facebook, just that this simplification is not very visible to people outside those language community / dialectal boundaries. The Welsh that often is visible is the strange stiff officialese, which emerges from translation of strange, stiff, officialese in English…

  8. Having already commented extensively on this article elsewhere, I shall refrain from repeating myself and look forward to tomorrow’s article with interest.


    What is your evidence that you are being compelled to learn Welsh?

    @Colin Miles

    I don’t know why you persist in peddling myths in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Thousands of people have successfully learned Welsh as adults but you persist with this myth that learning a language is difficult for adults; it isn’t. It would appear that everyone is out of step except you.

    Gwyn’s point regarding the English mentality towards other languages is well documented. The English education system does not have a good reputation for engendering interest in other languages; this is not surprising given the previous imperialist attitude of going to other countries and insisting that everyone else speak English. That attitude still persists today.

    As for suggesting that we should be concerned about our image in the eyes of English speakers, firstly, I’m not and never will be; and secondly, perhaps English speakers should consider their image in the eyes of Welsh speakers. A little less time taking the speck out of Welsh speakers’ eyes and a little more time spent taking the log out of your own might prove fruitful.

  9. As a side question related to the idea of ability and confidence in a language, would those people who write in Welsh on Twitter and Facebook actually consider what they are doing to be writing proper, when they actually feel that what they are doing is speaking to people in a written form. Walter Ong has described this kind of hybrid literate/oral/electronic culture as secondary orality

    It would be interesting to see what people had in mind when completing the census when they considered themselves not to be proficient in writing Welsh. I suspect many would be thinking about a more official/standard written form of Welsh than their actual written practice. The question that follows then is whether the increased use of oralised written forms will bring about a mellowing in people’s attitudes to what is considered writing over time and increase confidence in what constitutes “their Welsh being good enough” because in the majority of cases, that Welsh being put down by themselves is most definitely good enough.

  10. Y Gynhadledd Ryngwladol ar Hawliau Iaith a grybwyllir ar y Blog hwn ei gynnal yn Nulyn, Iwerddon ym mis Mai a manylion, gan gynnwys cysylltiadau â’r cyflwyniadau ar y wefan hon. (Bardwn fy google Cymraeg!)

    The International Conference on Language Rights mentioned on this Blog was held in Dublin, Ireland in May and details, including links to the presentations are on this website:

  11. @Colin Miles- “learning any language is a doddle for infants, but most certainly not for adults, especially for English speakers from whom most of the Welsh adult learners will come”. This is exactly my point – because new learners are more likely to be first-language English speakers, they will find it hard. But this is the point, it is not that Welsh is any more hard than Mandarin, it’s just that Welsh is so very different from English.

    @Rhodri- Very good point. The Welsh language has not just entered the internet and information age, but entered with a bang in the small language world. Just take the Welsh version of Wkipedia, over 50,000 hits a month. And so much Welsh is now on Twitter (and Facebook) that Oxford University are using Twitter as a corpus to see how the Welsh language is changing. Very interesting. I assume most people above commenting speaks Welsh or is learning, so it’s interesting to see how virtually all comments wholeheartedly disagree with the article.

    @Efrogwr- Hear hear. If only the author had dug a bit deeper rather than rely on an external perspective. There’s only so much of the whole room and its contents you can see through the keyhole, if you get my drift…

  12. @belowlandsker- Can you please point out to me where in the Welsh Language Measure 2012 and any where in the Welsh Language Commissioners website/published documents/mission statement does it say ”we will coerce and force people to learn Welsh”? Good luck finding the proof, because it isn’t there. And neither should it, because no one in the Welsh language community or in policy making circles believes Welsh people should be forced to learn Welsh. I’m afraid it is your own invention, and thank god for that as we live in a democracy.

  13. Rhobat Bryn Jones – you say ‘I don’t know why you persist in peddling myths in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Thousands of people have successfully learned Welsh as adults but you persist with this myth that learning a language is difficult for adults; it isn’t. It would appear that everyone is out of step except you.’ – and presumably Rhys David? As he says – ‘ Welsh is a hard language to learn, as the legions of people throughout the past century who have learnt it in school but who emerged barely able to put a sentence together, and the equally large number of drop-outs from adult education and home learning also testify.’ If none of this were true then I can’t see why the IWA would raise this issue in the first place.

    As for whether I have a speck in my eye or not, what I am trying to say is that alienating people such as myself does not help the situation. We English may be arrogant and unbearable and whatever else you like to call us, but that doesn’t help the situation, rather the opposite. The Welsh language needs friends, not enemies.

  14. @ Ben

    There is a Welsh Government target to increase the number of 7-year-olds in Welsh medium education to 25% by 2015. Explain to me why there is a target for something which should find it’s own natural balance through free will/choice. The worrying thing is that It’s somebody’s job to meet that target and therefore Coercion will undoubtedly play apart… it’s undeniable I’m afraid. Stealth funding to organisations such as RhAG is just one example of tax payer funded coercion. Surely you don’t want me to provide evidence of this again do you… just google it, it’s common knowledge.

  15. Aye Ben…..we can only be forced to learn English. 😉 As the old saying goes…..’Some languages are more equal than others’.

  16. @landsker

    You are avoiding the question. You stated:

    “… you will never force this particular Welsh person into learning Welsh.”

    What is your evidence that you have been forced into learning Welsh? All that is being asked of you is to answer the question.

    As regards the education system, no child is “coerced” into learning Welsh any more than they are “coerced” into learning “mathematics” or “coerced” into learning history. It is the nature of the education system that subjects are compulsory up until the point when they can make their own choices. In the case of Welsh, it is, like English, compulsory up until the age of 16 at which point the young student can make their own choices as to which studies they wish to pursue. You will find this pattern of compulsory education present in every country that has an education system.

  17. @ Rhobat

    I appreciate what you are saying.

    My comment “… you will never force this particular Welsh person into learning Welsh.” was directed at the likes of Gwyn who suggests that non Welsh speakers in Wales are ‘mentally insular’ and need to ‘open their minds up and take their heads out of the sand’.

  18. @ Colin Miles

    Rhys David makes the asserttion that Welsh is a hard language to learn but produces little evidence to support his assertion. The ‘facts’ that he produces are references to the characteristics of the Welsh language. If you were trying to teach someone a language by first explaining the grammar, he may have a point. But that is not the best way of learning a language as the English academic-based approach has proved through its failure to engage students. Therefore I am still waiting for his evidence.

    As regards the school leaver and adult drop-out rate points, I have already answered these elsewhere. The essential point here is the lack of practice available to both sets of students is what is problematic. If you do not have the opportunity to practise what you have learnt, then both knowledge and confidence can fade. If this problem was addressed seriously, then I believe we would see an improvement in levels of ability.

    You’re right when you say that cultural arrogance doesn’t help the situation but unfortunately the attitude persists and is a distraction from solving the real problems facing the language and its speakers. What is needed is cultural and linguistic respect which doesn’t involve telling Welsh speakers that their language is deficient, which you have done.

    I also note that you still haven’t told us what your own status regarding the Welsh language is.

  19. Rhobat to belowlandsker

    “What is your evidence that you have been forced into learning Welsh?”

    This red herring again! Yes some subjects in school are compulsory – that is because they are (almost) universally regarded as being necessary life-skills. If you ask parents whether maths and English should be compulsory the response will overwhelmingly be yes amongst all ethnic groups in the UK, including within Wales.

    If you were to ask parents whether Welsh should be compulsory, or is a necessary life-skill, then we don’t know what the response will be because parents in Wales have NEVER BEEN ASKED. Welsh as a compulsory subject was introduced in the 1988 Act without any obvious public consultation. It was FORCED on the parents and children of Wales by statute. belowlandsker and everybody else, whether banned from posting on Click or not, who makes the assertion that compulsory Welsh was forced on them is correct.

    The obvious rationale for this irrational action by the UK government appears to have been to placate Welsh terrorists engaged in an arson and bombing campaign designed to over-ride the democratic process. It seems to have worked!

    Since then there have been numerous attempts to survey the demand for more Welsh in education but I am not aware of any such survey to assess demand for English – in Gwynedd surveying the demand for English medium education is expressly denied by Council policy. Indeed the WAG guidelines on surveying for language preference during school re-organisation is now limited to surveying for the demand for Welsh not English. The legality of these guidelines appears to be highly questionable. The old Welsh Office guidelines specified that demand for both English and Welsh should be surveyed.

    It is now way past the time that a free and fair survey of parental views on compulsory Welsh should be undertaken by either the UK governemnt or the WAG. This must be free from leading questions and assertions about the so-called benefits of WM and bi-lingual education based on research which is clearly not robust nough to be used as the basis for public policy.

    Until we get a choice we will continue to assert that Welsh is forced on us. You can assert that English is forced on you but that’s your problem – our problem is that Welsh is forced onto us and we’ve had about as much of it as we can stand – to put it bluntly…

  20. @ Walker

    What a short fuse you have.

    Parents are not consulted on any subject that is compulsory in schools so it would be discriminatory to pick out Welsh for this special treatment. Compulsory subjects are designated in compliance with education policy which is decided by the elected representatives of the people of Wales. This is a legitimate process despite your assertions to the contrary.

    In addition neither landsker nor yourself have ever been forced to learn Welsh and it is disingenuous and misleading to suggest that you have. If you had, you would have produced the evidence, but you have none.

  21. @belowthelandsker

    You say that :
    ‘There is a Welsh Government target to increase the number of 7-year-olds in Welsh medium education to 25% by 2015. Explain to me why there is a target for something which should find it’s own natural balance through free will/choice. ‘

    Happy to explain. The demand for Welsh-medium education is high, and certainly higher than the present provision. More people would choose to have WM education for their kids ‘through free will/choice’ were the required infrastructure (i.e. schools) in place. The ‘natural balance’ is not in place for historic reasons which mean there are too few WM schools. So targets have been set to make sure that local councils provide schools that reflect the ‘natural balance’ and ‘free will/choice’. So there is no coercion at all – and it wouldn’t work anyway. I hope that answers your question.

  22. @Gwyn

    I would agree.

    As a learner of Welsh I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that Welsh is easier to learn than English. Welsh appears to be generally simpler and be more consistent in its rules and structures than English. it would be good to know if there’s an ‘ease of learning’ index or a ‘consistency’ index for languages so that they could be judged from neutral territory.

    I think English is bound to be more complex because its numerous borrowings mean that words are drawn from different places and do not relate to the rest of the language. ‘Souvenir’ for example, means ‘a token of remembrance’, but you wouldn’t know it from the word because it comes from French. The Welsh ‘cofrodd’ literally means ‘memory gift’ (cof + rhodd). I have enjoyed finding these patterns in Welsh which are much more likely to occur than in English.

  23. Steffan,

    That helps a bit but you have assumed that this is the case throughout the entire of Wales… it is not. Therefore it should not be a Welsh Government policy for the whole of Wales but a policy for each LEA which is not providing enough Welsh medium education in relation to surveyed parental demand. However, this in itself is a bit of a red herring (as John R. Walker points out above) as there is no requirement for local authorities in Wales to survey parental preference for English medium education like there is for Welsh medium and therefore we have absolutely no idea what the demand for that is.

  24. @ landsker

    Demand for Welsh language education is to be found throughout the entirety of Wales.

  25. Rhobat Bryn Jones – not quite sure what you mean by status but I would have thought my position was quite clear from the two articles I wrote. Just to clarify why the first was written. This was originally just for myself, partly as frustration because of the wide gulf between what I perceived to be the difficulties of adult English speakers learning the language and those by teachers and course setters. And when Dyfodol i’r Iaith was launched I used it to comment. John Osmond asked to publish it as an article and the rest is history. Unfortunately, from my point of view, which may obviously be incorrect and faulty, the gulf that I perceived still seems to exist.

  26. @belowthelandsker
    I agree that there shouldn’t be flat target of 25% for all. Thankfully that’s not the case. As far as I can see each LEA is treated differently, as some are already way over the 25% and some way under, for understandable reasons. This came up on google as Carmarthenshire’s plan for education, and there’s no target of 25% as far as I can see.

    I don’t quite understand the point about a national survey for English-medium education. How would that change anything? In areas with English-medium and Welsh-medium schools don’t people just choose which they prefer? Has anyone ever been turned away from an English-medium school and forced to attend a Welsh-medium one?

  27. Thanks Colin. But I think you might have misread the letter: no-one is being forced to attend a Welsh-medium school. In fact, I don’t think there’ s a Welsh-medium secondary school in that area. I could be wrong, but as far as I know there are only bilingual schools of various kinds. There’s a question about paying for transport to a school in Carmarthen, but it doesn’t mention children being forced into a Welsh-medium school.

  28. @ Colin Miles

    By status, I mean where you are in the learning/speaking process. I assume that you are learning from the comments you have made but I prefer not to assume and allow the person to speak for her or himself.

    The gap you refer to, perceived or otherwise, is an important one and should be bridged by the educational process. If it is not, then it is the educational methods that need to be examined as well as the approach required of students. Expecting the language to change into something else to make it “easier to learn” is an educational dead end as Dafydd Glyn Jones points out in his article.

    Welsh for Adults has a mainstream method, which we have discussed at length, which works for the majority of adults. But I am not a believer in a one size fits all approach to education. Research is needed into the ways in which adults acquire Welsh and the problems they encounter, and it is also required for developing appropriate teaching techniques to overcome these problems.

    But there are also cultural issues involved in learning Welsh which are not properly understood either by Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers. I have encountered a range of responses from Welsh speakers ranging from a warm and inclusive welcome based on a belief in cultural diversity to a snobbery based on the (mistaken) belief that second language speakers will always be inferior to first language speakers and that the culture of Cymreictod is superior to all other cultures by definition.

    These attitudes also need to be researched since some of them are damaging the future of the Welsh language and the aim of the Government for it to be “everyone’s language”.

    I cannot, and would not want to, dictate the terms of discussion on this forum but I believe that these two topics could provide a useful way forward in untying the Gordian knot of linguistic and cultural gaps referred to.

  29. Steffan – I was merely trying to point out that there were insufficient English language places – they were full, the Welsh wasn’t – and in a place which is supposed to be a stronghold of the Welsh language.

    Rhobat Bryn Jones – I never stop learning. And you say ‘Research is needed into the ways in which adults acquire Welsh and the problems they encounter, and it is also required for developing appropriate teaching techniques to overcome these problems.’ Indeed. Should have been done long ago. And my original article was an attempt to point out these problems, not just from my point of view but from observing what had gone on in the 6 years that I had had in these classes.

  30. Thanks Colin.

    As far as I can see though the parents here want to send their children to schools out of their catchment areas. When that happens children who are local will have priority, and sometimes there is no room for children from further away. It’s a common enough situation, although a difficult one for parents.

    Why do these parents not want the local school? Presumably because they want their children to have an English-only education (other than the requirement to study Welsh as a second language). I agree that the local authority needs to consider such parents. But it also has a responsibility to wider society (or taxpayers if you will). Providing an education that does not enable school-leavers to operate at a reasonable level in the first language of the majority of the local population would be considered by most people to be unacceptable. Such school leavers would also be at a significant disadvantage economically, making them more likely to leave the area or be economically inactive. Neither does the local economy much good.

    So in areas with high percentages of Welsh speakers it makes sense for all children to have a bilingual education. Of course, parents are still able to opt out by travelling further afield. But it’s difficult to argue that taxpayers should subsidise that choice (eg by paying for transport) or that such parents should be prioritised over local families in the other catchment.

    In this case there seems to have been some changes to schools/catchments that may change the situation for individual families. But as rule, it seems fair that parents who wish to opt out of their local schools can do so, but that they must accept that they won’t be a priority for other schools.

  31. @ Colin Miles

    Interesting that you’re not willing to state where you are in the learning process. I wonder why that is.

    Your view that this research should have been done years ago show a lack of knowledge of how under-resourced the development of Welsh for Adults has been. If you had researched it, you would know how much has been achieved with so few resources, largely because of the commitment of the individuals involved.

    Your article, with all due respect, did not focus on educational issues but on the deficiencies of the language. Perhaps we can finally agree that the language is not deficient, since it is able to function in the education system, the media, the public sector and the national Government. Welsh’s next port of call will be the private sector and it will adapt to that function much as it has done with all the others.

  32. Rhobat Bryn Jones – where am I in the learning process? Even if the question made any sense, it isn’t relevant it is to the issues we are raising – and I think you know this.

    And with all due respect I think the question of research into how adults learn languages – to think that research is, has, or should have been limited to the Welsh language…. Is it that unique? Has not other research into adult language learning been done? And by research I mean something other than theory.

    As for the deficiencies of the Welsh language, let me say once again, it is all about the comparison with English and the problems that English speakers have. These are educational issues – all learning is an educational issue.

  33. All infants can hear and say all the phonemes of all the languages in the world that have ever existed, or will exist, but this ability is lost by the time most people reach their teens. When I started learning Welsh I was told that I wasn’t pronouncing Ll correctly even though in my head it sounded ok – to me anyway. I well remember my Swedish colleague having a similar problem as his Czech partner practised Czech with him. He was on a learner course and struggling to articulate the sounds of the language. Several years later they still converse in English despite living in the Czech Republic.

    Then again consider the time element. An infant starts learning in the womb and it is a 24/7 process for most of the first 5 years of life. A busy adult will be lucky to manage an hour a day. There is just no comparison.

    The idea that adults learn a language in the same way as a child is just not true.

  34. Listen, copy, understand and practise is all it takes to learn a language as an adult, with the emphasis on practice.

  35. Are non-academics allowed inside this bun fight? My only qualifications are that I was taught Welsh in primary and Grammar schools and it nearly killed my interest in the language.I am writing from Denbigh where the Eisteddfod is in full swing and where I was born,bred and educated. It is sad but not surprising, to hear usual prejudices and platitudes being wheeled out for their annual airing.I came from an English speaking family,was bottom of the class in Welsh and started to learn it only when I got called a “Blydi Saes” by a drunken compatriot.

    Last night I enjoyed a modern version of the traditional Noson Lawen.It was great,but I saw hardly any local people in the audience who were not first language Welsh,which goes straight to the heart of the problem you have been discussing.

    These days,three quarters of the population in the Vale of Clwyd can’t speak Welsh even though most of them will have had compulsory Welsh lessons in school.They are seldom seen in other Welsh language events,unless their children are performing in some capacity.

    This begs the question “What are we trying to achieve with compulsory Welsh lessons?”

    If local people who have been through our educational system have a GCSE in Welsh but never speak it then it is a waste of time and money. At the very least their school experiences should leave them with an affection for the language and a curiosity to learn more. It should also be an inclusive experience that leaves them feeling part of the same community as their Welsh speaking peers. My complaint with the teaching of Welsh (in this area at least) is that it does not advance bilingualism in the slightest and emphasises,rather than closes,the cultural gap between the first language speakers and the rest of us and instils negative attitudes to all things Welsh.

    I realise that there are all sorts of other forces at work outside of education. But if Welsh is going to remain a living language and not a private code for middle class speakers in the posher suburbs of Cardiff then the Welsh Establishment (please don’t say there is no such thing; you know what I mean) needs to take the humane killer to the sacred cow of compulsory Welsh and change how it is taught so that children actually enjoy speaking it. Ask the average high school child what they think of Welsh lessons and they will reply “Boring”. If you were a 12 year old would you want to hang out with the boring geeks?

  36. You’ve put your finger on some important issues here which also resonate with my experience and point of view.

    You touch on the issue of the relationship between language and culture. And for me, this is the heart of the problem. The situation we have inherited is, because of the defensive position the language has had to face for the last 200 years or so, one where the language has been supported by a culture known as ‘Cymreictod’. However there are some members of this culture who regard it as being the only valid Welsh culture, everything else enjoying (?) a secondary status. This has resulted in a concept known as ‘Welshlanguageandculture’ where the two have become fused to the exclusion of all else. As a result, it is highly conservative in nature.

    Whatever the historic reasons for this, it is not where we are now. In a healthy society, many cultures exist within the same language and there is no reason why Welsh should be any different. For a multi-cultural approach to flourish (and I am not just referring to ethnic minorities here), the Assembly needs to adopt a strategy that encourages this approach. Culture is a not an annual one week event; it is how we live our lives on a daily basis. If the language is to be inclusive (the meaning behind the title of the document ‘Iaith Pawb’), it needs to adopt an approach that allows for different approaches from different bodies to similar problems. Take sport for young people as an example. Sport is a great leveller; It makes no distinction between first and second language speakers (a pointless distinction if ever I heard one). You can either play or not but you do so through the medium of Welsh. I would expect the Urdd to be involved in this provision given their commitment to Welsh speaking youth. But do they have to have a monopoly on this? Is it not possible for local authorities or other voluntary groups to provide these services? All that should matter is the quality of the provision. If they’re good enough, they get the support.

    However there is another issue regarding culture, the view that only those committed to ‘Cymreictod’ can truly represent the best interests of the language. I know of many who belong to this culture which has, at its core, an academic and literature tradition that goes back many centuries and is highly sophisticated in nature. It is an asset not just to the language but also to the wider society of Wales.

    But it is not the only culture and it would be misguided for any language to invest in one culture only whilst trying to widen its appeal of and increase people’s participation in it. In order for the language not to become socially dysfunctional, there needs to be a fluid dialogue between the language and the many cultures that make up Welsh society, the aim of which is not for one culture to establish its superiority over another.

    Returning to the issue of compulsory Welsh in schools, I would initially be reluctant to abandon the policy since young people’s perception of the language would be more likely to be shaped by the common prejudices that exist in the wider society. However, your point is perfectly valid. If young people are not left wanting to speak Welsh by the education system and are able to obtain qualifications without the ability to speak it, then what is being achieved? Enough time has passed now for this policy to be assessed and for new recommendations to be made.

  37. Compulsory Welsh lessons has to be the most counterproductive policy imaginable. As a former head remarked to me, ‘the kids are bored silly and can’t wait to drop the subject.’

  38. @Colin- It is nothing to do with the fact the lessons are compulsory. Welsh is an official language and used by a quarter of million Welsh people every day. It is compulsory for a reason. From my experience, having left school in 2008, the ‘kids can’t wait to drop’ and it is ‘counterproductive’ because of the way its taught and the attitude of staff. Many subjects are core curriculum subjects, I don’t see why Welsh second language should be seen as counterproductive all because it is compulsory. I and a number of speakers I know (all of us using Welsh) would not be fluent were it not for Welsh SL. It is the way its taught that’s the problem Colin, and could you please give us your experiences of Welsh as a school subject also to back up your claim?

  39. Ben – all my ‘experiences’ of it as a school subject are second-hand, as you well know. But that doesn’t make that particular comment any less valid. Yes – of course the attitudes are at the very core of the problem, but how are you going to change them? Until this happens the situation won’t change, standards won’t improve. Indeed, both attitudes and standards are likely to deteriorate. Time to stop and think.

  40. Ben – you say that ‘It is compulsory for a reason.’ Exactly what would that reason, or reasons, be? As for other subjects being compulsory, well yes, a knowledge of them is useful. But a subject that ‘asks’ you to use it outside of school, and after you have left to continue to use and learn about it? Oh – and by the way, we may not have enough teachers who actually know the subject but hey, that isn’t important! And by the way, it won’t be of any use to you if you leave Wales. Trying to compel people to love the language, or any subject, is more likely to do the opposite.

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