Why funding for Welsh for adults needs to be trebled.

Heini Gruffudd says that the Government’s thinking on the Welsh language pays little regard to language planning.

Carwyn Jones recently proudly announced an increase of £750,000 to the Mentrau Iaith, over two years and £400,000 (the price of two houses?) to develop links between the Welsh language and the economy in Dyffryn Teifi.

Within a week, we were told of a 7% cut in the funding for Welsh for Adults, following on last year’s cut of 8%.  By cutting £2.9 million from Welsh for Adults over two years, and diverting £1,150,000 to other Welsh language projects, the Government has made a profit of £1,750,000.  So much for the sweet words of the recent Government’s response to the ‘Big Conference’ on the Welsh language, in which it promised to act to further Welsh as a community language and to change language habits.

What has become clear is that the Government’s thinking on the Welsh language pays little regard to the basics of language planning.

Why does Welsh for Adults funding deserve to be trebled? The Welsh for Adults programme should play a central role in language revitalisation.  It should target three main groups: new parents, teachers and public workforce staff.

We know from international experience that it takes between 1,000 and 1,500 contact hours to learn a language fluently.  In the case of Welsh, our courses generally offer between 100 and 200 hours annually, so it takes between five and seven years to become fluent.

Because most of the learning takes places in learners’ leisure time, it is no wonder that most people who succeed to learn Welsh are aged 50+.  The main target groups are missed.

The one way of success with these target groups is secondment from work.  This has been piloted successfully with teachers in Glamorgan and intensive courses for adults have been run with equal success, also in Glamorgan.

Dyfodol i’r Iaith advocated the setting up of a National Centre to guide the Welsh for Adults programme.  In proposing this, the aim was to set up a powerhouse for language learning across Wales, similar to HABE in the Basque Country.  Around £40 million is spent by HABE annually to provide intensive language learning and to support up to 200 local Basque learning and socialising centres.

The Welsh Government has thankfully seen it appropriate to establish such a Centre for Welsh for Adults, but is now amazingly cutting off its arms and legs by decreasing funding, as if Welsh was just another evening class activity, rather than one of the pillars of the new Government Future Generations policy.

It is to be hoped that the Centre for Welsh for Adults, when established, will set up priorities which should include intensive six months or one year courses, with secondment from work, for

  • teachers in English medium schools, which could transform the teaching of Welsh as a second language by introducing Welsh medium teaching for some courses. Such schools could move on a continuum from English medium – bilingual – Welsh medium;
  • workers in public bodies, starting with local authorities, so that Welsh can be made a language of the workplace, and a default language of public communication, so that the token ‘bore da’ becomes a thing of the past;
  • prospective parents who are eager to bring up their children in a Welsh speaking home. Most pupils in Welsh medium schools are brought up now in English medium homes. Teaching 500 parents a year will in turn give a Welsh home to an extra 960 children annually.

In all these cases the initial cost of courses – which could be partly shouldered by economic planning departments of central and local government – will be richly repaid by the further language contribution (without further cost) of teachers, workers and parents.

In largely Welsh-speaking parts of Wales, e.g. Gwynedd, the target groups will differ, with courses for incomers, rather than teachers, a priority, and language confidence courses for parents and workers will take the place of language learning.

In less Welsh-speaking parts of Wales, the Basque system of language centres needs to be replicated.  There are some Canolfannau Cymraeg – Welsh Learning and Culture Centres – already in Swansea, Merthyr and Wrexham, set up and run by volunteers with revenue from Welsh for Adult classes, Mentrau Iaith and yr Urdd offices as well as from social activities. These centres offer social and cultural opportunities, and contribute to creating new Welsh medium social networks in areas where past networks have broken down.

In planning the bilingual Wales of the future, some holistic planning is needed, so that Welsh regains a strong presence in the realms of home, community, school and work.  Central to this is a powerful Welsh for Adults programme.

Trebling the present spending of £10 million to £30 million will transform Welsh language use in homes, in schools and in the workplace.

Heini Gruffudd is Chair of Dyfodol i’r Iaith, the lobbying movement for the Welsh language, and of Ty Tawe, Swansea’s Welsh cultural centre. He is a past lecturer at Swansea University and an author of many books for Welsh learners.

22 thoughts on “Why funding for Welsh for adults needs to be trebled.

  1. “In planning the bilingual Wales of the future…”

    The good will that extends towards the Welsh language from the vast majority who dont speak it relates to ‘righting wrongs’ and ensuring that the language is treated on the basis of equality with English. There is no democratic mandate to build a ‘bilingual Wales of the future’- that is something entirely different and falls within the realms of state social engineering- it is not an equality issue! Therefore calling for trebling of funds to pursue something that is not the democratic will of the people will fall on deaf ears I’m afraid. Still it helps highlight which Welsh language pressure groups are campaigning for equality and which are campaigning for domination/social engineering.

  2. SeaMôr,

    It’s Social Engineering, injustice and intolerance against our culture, language and identity, on a grand scale, that has led to the current situation.

    The English Government spends billions advancing and supporting the English language. That is also Social Engineering, but much more aggressive.

    The vast majority of the people on this planet are at least bilingual. The vast majority in Wales recognise that bilingualism (or more) is beneficial in many ways. To seek to undo the damage that has been done to us is just right and proper. Unfortunately the Labour Party still thinks that Welsh and the Welsh are below the salt.

  3. One of the remarkable things about the ‘euskaltegi’ (language schools) and ‘barnategi’ (residential language centres) is the sheer number of them – there is essentially one euskaltegi in every municipio in Euskadi (of the equivalent size of a small town here in Wales or a suburb in a big city and their size and resources. They don’t just throw together a few evening classes together in a local community hall, they have dedicated buildings with classrooms, libraries, a cafeteria perhaps, etc.. They are genuine community centres as well as language schools. Their provision of classes is wide and designed to suit all needs from children (as a supplement to state school provision) to young adults (preparing for employment in Basque-required jobs for example), adult leaners and retirees. They provide intensive, intellectually rigorous and professional teaching with euskaltegi teaching seen as a profession and a career all in itself. They are serious institutions with serious staff resources and budgets. It is no surprise therefore that Basque people take them seriously and respect is given to their qualifications and all who leave the system able to speak Basque and use it in the workplace. It is equally not surprising that the Basque language is growing at a much faster rate than Welsh having started at a very similar level of proliferation in the 1980s.

    I have a great deal of respect for all who work thanklessly in the Welsh for adults sector in Wales, and a great deal of respect for the many thousands of learners who eventually make it through the system to some degree of fluency. But Wales isn’t even in the same league as Euskadi, never mind the same ball park. Imagine what could happen if Welsh had even half the investment that Basque has had…

  4. Gwyn,

    I can’t have a serious conversation with someone who is clearly typing from a basement wearing a tin hat! What is the English government and how do I get my hands on some of those gazillions?! lol!

  5. There is a difference between the Basques and the Welsh. The Basques are proud of their culture and identity and wish to see it preserved. Even those Basques who do not speak the language are firmly in favour of its propagation. In Hay this year a former Basque prime minister said their culture was a huge economic asset but, anyway, the whole point of economic success was to preserve the culture. The sad thing was he assumed the Welsh felt the same way. He didn’t know us did he? Among English monoglot Welsh people there is a substantial proportion with an inferiority complex which comes out in hostility to Welsh culture. We are a poor divided nation that has lost its pride. Been beaten too often I suppose and our stuffing is nearly gone.

  6. While the call for more funding is understandable I doubt it will get far due to austerity policies, and lack of public support. However much could be done to make the current budget much more effective.

    1. Plan fewer classes, but run them! It needs 3 weeks to build a group, not one. Cancelled classes demotivate.
    2. Stop infantilising Welsh learners. The 70s methods rely on mimicking the way babies and infants learn. We are not babies but adults who learn via conscious attention. Babbling sounds we haven’t a clue what they mean is humiliating and bewildering.
    3. Use online methods. As long as the human factor is kept central they can be amazingly effective. I see this every day.
    4. Prioritise reading and comprehension. Many learner adults want to read news, stories or participate in forums, but conversation is not a priority. Students need to read and comprehend study texts and research materials. Again an online course here would reach a keen target audience at little cost. This could also lead into a supplementary conversation training later.

    If you would like a more detailed analysis I am happy to provide one. I am an experienced language teacher, professional online educator, and a Welsh learner.

  7. @Shan Morgain

    Very interesting comments. I am particularly interested in your comment about ‘infantilising’ learners, or perhaps ‘trivialising’ learners at the very least. The problem, and the dilemma, was I think revealed in all its glory on this year’s Cariad at Iaith. It was clear from the outset that one learner (Neville Southall) was extremely uncomfortable with the singing, dancing and play-acting aspects of Ioan Talfryn and Nia Parry’s methodology, and that they were incapable of accommodating his learning requirements over the course of the week whilst maintaining the method for the remainder. It is clear that Ioan’s methodology is based on very sound psychological theory and is, one assumes, all things considered, a superior methodology in terms of results. But it is rather representative of the overall approach in Welsh for adults and its bias towards ‘live’ learning rather than received learning. This may well be perfect for x% of the class and produce the best possible outcome for y% of the class, but it also excludes, often deeply embarrasses and demotivates many other learners. Even though they make it through a few weeks, they eventually drift away since the prospect of their Thursday night humiliation (in their eyes) is simply too much to take.

    People do not join Welsh classes to go through some sort of personality re-wiring, to become more extrovert or more comfortable singing or dancing in public, and by the time many people join adult classes they are long passed the personality coding process of youth. They couldn’t change if they wanted to. They go to Welsh classes to learn Welsh and even though a more ‘academic’ or paper-based method might be slower or ultimately incomplete (requiring spontaneous linguistic cognition at some point or another if oral and aural fluency is desired), every effort should be made to accommodate learners who wish to learn that way. Whether different streams (‘academic’ and ‘applied’) are necessary, desirable or practicable, I’ll leave for better qualified people than myself to comment on, but something needs to be done to both attract and retain the many thousands of potential learners like Neville who simply want to learn in a quiet and dignified way, consistent with their personality and tastes.

  8. @ R Tredwyn

    You are certainly right about Basque ‘pride’. It is a character trait that has been lauded and ridiculed since at least the 16th century, most notably in Cervantes’ character El Vizcaino (The Biscayan) in Don Quijote. I am particularly fond of the saying “un vasco nace donde le da la gana” (“a Basque is born wherever the hell he wants to be born”)…

    Whether your pessimism about the Welsh is justified or not I don’t know, though I suspect the forces who you say have ‘beaten’ us will be delighted to read that one more subject is reconciled with his own oblivion…(?)

  9. “Within a week, we were told of a 7% cut in the funding for Welsh for Adults, following on last year’s cut of 8%. By cutting £2.9 million from Welsh for Adults over two years..”

    That means if ~15% = £2.9m then the spend 1 year ago must have been around £20 million not £10m as stated.

    “Trebling the present spending of £10 million to £30 million will transform Welsh language use in homes, in schools and in the workplace.”

    Which is the current spending – £10m or £20m? Not that some of you seem to care how much money you divert from essential front-line services as long as you grow your beloved Welsh language empire. I don’t want to see another penny committed to this graveyeard Welsh language project. It looks to me as if the money would be better spent teaching adults maths!

  10. Phil Davies, take it up with Seamor Bytts and the others who write to this site with similar opinions. I’m on your side.

  11. @Phil Davies
    Thank yo for your interest.
    I would just like to stress that I meant we need * reading comprehension * a lot more, with less pressure to converse. I know quite a few people who have said they just want to read news items in Welsh, and perhaps a story or light fiction. Plus listening, radio, TV etc.#
    They have little or no desire to speak in conversation.. But this would develop a bit with confidence built in receptive skill – listening would build pronunciation in a natural way.

    Academic needs are different again but could build on a Welsh receiver course very happly as an extra section.

    @ R Tredwyn
    I think your experience is from a different part of Wales. I’m right over in the east and my experience here is of fierce Welsh pride. Perhaps the border being close makes people here more aware of the difference in identity, and further West it can be taken more for granted.
    I also find age makes a difference. I am a scholar of the Mabinogi, and most older people immediately recognise what that is if I mention it, even if they don’t know a lot about it. At least half of young people don’t recognise the name.

    On the Breton comparison I suggest that they are not nearly as well off as we are in terms of negotiated relationship with the dominant neighbour. Feeling deprived, feeling in danger of being culturally disappeared, makes people much more pushy and insistent to ensure cultural survival, as the history of Wales in the 20thC shows.

  12. As an English only speaking welsh ‘pleb’ it seems to be unbelievable in these days of reducing public funds for welsh NHS/Education etc etc, that extra funding be spent on a declining minority language. Among many of my friends who are as totally opposed to current welsh language ‘imposition’ the one quality they do not possess is that of having an ‘inferiority complex’.The fact is that the huge majority of people are perfectly happy in living their lives totally in the English language world,and see the imposition of the welsh language as a distraction from us facing the real world.Just listening to report on BBC wales about health chances of welsh children in poorest areas,as compared to those in richest areas,i.e Pontcanna/Llandaff where the welsh language ‘elite’ live and its a disgrace.There are economic realities in life which means that families are separated,as in my case with children over the border,however we are still funding the welsh language with some policies creating greater resentment within the vast majority. I can well understand that people who grew up in a very welsh speaking environment and would wish to use the welsh language to a greater extent in today’s world,however its very difficult to turn the tide of history no matter how much money is ‘thrown at the problem’.

  13. @ John R Walker I sympathise with your view which at first sight makes sense. Proper care for the elderly, rubbish collection, for example are the kind of thing which is the first priority.

    However there is interesting research that shows that learning another language stimulates the brain in powerful ways which increases its data processing capacity. In other words bilingual people do better on mental performance tests so they can train and work more efficiently.
    There is also a case to be made that a people who feel pride in their own culture also perform more efficiently. Wales needs a competitive edge and people who are ashamed of being Welsh and being a bilingual nation are not going to give us that competitive edge.

    Now I personally feel that not enough is done to use the education budget in Wales (or elsewhere) efficiently. Physical classes are largely a waste of money and could be replaced with online study groups with live interaction (chatrooms, skype etc). Physical groups are very expensive in buildings, and transport for each person. Therre do need to be some physical groups as mixed methods are proved as the most effective, plus a minority do not use the internet.

    @ Rhobat Bryn Jones I teach English, and also seminars in Philosophy and Society.

  14. The elephant in the room is surely the fact that many (most??) Welsh speakers, much of the time choose to speak English, in their daily lives, their workplaces and even within their own homes. Altogether this removes both the means and the natural incentives for anyone to learn the language. Things like ‘official status’ and career incentives simply make passing exams in Welsh an ‘accomplishment’, a ‘feather in the cap’, like having school French or playing a musical instrument. It doesn’t make that person a Welsh speaker from the heart, or part of any sort of natural language community. Just means they can tick another box. The statement in the article above that in order to learn Welsh properly people need to be funded to take months off work, means surely that in the course of normal events they are not exposed to the language day-to-day in any meaningful way … in which case why learn it? Academic interest in a few cases, and nothing wrong with that, but mostly just for the ‘feather in the cap’, and of course there’s no motivation then ever to use that knowledge. Languages can exist in a dead-and-alive state as ‘taught languages’ for centuries, Latin for example, but is that really what you want for Welsh? It’s deceptive and a distraction. Surely you should be doing everything possible to shore up the few remaining Welsh speaking communities in y Fro, with the hope of building out from them in the future, rather than wasting limited resources painting “Araf” all over the roads of long-anglicised parts of Powys, or teaching halting Welsh to the well-heeled of the Cardiff suburbs.

  15. The Welsh Language is more important than lives; this is the answer I have been given when I asked why the research that was paid for by the Welsh Assembly Government was not acted upon. The emergency road signs as used along the A55 have been clearly shown to be dangerous and suggested using colours or different signs for Welsh and English, the same as they use in Canada for French and English. Could this be the main reason why deaths on our roads, especially motorcycle deaths have not dropped as much as comparable areas in the rest of the UK. Oh sorry, I shouldn’t bring this up but it all comes down to money.

  16. Alasdair MaolChrìosd

    “The elephant in the room is surely the fact that many (most??) Welsh speakers, much of the time choose to speak English, in their daily lives, their workplaces and even within their own homes.”

    Incorrect. “Some” might be fair, but not “many” and certainly not “most”.

    I assume you’ve spent some time living in a Welsh-speaking community in y Fro? I simply do not recognise your description.

  17. If I can just chip in from a social history perspective really – the decline of the language in the last century has been reasonably documented, really through crude statistics and personal commentaries, but I don’t know how much this is in people’s general awareness. Many would like this to be conveniently erased and spread the myth that South East Wales has always been an English speaking enclave and less accepting of the Welsh language. We know about the growth and decline of the industries over the last two hundred years, many will have some appreciation of historical events, like the Rebecca Riots, the chartists etc, but the general social changes, that accompanied both the industrial events, the educational changes and the language changes, make the history of most of Wales, but particularly South East Wales, very interesting, if not compelling.

    If we are thinking about education and any investments in the language etc, then the historical context is vitally important and should be poart opf the mix. This is very much important to our present day communities and social structures etc. Someone in South East Wales learning Welsh, will find it a much richer experience, if this is linked to knowledge of how the language in these areas, Y Wenhwysig etc, developed and changed.

    Whether anyone chooses to learn Welsh or not, is irrelevant, this is still very important – the history belies the myth of Welsh people being insecure and insular and gives clues to how those sorts of nonsense comments became so prevalent in the first place. Knowing these things can only lead to a more confident and cohesive population, who can then quite readily deflect the negativities and recover the aspirations of previous generations – this can only be a good thing for educational achievements etc. The people of Blaenau Gwent for example should feel incredibly proud of their recent forebears and their recent past and when you have an area like that, which is often ridiculed by the ignorant and becomes a target for criticism and observations of underachievement and notions of apathy then a lot of strength and motivation can be derived from understanding these things.

    This has nothing to do with language learning, but an interest in these things can only lead you to an interest in what happened to the culture and the language.

  18. Shain Morgan: I think the inflantilising learning method comes from a fear to explain grammar to learners, same problem as we have in schools. If you can’t explain grammar or if students don’t know what grammatical terms mean then I suppose you’re stuck with learning through imitation. I think there’s been a view that introducing too much grammar at the beginning would scare off some students. It’s silly.
    I know of foreign friends who tried learning Welsh, but stopped because of this idiocy.

  19. “Alasdair MaolChrìosd says:

    The elephant in the room is surely the fact that many (most??) Welsh speakers, much of the time choose to speak English, in their daily lives, their workplaces and even within their own homes. ”

    That’s just not true. I think some second language speakers continue to feel more comfortable in English, but that’s often because of a lack of opportunity to practise.
    As a first language speaker I would much prefer to speak Welsh in my daily life, but I simply don’t have the opportunity every day.

  20. Howell Morgan denies the existence of an inferiority complex but anyone reading his post would see it shrieking from every sentence. The thing about inferiority complexes is they are unconscious. The references to a Pontcanna ‘elite’ is a dead giveaway. He thinks there is some Welsh speaking Taffia taking advantage of the poor English speakers and looking down on them. The ‘looking down’ does not exist except in your own head. There is no conspiracy, no-one despises you, the Welsh speakers are on the bottom not on the top. Don’t fear your fellow-countrymen. Help them. They need it.

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