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.

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