The Welsh Language and the Economy

At the IWA’s Economy conference, Elizabeth Haywood says Welsh needs to be taught alongside business languages.

On Monday 23 March, the IWA held its annual economy conference, which discussed our report, ‘An economic strategy for Wales?‘.

During the conference, Elizabeth Haywood, former Chair of the City Regions Task and Finish Group, was asked about whether the Welsh language was being used effectively as an economic asset. You can read what she said below, or listen to the audio recording of the discussion.

Audience Member: “I was actually hoping to appeal for some of your views about whether you think that Wales is using the Welsh language to its utmost as the economic assets and how do you see the role of the Welsh language in the case of high-level skills and education?”

Elizabeth Haywood: “Ok, well I’m going to say something a bit controversial here. For those of you who know me, I’m a linguist, but I don’t speak Welsh. I think one of the biggest problems is that if we focus too much on Welsh – and we’re a small country and I’ve talked about globalisation – we’re actually then not focusing on teaching people Mandarin, or Russian, or Spanish, which are actually international business languages, which we desperately need. I always used to think that the fact that we either taught in Welsh or taught Welsh within our schools was a really good thing because in my view once you’ve learnt one language it’s a lot easier to learn a second one. For some reason that doesn’t really seem to work in Wales. So coming back to your point about “are we making proper economic benefit of it”: no we’re not. And I’m not sure whether that’s about the way we teach it or about the ambition of the kids when they’re learning it. I just don’t know where the mismatch is, because in other countries it definitely is the case: if you learn one language it’s a hell of a lot easier to learn a second one. And if that was what learning Welsh or learning in Welsh delivered for us, that would be absolutely terrific. And I also think, you know, we’ve got to get away from “French has got to be the first language that you learn in school”, but we do need to learn languages. But Welsh has got to be looked at in that global picture. I mean, you know, why do the Finnish – yeah, they all speak Finnish, but why do they all learn English and in fact often learn in English? Because English is a major business language. So, I certainly don’t want to lose Welsh, it’s part of the culture, it’s part of the identity, it’s part of… one of the things that make us special, but we need to think how we can best make it work for us, rather than just creating a little sort of… a little niche somewhere, which actually isn’t necessarily going to help the Economy.

The IWA annual economy conference was held on 23 March 2015 at the Wales Millennium Centre.

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