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.

33 thoughts on “The Welsh Language and the Economy

  1. A balanced response. The Welsh language should be fully supported but we should not be blind to the fact that it is difficult to see where there is any economic advantage. Certainly I can’t think of any and can think of some disadvantages, though I would welcome being educated on this. If we pretend otherwise we will make decisions based on imperfect assessments and do ourselves and the Welsh language a disservice.

  2. The experience here in Finland is that English is the most popular foreign language learnt in schools whilst the numbers electing to learn other languages such as French, German and Spanish are in decline.

    With a population of Swedish speakers, Finland is officially a bilingual country. However, despite Swedish being taught to all children in the country, English has displaced Swedish (be it in an unofficial capacity) as Finland’s second language. There are increasing pressures on Swedish in Finland which came to a head earlier this year when a petition to end compulsory Swedish teaching made it through to parliament but was rejected by all parties except for Perus (Finland’s UKIP).

    If you genuinely believe that global markets are multilingual rather than monolingual English, if your linguistic identity and capacities help position you uniquely in that multilingual market, then teaching more English and through the medium of English is not the best approach.

  3. ” Elizabeth Haywood says Welsh needs to be taught alongside business languages”

    After reading the article it is fairly clear to me that she only wants it taught alongside business languages because she’s too scared to suggest that business languages are taught alone. That is the trouble in Wales… in order to be a successful emerging country in a competitive world you have to make difficult decisions. There should be no ‘sacred cow’ that is simply not for discussion!

    Now I’m not saying that we cant be successful and focus on Welsh… but what if it were proven otherwise. The very fact that it is not for discussion and that all of our politicians are too frightened to even question it (see voting pattern of new Welsh language measure) is a worry. Wales is at risk of becoming like some medieval pagan clan with the Welsh language as our God…. and like said clans, there is only so far you can progress whilst you are bound by the chains of your religion.

  4. The economy isn’t everything. We are more than what we eat or consume. Elizabeth Heywood’s comments would carry more weight, if as a linguist, she had taken the trouble to learn Welsh.

  5. Mae Ms Haywood yn berffaith iawn i gydnabod diffygion y system bresennol a chwestiynu dulliau dysgu Cymraeg yng Nghymru. Mae hi’n defnyddio’r Ffindir fel enghraifft ble maen nhw’n dysgu ail iaith gan gael gwersi eraill yn gyfrwng yr iaith honno. Mae’n debyg i mi y byddai Elizabeth yn cytuno bod angen dileu’r cysyniad o Gymraeg ail iaith fel pwnc ac i sicrhau bod pob plentyn yn cael rhywfaint o addysg yn Gymraeg.

    Ms Haywood is right to recognise the shortcomings of the current system and question how Welsh is taught in Wales. She uses Finland as an example where they learn a second language by having other lessons in taught in that language. It seems to me that Elizabeth would agree there is a need to eliminate the concept of Welsh as a second language and a subject and instead to ensure that all children have some of their education in Welsh.

  6. All part of the chattering classes campaign to eradicate the Welsh language. Pathetic!

  7. Aled,

    Whilst your proposal may benefit the Welsh language, research shows that it does not benefit the education of those from English speaking homes (i.e. the vast majority) as learning through a second language not spoken at home precludes overachievement and excellence.

    Therefore, we may face a decision… what is more important, the Welsh language or our children achieving excellence? I think it would be best if whoever ultimately makes that decision is not just a panel of Welsh nationalists and a unanimous consensus of AMs because we are unlikely to get an unbiased decision which benefits ALL of Wales.

  8. She appears a litle mixed up in her response. She is right to say that having a bilingual system should encourage more languages to be spoken, but then appears to blame promoting Welsh as the problem. Surely, the education system in Wales is the problem, as she pointed out that other nations with their own lanaguages manage a far better multi-lingual output from their schools.

    It is a shame that she missed the opportunity to ask questions about the Welsh educational system in relation to other languages, instead trodding down the old familiar path of pointing the finger at Welsh. I like to think she is bigger, than to play party politics with this; her party of course being responsible for running education in Wales for 16 years.

    How Welsh is taught in WM. bilingual & EM schools needs a far more open debate, as this may well be where the problem lies. As funding gets squeezed over the next few years, this debate is becoming essential.

  9. I don’t have a problem with teaching any form of Welsh including ‘Business Welsh’ but must admit Business Welsh sounds to me a very strange definition as most Welsh speakers I know when they speak Welsh in Business or Technology terms they use English words as an integral part of their Wenglish. Having said this I do have a problem with compulsory Welsh, which appears to be the major reason for the decline of MFL take up in Welsh education and education standards too – Freedom of Choice I say!?

  10. Not sure why some people think that her comments were spot on – I’m still trying to work out what it is she is actually saying – very incoherent. as below:
    ” 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. ………”
    Does she want us to follow the Finnish model? ALL welsh pupils speaking Welsh ( they actually learn Finnish in their schools as well – who’d have thunk it!) . Bit of an advantage in Wales because all pupils already speak English ( so extra marks from Liz here no doubt) . So is she now arguing for all welsh children to learn Welsh and English and potentially another European language – If so spot on Elizabeth.
    Not sure if the other supporters of liz on here read it in the same way though.

  11. The views expressed by Elizabeth Haywood seem very ‘sensible’ when taking into account the economic future of Wales as part of a gloabalized and free market in production of goods and services.It seems to me that there is a cultural ‘war’ going on between a)advocates of a bi-lingual Wales who require the state to enforce use of welsh language at virtually any cost,and b) those who wish to run their lives exclusively through the English language,but have no objection to a limited amount of welsh language in the public sphere. The gap between the both is very wide,however cannot be discussed openly as those in the b)camp are given no vehicle to express their views as the media (BBC Wales/Cymru/S4C)are totally in the a)camp.

  12. It’s a global marketplace for goods and labour. A vibrant minority language is one of the most useful ways of protecting livelihoods and standards of living in a country and creating jobs and wealth..
    If we want to protect ourselves from losing jobs and revenue and opportunities to companies using English speaking call centers in India or English speaking advertising companies in England or English speaking EU legal consultancies in Denmark then use Welsh and lots of it.
    And if we want or need to speak to those in India, England and Denmark we can always use English.

  13. Why as a linguist does she not know Welsh? Aside from that comparing Wales with other countries isn’t particularly useful as the circumstances which each face are different. For a country to succeed in retaining it’s own language in any meaningful sense of the word there are a number of factors that are crucial, isolation from the English language being probably the most important, followed by a strong economy. And having a strong base from which to build makes life much easier.

    The problems of Welsh in schools has been much debated on this forum so there is nothing really to add to that .

    As for ‘business Welsh’, what use is it outside of Wales? Does it really help the real economy?

  14. “Why as a linguist does she not know Welsh?”

    Sigh! [Palm to face]
    We’ve grown to expect unreasonable demands from the Welsh language lobby… but demanding that someone speaks Welsh in order to be considered a linguist is one of the most hilarious yet.

  15. A very diplomatic response from Elizabeth Haywood and well put as far as it goes…

    The main purpose of language is communication. If there was such a thing as a ‘global language utility index’ then Welsh wouldn’t even figure on it. Of all the white eliffants in Wales, and there are many, the Welsh language, and the bi-lingual social engineering vanity project that goes with it, has to be the most expensive, futile, and destructive mistake of all.

    To the casual outside observer, Wales no longer appears to be part of the Anglosphere. It now looks like any other country which has English as a second language. For international ‘anything’ Wales has now been rooted firmly in the second tier by its political class!

    Don’t blame the Welsh language – blame the political class who instigated this change together with those who continue to promote and facilitate a minority language which should be treated no less (read more!) favourably than English despite the fact that hardly anybody wants to use it!

  16. The speaking of Welsh has always been a ‘lifestyle’ choice. Nothing more, nothing less. And so it should remain.

    A single Welsh language, Welsh, has never been spoken throughout the territory now known as Wales, none of us are ‘Celts’ in terms of genetics (it’s just another lifestyle choice) and the bulk of the culture of modern or old Wales has relatively little or nothing to do with the language, as spoken in all its curious forms.

    Yes, by all means offer education through the medium of Welsh. But allow the marketplace, not the Assembly, to decide if it has a future.

  17. This is a discussion that goes around and around without resolution. The evidence is pretty clear from several studies that if you learn another language to a certain level, the next one becomes easier.

    Part of the difficulty in Wales – and it goes back to the Blue Books on the State of Education in Wales in 1847, if not before – is that the language was seen as an impediment to “getting on in the world.” Check the school inspectors’ and other government reports from that time on, and the “advantage” of the language gets short shrift.

    We cannot erase these reports from the record – they remain as part of the unnecessary baggage that continues to be carried in Wales regarding the language. Time to travel light for a change and accept multilingualism as an asset to be enhanced. In this respect, those who are already bi-lingual in Welsh and English are potentially a step ahead of the game.

  18. Surely the best economic argument for an active Welsh language arises where the fields of economy and culture collide – the creative industries? Wales is recognised internationally for its arts institutions, the Eisteddfod attracts attention from around the world, we are now successful exporters of cultural products like TV shows and Cardiff is becoming a creative hub. Think for a moment of Nordic Noir and you’ll see how small nations and cultures can hold their own on the global stage. As economist Richard Florida has suggested, a strong creative sector can also influence wider developments in digital technologies and services, and creativity of this sort is unlikely to be automated any time soon.

    Elizabeth Haywood’s comments are valid but seem to refer to a traditional production model. With the arts and creativity, not everything moves in straight lines. The fact that a small nation can seemingly hold on to a language in the face of globalisation may not encourage manufacturers across Europe to learn ‘business Welsh’, but it could certainly stand to impress a great many influential people within an economic sector that thrives on inspiration, communication and the capacity for independent thinking. Sometimes the cultural case and the business case might just be the same thing.

  19. Jacques Protic, your comment contains about 30-40% Norman French loan words so I wouldn’t question other languages credentials. English borrowed most of its erudite and commercial vocabulary from French some centuries ago when “English” kings spoke French, and English was an endangered language. Your comment reminds me of the old chestnut: “What is the Welsh for entrepreneur?” which elicited the reply “what is the English for entrepreneur?”. Yes there are stronger and weaker languages and American (certainly not British) English is one of the strongest business languages at the moment but most of the world continues to do business exclusively in its native tongue to the exclusion of English monoglots. I think that the more languages you speak the more people you can sell effectively to but please don’t tell the monoglots as we multilinguals would like to keep our dominant market share of global transactions

  20. Of course Welsh can help the economy. People from England and elsewhere are interested in our language but know very little about it. Some are amazed to hear that some children in Wales are brought up speaking Welsh first and learn English later – amazed and truly fascinated. And of course we should all be great linguists in Wales because of the potential for all of us to be bilingual. I have learnt Welsh. My children are in Welsh medium schools. My 8 year old is already v strong at grammar. He knows what prepositions, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, definite and indefinite articles are. He is fascinated to see the links between Welsh and French (ffenest, fenetre; pont etc) and keen to learn French. We in Wales should be proud and strong linguists. We ought to be building centres for language learning, a centre for minority languages, teaching visitors about languages from all over the world. We should be teaching other languages in primary schools. Scotland envies our language. We may have no economic strength – but we do have a beautiful and old language. Why can’t we all in Wales start to value it? If we really are “better together” Why doesn’t Britain celebrate Welsh as part of British heritage? We need to take a fresh look at language planning in Wales – less stick and more carrot. Rydw i’n mor lwcus i gael y cyfle i ddysgu a siarad Cymraeg. Pan dw i’n clywed fy mlant yn siarad Gymraeg – mae’n mor hyfryd – dw i’n teimlo’n lwcus iawn.

  21. Two different issues are being conflated here. The Welsh language is an important part of the heritage and identity of Wales, but an economic ‘asset’? There are only 600,000 or so speakers, geographically concentrated within Wales itself, and they are all fluent in English anyway. The market for Welsh language goods and services is small, has no export potential and in large measure relies on state subsidy, e.g. for the main TV and radio services. Learning and using Welsh is a great way of embracing and celebrating our culture, but let’s not pretend to some fictive economic rationale for the language.

  22. SeaMôr Bytts: ‘“Why as a linguist does she not know Welsh?”

    Sigh! [Palm to face]
    We’ve grown to expect unreasonable demands from the Welsh language lobby… but demanding that someone speaks Welsh in order to be considered a linguist is one of the most hilarious yet. ‘

    No – not speak Welsh, know Welsh – the misreading didn’t surprise me. Lots of people speak Welsh to varying degrees, but not many really know it and are able to speak, read and write Welsh fluently. And I thought it curious that as a linguist, presumably in Wales, she hasn’t attempted to learn the language.

    As for the arts argument, yes by all means encourage it, but it is likely to be a very variable, unsteady source of income. And on the education side of things, where are the teachers to come from?

  23. @Colin Miles
    “And I thought it curious that as a linguist, presumably in Wales, she hasn’t attempted to learn the language.”
    I think EH means linguist as someone fluent in a number of languages rather than as someone who studies languages. The former might have an interest in languages but might also see them just as a tool necessary to do their job.

  24. I think that Moneyman has made the key point here. Elizabeth has conflated several issues in a way that serves to confuse rather than clarify.

    First of all, the policy regarding the Welsh language has been to reverse its decline, a process that still persists. It is hoped that through the education system a solid basis can be established for its future renaissance. The point here is that children are not being educated in order to contribute to the economy, they are being educated to give them a solid grounding in life. This has inherent value and does not need to be justified in terms of added GVA.

    The presence of the Welsh language in the Welsh economy is a mixed picture. It is currently being introduced into the public sector of the economy in terms of service provision for customers. This is based on the principles that everyone is free to use the Welsh language and that they have the right to live their lives through the medium of Welsh, something that doesn’t currently exist in practice. The next step would be for services in the private sector to be available through the medium of Welsh. Once that has been established, it then acquires a commercial value, i.e. there are profits to be made from attracting Welsh speaking customers.

    There is also the issue of Welsh businesses run through the medium of Welsh. Menter a Busnes has been running since 1989 and has been helping to develop the establishment and maintenance of Welsh speaking businesses throughout Wales. Clearly they contribute to the economy of Wales, if only at a micro-economic level.

    Where the issues become conflated is when she argues that a bilingual education should be the springboard for trilingualism or even quadralinguilism. This it strikes me is attempting an argument in one bound that actually requires an examination in small steps.

    In Wales, Welsh is the first language of instruction in Welsh-medium schools but pupils are also taught to be fluent in English, precisely because of the reasons laid out by Elizabeth. English is the language of globalisation because of the power of the US economy. So that issue has been addressed.

    The point has to be made however that there is very little perceived economic benefit to learning a third language. If English is the lingua franca, why bother learning anything else? There will always be those who love languages and will want to study them. But they are a minority. However what can be said with certainty is that the low take-up of modern foreign languages cannot be explained by reference to bilingual education. In monolingual England, the situation is the same.

    Given that there were something like 39 different languages spoken in Cardiff Bay at one time, I have always thought it would be a fitting tribute to have a language exhibition centre located in the Bay, explaining the history of the different languages and of the peoples who speak them. And I would also love to see a change of culture in Wales that valued multilingualism. But the very forces that have rendered English as the default language of business are the same forces that have rendered learning other languages defunct.

  25. Sut mae rhywun sy’n honni bod yn ieithydd ond heb drafferthu i ddysgu’r Gymraeg yn medru bod yn gymaint o arbenigwraig arni? Dychmygwch rywun uniaith Gymraeg yn datgan beth fyddai o les i’r iaith Saesneg ac i’r economi yn Lloegr.

    Y dull annigonol o ddysgu ieithoedd yn ein hysgolion yw tad y drwg, nid y Gymraeg yn ei hanfod.

    Mae’r Welsh Not yn dal yn fyw a gwaddod Brad y Llyfrau Gleision yn dal gennym fel y mynegwyd mor effeithiol gan Ken Richards.

    ‘Baggage’ yn wir.

  26. The new Welsh Language Standards are now on ‘Welsh Legal Statute’ A Blessing or Another Nail in the Proverbial Coffin for Welsh Economy and Social Justice? Next step Cymru Republic!

  27. Moneyman is right in that economic vitality and the Welsh language are being incorrectly conflated here- attributing ‘economic value’ to languages (or indeed any cultural issue) is extremely damaging since it leads to a mindset whereby something is only seen as valuable or worth having if it has a direct economic benefit. So art is pointless because it doesn’t add value to the economy. Close down all museums and schools because they don’t contribute to GDP. This is what neo-liberalism does to us and it has permeated political thinking in Wales as everywhere else. Of course, art, culture and minority languages should be promoted because of how they enrich peoples’ lives, not because of their economic value. Bilingualism is healthy and most of the world is bilingual.

    The caveat here is that the Welsh language COULD have direct economic benefit to Wales, but perhaps not in the way Elizabeth Haywood was thinking. Tourism is a huge part of the Scottish and Irish economies, but is still massively under performing in Wales. The reason for this is because the Scots and the Irish have a definite national ‘brand’ and characteristics- people across the world know where they are. No-one knows where Wales is precisely because it is too closely associated with England on an international level. There is no definite Welsh ‘brand’.

    Academic studies have been conducted which argue that Wales is being massively undersold because of the timidity of its chief marketers in Visit Wales. If you watch a Visit Wales advert you would have no idea that Wales has a distinct culture and living language. Wales is instead marketed as a scenic place to play golf or have a drink in a country pub. But you can do that in England, Scotland and Ireland. You can do that in most places in the world. People want to visit distinct cultures, and the refusal of Visit Wales to advertise Wales ‘Welshness’- that is, our sense of distinctiveness (which includes the Welsh language) – is a huge factor in Wales’ under performance in tourism. Our marketing is pathetic, and the conscious decision by Visit Wales to gloss over Wales’ distinct language and culture is directly responsible for Wales’ invisibility on the world stage. It is unforgivable that nearly two decades after the Assembly was established you can go to Spain, Italy, Germany or France and speak to people who have no idea that Wales is a separate country.

    The question that remains is why would our national tourist board deliberately downplay the one thing that makes Wales distinctive within the UK? W

  28. Despite haveing left school with no qualifactions I learnt Cymraeg and then went on to learn Spanish as an adult at night classes – would love to do other languages. The people I know who learnt Welsh as second languages are also good at and interested other languages.

    Go to mainland Europe and people easy do 2 or 3 languages or more… Elizabeth Haywood seems to be stuck in the little Englander mindset that holds Wales back

    Elizabeth Haywood seems totally clueless – just seems to repeat clichéd UKIP type out of date gibberish.

  29. “It is unforgivable that nearly two decades after the Assembly was established you can go to Spain, Italy, Germany or France and speak to people who have no idea that Wales is a separate country.”

    The advent on the Welsh Assembly did not make Wales a separate country.

  30. Is it true, as I was told, that the reason there are Welsh language signs in Cardiff is that a commercial branding/PR company was brought in from England? They said the only thing that distinguished Cardiff from similar-sized towns like Leicester or Nottingham was that it was a national capital so it should play this up with Welsh signage. If that’s true, it does indicate a commercial advantage for Welsh. Of course,it is diluted if some of the locals announce that they don’t know what the Welsh means and wish it wasn’t there. I think that’s what they call an identity crisis.

  31. In 2004 estyn published a paper which investigated why WM schools had such a poor entry rate for mfl gcse. I recollect that the shortage of Welsh speaking mfl teachers was a factor but parental and pupil attitude was also a factor. When 60 per cent of Welsh speakers work in the public sector you can see how Welsh can be seen as a more important asset than a mfl. Despite all claims that learning Welsh makes learning a mfl easier, pupils in WM schools still said that they avoided mfl gcses because they were hard. It’s clear that, with a crowded curriculum, Welsh actually displaces mfls.

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