Welsh Language Standards should be embraced by service providers

Delyth Jewell says the use of Welsh language services is complex, and standards will pose a new challenge.

With the passing of the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) 2011, new standards will soon be imposed on a variety of service providers, local authorities and voluntary services in Wales relating to their provision of Welsh language services for consumers.  But many service providers report that the numbers of people who use the services already available are low.  Last week, Citizens Advice Cymru published a report (English by default: Understanding the use and non-use of Welsh language services), which is aimed at understanding the reasons behind the low take up, as well as offering some practical solutions for service providers in embracing the new standards.

In order to understand the background, our report looks at the barriers which consumers face when using Welsh language services – which are often manifold and complex – as well as suggesting ways in which service providers could engage with consumers in order to improve the take-up of existing services (and ways in which they could design, implement and monitor services in the future).

Our report is based on the findings of research undertaken by Beaufort Research into the current and potential usage of Welsh language services by fluent Welsh speakers.

According to the 2011 census, 19% of the population in Wales are able to speak Welsh.  Invariably, levels of competence – and confidence – will vary, but the fact remains that this figure does not tally up with the numbers of people accessing Welsh language services on a regular basis.

We found, for example, that 54% of the fluent Welsh speakers we spoke to as part of our research always use English when contacting their bank or building society, and that 75% always contact their gas, electricity, phone, broadband and television suppliers in English.

Our findings did, however, suggest that Welsh speakers were more inclined to use Welsh in some contexts than in others: 65% of those who usually interacted with their bank in person said they sometimes or always used Welsh; yet, conversely, only 13% of those who contacted their bank online tended to use Welsh.  Websites fared particularly badly across the board in our survey – suggesting that a majority of consumers find it difficult or off-putting to use Welsh language services online.

The reasons behind consumers’ reluctance to use Welsh language services are complicated.  Our report suggests that the barriers which Welsh language users face in accessing services are both structural and behavioural – and that these barriers often compound one another.  Structurally, services which are designed without Welsh speaking consumers’ needs in mind,  are difficult to find or use and which are developed without the input of consumers are less likely to be used by consumers.  But the theories which underpin behavioural economics also come into play here.  Many Welsh speakers, for example, use English as a matter of habit in certain contexts – particularly in situations where the English service is offered as a default.  Welsh speakers are also sometimes nervous about making mistakes in Welsh, or do not trust that Welsh language services will be as easy to use as a result of a negative past experience.  Where Welsh language provision is inconsistent across platforms, or when technical or confusing Welsh is used, consumers are less likely to use the service in the future.

Our report argues that consumers value a service which has as few obstacles as possible: for example, consumers value services which don’t have too many automated steps before accessing Welsh, services which are efficient, and services which are consistent across platforms.  Research also shows that consumers are far more likely to choose a Welsh language service if it is offered upfront – in fact, this statement was backed by 93% of those in our survey.

The desire is evidently there – which we believe offers an exciting opportunity for service providers to engage with consumers in a way which will instil value and loyalty.  Our report suggests that service providers should consult Welsh language consumers through adopting a specific engagement strategy, in order to ensure that they understand what Welsh speakers want from services.  We also think it vital that Welsh language services should be signposted clearly upfront, and that these should be promoted actively and available consistently.

Most importantly, we feel that the new Welsh language standards pose a timely opportunity and exciting challenge for service providers – and will enable them to reach new audiences.

Delyth Jewell is Policy Officer for Citizens Advice Cymru.

22 thoughts on “Welsh Language Standards should be embraced by service providers

  1. Perhaps Delyth you still believe in ‘Father Christmas too’, your statistics are flawed, selective and do not represent reality as from various public body sources its evident that the Welsh language national demand is low – Circa 1% in Banking etc – My problem is the inverse discrimination and its impact on Economy when Welsh language is put before the competence and other essential skills as evident in North Wales especially Gwynedd. See: http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/gwynedd-housing-group-carry-recruiting-8344831

  2. Why spend time and money trying to provide a service that no-one appears to want nor need?

    It is time we made public service more accountable for the money they spend and the level of service they provide, irrespective of language. It seems to me Wales is receiving too much money via Barnett, much of it being wasted.

    Isn’t it time for a referendum on this conundrum of language?

  3. A good article…. but a bit late now!

    These sorts of concerns (along with many others) were in the consultation responses document relating to the new Welsh language standards:

    Organisations and individuals took a great deal of effort (not to mention courage) to make these responses yet how many of our 60 AMs took the trouble to read them before all 60 voted unanimously in support of the new language standards last week?

    It baffles me that 60 people from supposedly all different walks of life could read those responses and then ALL vote in favour of passing the measures. Not one of them questioning anything! We can only conclude that either they didn’t read them or they are too scared of the Welsh language lobby to question. Either is pretty worrying and at such times we have to question why we are soon to be paying an additional 20 AM salaries so they can also vote the same way without question or the courage to think for themselves!

  4. Karen is right. We desperately need a referendum on the Welsh language. If the majority agree, then it should definitely be prohibited in the public domain. It is political correctness gone mad.

  5. Presumably this interest in the rights of Welsh speakers will now be reciprocated and the the CAB will be equally receptive to providing research and advice to L1 English families who are unable to obtain basic services like primary education in English?

    Perhaps Delyth Jewell would now care to make a substantive statement on this issue?

  6. I’m surprised some of the figures are as low as they are. Just 54% of people always use English when dealing with their bank, for example? I use online banking, so I have no option other than to use English. I look forward to standards being applied to the private sector so that I can have the option to use Welsh. How about it, Assembly Members and Welsh Language Commissioner?

  7. If you watch S4C as I do ‘on the red button’ for rugby coverage it is interesting that seemingly a majority of advertising is done through the medium of English,rather than local minority language.In the 1960’s the ‘fanatics’ organized mass protests to further welsh language useage,so perhaps us English only speakers/tax payers should also organize,within the law to protest against costs/nuisance of these measures. It seems to me that Glamorgan and south east Wales which has history of openness and welcoming people is being turned into Gwynedd,so GAWD help us all!!.

  8. Choice…No one ever mentions choice.Merely because a person speaks Welsh does not mean that they prefer to speak Welsh in all situations or indeed any. The recent Welsh language use survey showed that even amongst fluent Welsh speakers either indifference to language used or a preference for English was common. People also lie; 20 percent of people who claimed to always fill in forms in Welsh filled in the questionnaire on language in E nglish

  9. I’d like to expand this discussion and consider if the Welsh Language Standards and the intentions behind them are legal and can be so under the prior laws of England and Wales and for that matter the EU laws?

    Do realise that this is a complex issue but do feel uneasy with the history of Welsh language imposition in the post devolution period as it appears to me that the Welsh Government used some exceptionally devious measures in evolving and perhaps prioritising Welsh language status in Wales over the principal language.

    Perhaps Welsh Government recognised that legality aspects of Welsh language elevation can be a problem and perhaps anticipating ‘problems’ they applied some pre-emptive measures:

    The EU HR laws do recognise the need to protect and support minority languages but they equally recognised that the concession given to minorities can be used to discriminate against majority if there are no balances and checks and for that very reason the EU Commission has legal provisions to prevent such occurrences [Some 10 years ago WG unilaterally stripped the Welsh Human Rights and Equalities Commission of any remit for the Welsh language and transferred such responsibility to the Welsh Language Board (WLB) and now this aspect is in the hands of the Welsh Language Commissioner].

    This has created a language conundrum as again in legal terms the WG has no responsibility or any legal remit for the English language but it has such remit for the Welsh language and by implication WG may think it can prioritise Welsh language in education and public employment, but again is it legal!?

    Perhaps any ‘Learned’ professionals reading IWA pages, can provide a greater clarity on the above or if this matter can only be resolved in the Supreme Court?

  10. Howell Morgan is spot-on. Language fanatics, especially in the Labour Party, are doing enormous damage to Wales, and Welsh identity. When will this madness stop?

  11. Jacques.

    The authority to control the welsh language comes via the parliamentary Welsh language act, which is still on the books, most responsibilities were transferred as part of the devolution act.

    However any devolved powers can be removed or amended by act of parliament and the Welsh language act is still on the books.

    The question is does the original act or the parts transferred to the assembly give the power to councils to refuse to teach english speaking children in english with welsh as a language choice as per any other language.

    The original UK education act does say something along the lines about all uk citizens will be taught in english and we are part of Uk, so most probably the best avenue is the education act, does the parts of it transferred to Wales allow them to override the basics of that bill.

    If you ask the Welsh office they say it is devolved it you ask the assembly they will tell you they have no responsibility for the content of any act of parliament.

    Basically they have been allowed to get away with it claim it is devolved and not one welsh mp is prepared to challenge it in HoC.
    Try this


    Special Educational Needs
    Code of Practice for Wales

    Para 1.7 Welsh Language act 1993 ( A parliamentary act)
    It should be remembered that Welsh or English speaking children and young people’s
    progress will be hindered if they do not receive services in the language in which
    they are most comfortable, and this applies equally to those pupils receiving
    Welsh medium, English medium or bilingual education.

    English speaking people in Gwynedd etc might be able to claim it is a special need of their children.

    SeaMôr Bytts

    Fully agree re-vote, they claim they need more Ams for scrutiny yet clearly none of them scrutinised this bill, passed on the nod.

    Quick aside on scrutiny, saw this on a forum,/letters page and saved it. Why not use our 40 MPs, they have less to do now and could do it using a committee room in Hoc, could tele conference if needed (not suggesting they have a vote in assembly), they could submit a report scrutinisation report available to all AMs and any questions /observations they have and could “attend” the scrutiny debate by tele conf all assembly members have a screen in front of them. They are after all already paid by us, why pay for more.

  12. This is a legal debate without reference to either relevant facts or a knowledge of education law as it operates in Wales. I have no objection to debates on matters of law but perhaps citing your authorities would help so that we could then check whether your interpretation of the relevant case law is correct.

    The legality of current Welsh language policy is derived from the Welsh Language Measure 2011. Your argument regarding discrimination on the basis of language is largely baseless. As was made clear in Gwynedd County Council v Jones [1986] ICR 833, language cannot be ascribed as a basis for a racial group, therefore the question of racial discrimination does not arise.

    The only possible scenario where a case of discrimination might arise is where a job was advertised including the requirement for the ability to speak Welsh when the job did not actually require it. The legal position is that if a condition is included in the job specification then it must be justifiable.

    I have no idea why you think that the Welsh Language Commissioner should have any responsibility for the English language other than a grasp of the meaning of English vocabulary and grammar has momentarily eluded you.

  13. Missed a significant word in Delyth’s post and that’s the ‘DESIRE to use Welsh’. Then we have Anne Keane of Estyn also being on record of saying ‘People have OBLIGATION’ to use Welsh and numerous other ‘applied psychology’ terms to imply guilt at one end to compulsion at the other end (Meri Huws and Welsh Language Society come to mind by saying or implying ‘Every child born in Wales has a birth-right of learning Welsh), so the compulsion goes on relentless. Perhaps Delyth can explain to me as to why there is such a low or perhaps abysmal uptake of Welsh language media (Press, books and S4C)? I would argue when it comes to personal choices, Welsh language is irrelevant to most people of Wales!?

  14. Far too little attention is paid to the very low uptake of Welsh language services. The perennial answer from the Welsh Language professionals is that there are no services, services are poorly advertised or whatever. In truth these are just excuses trotted out to cover up the uncomfortable truth…..Welsh speakers want more services because more services mean more jobs for Welsh speakers. They don’t, however, really want to use those services even when they clearly have a choice.

    In 2013 I asked the BBC for the number of “Unique browsers” for BBC News Cymru (Welsh) and BBC news Wales (English). This is a simple comparison because the options are side by side on the website….there is no interaction and the content is the same. It’s a simple matter of preference.

    In the financial year 2011/2012 1.67 million unique browsers chose the English language site so an average of 4,575 people a day.

    In the same period, 7,000 people visited the BBC Cymru Wales news site or an average of 19 people per day.
    Some might say that the BBC is having a laugh at our expense but, of course they have no option but to provide the Welsh language service. What is inexcusable however is that they refused to disclose these figures until I made a complaint to the Information Commissioner . That is an example of how well guarded the truth is when it comes to matters “Welsh language”.

    So this is our doom in Wales….more and more spent on “the language” to employ more and more Welsh speakers to provide services that fewer and fewer people actually use.

  15. Fascinating RJB and your defence of the Y Fro superiority never ceases to amaze me and lets agree to disagree (I have read Meri Huws’s legal definitions and legal precedents too)!

    Can you answer your own legal conundrum – If there is going to be a legal challenge to improper WL Essential job requirement which Court is going to deal with it (A High Court or some other Wales specific ‘legal’ body or bodies)? I suspect it might be the latter, but you may know better?

    Why do we have the new WL Standards (100% AM endorsement) and soon we’ll have a WL Tribunal (Again expecting 100% AM endorsement)?

    See: http://gov.wales/newsroom/welshlanguage/2014/9407936/?lang=en (Both bodies WLC & WLT are staffed entirely by Welsh language speakers including legal professionals) – Welsh people need a WAKE UP CALL as the majority has been sold out by their political leaders!?

  16. “In the same period, 7,000 people visited the BBC Cymru Wales news site or an average of 19 people per day.”
    I wonder who the other eighteen are.
    Statistics eh!

  17. @ Jacques Protic

    I’m not sure why you’ve decided to reverse your name…

    You mention Anne Keane’s statement that ‘people have (sic) obligation’ to use Welsh. Could we have the reference please so that we can check the context.

    Also a right, by definition, cannot be a compulsion. c.f. my comments above regarding the meaning of the English language.

  18. @ Jacques Protic

    I made nor make any defence of cultures of superiority, Welsh or otherwise. Whilst I recognise deliberate misrepresentation as a debating tactic designed to provoke a response, I shall simply let yours hit the wall.

    I should imagine that, in the first instance, a complaint would go before the Welsh Language Tribunal and, should there be an appeal on a point of law, that would go to the High Court, with the permission either of the Tribunal or the High Court.

    Regarding your comment that “both bodies WLC and WLT are staffed entirely by Welsh language speakers including legal professionals”, what is your point? Both bodies have responsibilities regarding the Welsh language and all employed have to be able to deal with Welsh speakers directly. Why would you employ someone who could not speak Welsh to undertake such a job.

    Finally, regarding your view that we should agree to disagree. If I was offering my personal opinion, then I would be in a position to do so. However what I was outlining was the view of the courts on the matter, not my own view. Have I represented the courts’ decisions correctly? I believe I have but I’m more than happy to be challenged on this. Your original point was to question the legality of Welsh Language Standards. I was positing why such standards are legal and quoted my authorities for doing so.

    Now you may disagree with the law or the decisions of the courts to your heart’s content; that is your right as a citizen. But what neither you nor I may do is to act contrary to those statutes and rulings without incurring sanction, as is right in a country that is governed by the rule of law.

  19. RBJ my last note to you even though you missed completely the key points behind the finer legal issues with the new WLS (My earlier submission). To listen to Anne Keane watch the Maori video (Link in the following article: http://www.glasnost.org.uk/blog/) Nothing sinister in my name reversal, just a simple technical glitch with the IWA site!!

  20. @ Jacques Protic

    What finer legal issues are you talking about? You asked what would happen if a complaint was made concerning the relevance of a Welsh language condition to a job contract and I answered you. If you have a further point to make then make it rather than retreat into obscurantism.

  21. Rhobat Bryn Jones, 3:29pm, It seems to me that much of this business to do with the Welsh language is all about finding public sector or third sector employment for Welsh speakers. No harm in that.

    But we do need to make sure that it is Welsh speakers who are paying for this construct, not those of us who are happy to rub along in life using the English language.

    I’m not sure we have the balance quite right at the moment. But I do sense that change is coming.

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