The Eisteddfod angst

Jasmine Donahaye recounts her experiences as a Welsh learner visiting the Eisteddfod.

Like many learners and non-Welsh speakers, I am not very well informed about what goes on at the Eisteddfod. The Pafiliwn and Y Babell Lên terrify me. I’ve a vague sense of the competitions, but no idea really how it all works. I’m not sure what Maes B is, or Maes C (or even if  there is a Maes C). Maes D appears to be the Learners’ tent – D for dysgu, I assume – but I’ve never found out. Being a learner is like being an immigrant: you don’t want to be reminded of your gauche clumsiness at the start, and nor do you want to confront the fact that you haven’t moved very far since then – but that, it seems, is what the Eisteddfod is there to tell you.

Even though I’m ignorant about much of what happens and where, there are two places on the Eisteddfod site that I know really well: the toilets, and Y Lle Celf. Y Lle Celf, the art pavilion, should be the first place a Welsh learner locates, because in this great white exhibition space you have a reason for wandering about in a daze looking uncomprehendingly at things. In Y Lle Celf you can be totally lost and alone – as the Welsh learner usually is – and no one will realise. Here you can pretend you know what you’re doing at the Eisteddfod, and that once again you are a functioning, socially competent adult, rather than a sweating, paranoid teenager.

However, if the latter takes over, then you always have recourse to the toilets. The toilets are a haven to which the Welsh learner repeatedly returns. When, for example, you see an acquaintance, and in your strangled learner-speak you ask where or what something is, and he waits impatiently while you mangle your question and correct yourself, flustered and embarrassed, and he curtly answers in words you do not understand and then turns to a conversation that excludes you, and you stand there gasping like a beached fish – then what a refuge the toilets offer. You lock yourself away in a cubicle for as long as you can bear its sweet chemical stench, weeping in an agony of humiliation that you swear you will never expose yourself to again.

Of course it’s not because you just tortured the language, or because that person couldn’t be bothered to talk to a learner. He was busy, or distracted, as most people at the Eisteddfod are – because they all know what’s going on: they’re with it, they’re hip. They belong. Unlike you. The opposite happens, too, of course: someone calls your name, and greets you warmly, and suddenly you’re talking animatedly in your limited Welsh to the daughter of a friend or a neighbour with whom you’ve only ever spoken English before. But even so, every year you wash up wondering if it’s going to be one long exercise in making a public arse of yourself.

I’m certain that every Welsh learner experiences a version of this social anxiety – and not once, not just the first time, but every time, for there is no instance of losing your Eisteddfod virginity. Each year you find that this was merely a sort of blind, fumbling attempt at fully clothed foreplay. You don’t actually know how the real thing looks or feels, and you fear you never will know: you probably won’t ever be able to get inside the Eisteddfod’s knickers.

The Eisteddfod is not cold or withholding, though. On the contrary, it tries energetically, even effusively, to be welcoming – a bit too eagerly so, according to some. Indeed, there’s a painful absurdity in the attempt to widen the festival’s appeal to non-Welsh-speakers, when to do so is, effectively, to lose a great deal of its very reason for being. But no matter how welcoming, the truth remains that you are not and cannot be part of things, precisely because you’re a learner.

For the outsider the experience can be totally alienating, no matter what your language proficiency. I still shudder remembering my experience, some years ago, in a learners’ choir: we were required to sing with bizarre, exaggerated wooden gestures. On Radio Cymru I hear the stilted, breathy recitations, or the minutiae of adjudications, and I find it all deeply and disquietingly strange, and I want nothing to do with it. Yet even if I got over my considerable discomfort with these quite inaccessible performative elements of the Eisteddfod, even if I had the vocabulary to understand a performance or a talk without losing a third or a half of it, I still wouldn’t really understand. The heart of the language lies in the private and the personal, and in shared experience: in the collective feelings of the audience that I don’t share; in those moments between people that are unscripted, spontaneous. As a learner you can sense those moments happening around you all the time, but you cannot participate in them.

It’s easy, feeling outside a group, and sensitive about it, to identify some notional ‘everyone’ who belongs within it. Bertrand Russell once allegedly said that in the Croesor Valley sooner or later everyone who was anyone traipsed by, and so it seems to be at the Eisteddfod: at least everyone who’s anyone and who speaks Welsh. And they all know each other.

You see this notional ‘everyone’ easily navigating an alien world that excludes you. They all seem to be insiders, members of this collective who know how it all works by a kind of osmosis. Of course that is not true at all: there is no more a universal ‘insider’ experience than there is a universal learner experience of the Eisteddfod, and Welsh speakers bring their own uncertainties to it, just as learners do, and as do those who speak no Welsh. Nevertheless you tend to see the cliques you feel excluded from, not those that others see you belonging to.

For some this sense of outsiderness is unbearable, and encountering it at the Eisteddfod might turn you off the language for good. For others, it reinforces a pre-existing idea that Welsh-speakers are a privileged, hostile minority who only switch to Welsh to make you feel excluded – although if that’s your view, you’re not really likely to go to the Eisteddfod in the first place.

Still, despite the paranoia it might cause, there is a privilege in being a Welsh learner at the Eisteddfod. It’s one of the few places where you can experience the language as a normal, common thing, where the default language of your social interactions is not, for once, your own language, and where you can glimpse, though you cannot share, the pain and the poignancy of what it might mean to have, as your first means of communication, a language that is shrinking before your eyes, year on year, measurably, implacably and inevitably.

Welsh speakers might spare a thought for the self-conscious learners who are stumbling around the Maes trying to look inconspicuous and, who, failing, go off to weep desperately in the loos. A moment of welcome or encouragement can make all the difference between us staying and engaging – and realising there is no ‘everyone else’ – or leaving and never coming back. But with or without such encouragement, if learners do stay, and return, the anxiety becomes more manageable. You will spend less time in the toilets, or Y Lle Celf, or drinking coffee you don’t really want – and you might just venture, eventually, as I hope one day to do, into the terrifying unknown of Y Babell Lên or the Pafiliwn.

Jasmine Donahaye’s latest book is the memoir Losing Israel (Seren). She will be taking part in a panel discussion in Y Lolfa Lên with Daniel Williams and Simon Brooks on Thursday August 6th.

38 thoughts on “The Eisteddfod angst

  1. the true language of the island. The language of angels. Poetry’s very own language 🙂

  2. You don’t make it sound like a pleasant experience if I’m honest. There is no smoke without fire and my experience has (as often as not) been that of elitism and snootiness. I’m afraid the reputation is deserved in this case. Despite the fact that many are trying to welcome learners and non-Welsh speakers (and doing a good job), it only takes one to ruin the experience… and believe me there is always one!

    I quite enjoyed my trip to the one in Solva years back. However, it was somewhat ruined later that evening when a few lads in the pub (with thick North Walian accents) started accusing the locals of “Not being from round here”. I can only assume that they mistook the lack of a typical Welsh accent in Pembrokeshire as a sign that the locals were from England… and of course that was an excuse to look for trouble.

  3. The thing to remember is that the National Eisteddfod is that the emphasis should be put on the ‘eisteddfod’ not the ‘national’. The problem with putting the emphasis on the words ‘national’ and not the ‘eisteddfod’ is that it is suddenly expected to cater for the whole ‘nation’, whatever their interests may be. Eisteddfod goers are probably also at fault for encouraging this interpretation because it’s in their interest to foster the idea that the Eisteddfod community is the ‘imagined community’ of Wales, just as in the 19th century it was imagined as Nonconformist even though about half the population was Anglican.

    The Eisteddfod is not just a Welsh language festival but a Welsh cultural festival. It is therefore a *good* thing that many venturing to the Maes will feel a certain amount of culture shock. If they didn’t, I would question whether there was anything truly unique about Welsh culture.

    To be honest, a lot of what goes on at the Eisteddfod puzzles a lot of people at the Eisteddfod. People discussing Cerdd Dant or Canghanedd might as well be speaking a different language as far as I’m concerned – I’m completely stumped. But what the Eisteddfod does offer is a number of overlapping sub-cultures. I go there for the discussions and events regarding Welsh-language digital media and literature, and there’s plenty of that to occupy my day without having to bother with the myriad other events going on at the same time.

    It struck me this week that the Eisteddfod is a little bit like a Comic-con. Now, if I were to arrive at a Comic-con, and attend an event full of Star Wars fans discussing the finer intricacies of Jango Fett’s propulsion pack it’s unlikely that I would have a clue what was going on. However, I would appreciate that this is the only time of year these people get to meet together in the same room and completely geek out about that subject. The Eisteddfod is very much the same – a lot of people who are a minority in their own country the rest of the year get together and geek out about Welsh language literature, music, poetry, digital media, etc etc. To take away their own opportunity to do this, so that the event is more ‘national’ rather than ‘Eisteddfod’, would, I think, be sad.

  4. The eisteddfod is primarily a competitive event. It’s also an annual ritual and social get together, with it’s particular ways and means.

    Try an Irish Dance festival, and you will find the same. First time is like being a visitor from another planet. The main event for me was when the musicians relaxed and riffed when the competition ended, and look forward to it each time. Then you learn about the dance steps, and the differing styles applied by dance to gain the competitive edge…..and then the dresses.

    But don’t make my word for it. Take a look at the chapter titled “Steddfoda” in “Y Pethe” by Llwyd o’r Bryn – the ultimate eisteddfodwr in a past generation. And purchase a copy of this year’s “Cyfansoddiadau a Beirniaethau” to see what you missed.

  5. I like the imagery in this – it leaves the reader with a clear sense of the discomfort you feel entering an alien world where you don’t understand what is going on and you encounter varying degrees of tolerance to your self-inflicted ‘inadequacy’… But you had a choice… And you could leave at any time.

    Now you know how the ‘dim Cymreig’ kids feel when they go to school in Gwynedd and Anglesey… But I’m told they don’t get much chance to go drink endless coffee or weep in the toilets… They’re pretty much forced to get on and endure it…. Day after day after day…ad nauseam! They don’t have any choice!

    In the light of your experience, can you tell us how you think you would feel about that?

  6. John R Walker- that description of an alien world ‘inflicted’ on poor children who live in a place where the Welsh language is the majority (yes, majority) of the population is a nonsense. I take it you did not see the brilliant BBC series ‘Make me Welsh’? It showed clearly that no child ‘suffers’ or is left out, and that children from all backgrounds become fluent within a matter of months. I have friends who have been through the system having moved from England and are just as passionate about Welsh as anyone I know. Your description does not describe the general experience of children at all, and you need to realise that the English langauge has no right to force itself into communites just because of the political union Wales is in.

  7. @Ben, forget not that Wales is in a financial union too. It’s only because of the largesse of the English speaker that the Welsh language exists and prospers.

    Were the English and English speaking not so obliging there would be no Welsh language communities because there would be no infrastructure to support such, meaning no schools, hospitals, subsidised farmers and so on.

    I think this financial support gives the English speaker an equal right, no matter where or in what community.

  8. Ben; I don’t doubt the enthusiasm of some of your English acquaintances but if you are trying to suggest that pupils from non Welsh speaking homes in Gwynedd do as well in primary school as pupils from Welsh speaking homes then either you are misled or wishing to mislead. Some time ago I looked at the Key stage 2 outcomes for pupils who came from Welsh or English speaking homes. Those assessed at level 4 are those who fall into the broad categorisation of having reached the “age appropriate level” below that they have failed to reach that level. Level 5 is ahead of what could normally be expected.
    In 2009 11% of pupils from Welsh speaking homes failed to reach level 4. For pupils from non-Welsh speaking homes 31% failed to reach the age appropriate level, level 4. 2010 the figures were 10% and 31% respectively. 2011, 11% and 30% and in 2012 the figures were 9% and 31%.

    Whatever you would like people to believe the truth is that pupils forced to go to WM primary schools in Gwynedd who come from non Welsh speaking homes do not reach the same level of attainment in Welsh as those pupils who have Welsh as a home language. When it comes to the higher level, level 5 or above, on average 36.6% of pupils from Welsh L1 homes reach that level against 13.9% of pupils from English L1 homes. The sad part is (of course you will care less) that the same pupils who struggle to learn Welsh suffer in Maths and Science because the language of instruction is not wholly understood by them. As a result pupils with English L1 are behind the level that they could normally expect to reach not just in Welsh but in Maths and Science as well. Unsurprisingly many pupils have lost self confidence and have become disengaged with education by the end of primary school.

    People like yourself, and of course the Eisteddfod itself, love to publicise the exceptional people who have a talent for language and learn Welsh to a good standard. The grubby reverse of the coin is that many children who have no say in what happens to them are sacrificed on the altar to the greedy God of Welsh language idolatry. Sadder still is that no single politician in Wales gives a dam.

  9. Thanks Jasmine. I enjoyed your article (and it gave me a welcome break from cleaning the remnants of hay bales from my children’s clothes. Several shades of their Eisteddfod ‘tan’ came off in the bath too…) It led me to wonder whether some aspects of the festival continue to mystify us all (Welsh-speakers too). Cerdd dant is a closed book to me (I turn to Radio 4 when I want to hear one song sung to a tune of another); I wish I could write strict metre poetry but haven’t applied myself for long enough to find out whether I have the remotest facility for it; I went once to the Pafiliwn but only because my son wanted a rest. I go every year to the Eisteddfod though – and love it. Some of my friends, who claim to find my company generally congenial, find this deeply odd – even hinting that I can’t be the person they thought I was if I actually *enjoy* it. I have never explained its glories to their satisfaction and probably never could. It’s something to do with the astonishment in the faces of my sons when they realise they can talk to everyone in Welsh without checking first, that they needn’t wash for a week (the campsite facilities are basic enough to please small boys fed up with the tyranny of a daily bath), that they can roam far and wide without parental supervision, stay up late (very late) watching their favourite bands and giggle as otherwise achingly trendy parents claim that ‘this year’s Cyw show is the best for many years’ (OK, so maybe only I giggled at that), and make new friends. And I mostly just sit, walk and chat. I think the image that encapsulated it all for me this year was on that one stormy day (it really did rain hard though you’d never guess it from the weather forecasts from the field ‘light rain clearing later’ my foot.)…small children were surfing in the mud while their parents gradually reduced parental supervision as another round was bought and the band played on…and two elderly ladies with two walking sticks (each!) wandered across the scene on their way to the Babell Len. All of Wales was there. I suppose the point of this ramble is that the Eisteddfod’s capacity to flummox is not confined to non-Welsh-speakers. And a jolly good thing too. So, Jasmine, don’t spend too long in the toilets next time (they’re better than they were but still not pleasant). Pint in the bar, Y Fenni 2016?

  10. I would think that 80-85% of the welsh population couldn’t ‘care less’ about what goes on during National Eisteddfod of PART of Wales!!.This has to be the most ‘hyped’ event in the world,and the wall to wall coverage by S4C is a massive waste of taxpayers money. When the ‘event’ was held a few years ago in Llandow,some 10 miles from where I live it was perceived as a non-event by locals who are almost totally English only speakers.Whilst the participation of people in competitions is worth of note,and to be applauded the reality is that the vast majority couldn’t care less.

  11. @J.Jones – You make the mistake in thinking that I care what their attainment levels are. Their parents moved to another country with its own language, and whilst it is not their fault, accept that they would have to be taught in another language were they to have to gone to Spain or France. Again, the language of Gwynedd is Welsh; the English language is spoken in most of its parishes because people have brought it there with them. People have every right to move around and live where they like of course according to the Liberal political philosophy dominant in UK political discourse, but that does not mean that incomers have the right to decide whether or not their children learn Welsh. It is intolerant and arrogant to wish to do so, as well as Philistinism. Of course, and turning Liberalism back around on them, they are free to pack up and leave again and move to any other part of the UK where that horrid pain called ‘Welsh’ is not spoken.

    @Karen- No, not at all. And this will be the last time I respond to you.

  12. For a refreshing alternative to all the tired, cliched hatred here, I recommend people taking a look at the article published today by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah (a Brummie whose parents came from Barbados and Jamaica) on visiting the Eisteddfod.

    Those who have a broader perspective on culture and life generally tend to be more open-minded and accepting about culture and life, especially when it is different from theirs.

  13. No Ben; YOU make the mistake of thinking that I think you care. It’s hardly a well kept secret that whilst the Welsh speakers who make up the minority of the population in 20 out of 22 local authorities prate interminably about the right to have their children schooled through the medium of Welsh….so that they do not suffer the disadvantage of having to learn through a second language, when it comes to the counties where non Welsh speakers form a large minority English medium education is denied to their children.

    But the under performance of English L1 pupils who are put into Welsh medium schools is something that should concern everyone in Wales.

  14. @Howell Morgan:

    “This has to be the most ‘hyped’ event in the world”

    So unlike, say, the Boat Race (no-one’s ever been able to explain to me how the same two teams always make it through to the Final); or ‘Royal Ascot’ (which must be the equivalent for milliners)?

    @David Lloyd Owen:

    Absolutely right – Zephaniah’s piece is heartening and should be required reading for our dear Karen, Messrs. Morgan, Protic & Ruck, and all the other petulant nay-sayers around here. Perhaps only those like Mr Zephaniah who are already members of a ‘marginalised’ culture can really see what such events as the Eisteddfod are about with genuinely open minds.

  15. Jeff Jones & John Walker – How depressing to read such outdated attitudes. My bilingual education didn’t damage either my English language literacy or, unsurprisingly, my numeracy. Parents are ackinowledging that learning a second language give their children the best start in life. In addition, the cultural experiences like those that the Urdd camps and Eisteddfodau provide – makes a more confident and outgoing individual. As someone who underwent first-language Welsh-medium education, I support these beliefs and the opportunities I was given during my school years were unforgettable, and hopefully allowed me to develop my personal and social skills as well as gaining a greater appreciation of my heritage. Learning two languages opens up a whole new world of interaction and increases job opportunities, and provides a greater understanding of others. Bilingual = Best of both worlds! Simples.

  16. BTW, I’m the first one to take the govt to task on my matters. But Carwyn Jones & Huw Lewis are to be applauded for their support and guidance in promoting Welsh medium education. it’s only the local authorities need to pull up their socks as demand is outstripping supply.

    Jasmine, thank you so much for learning Welsh, people like you are absolute stars. Diolch yn fawr iawn Jasmine, ti’n seren!

  17. I can only respond by referring to my own experience as someone who learned Welsh as an adult. My first visit was back at the end of the 70s and was for me a mind-blowing experience. Yes, it was pretty alien, but that was part of the appeal. I relished that rare opportunity to be immersed in a totally Welsh-language culture, from buying an “ysgytlaeth” (milk shake) in my awkward Welsh to watching the chairing in the Pafiliwn (for the first and last time). While eaiting for the ceremony to begin I got chattiing to a ni e old lady who explainef to me, in English, all about the ceremony. I was grateful but had already read up about the ceremonies before going, in preWikipedia days too! The whole point of the Eisteddfod is that it is in Welsh, and that’s why I wanted to go. If you cannot speak Welsh there’s a limit to what you can do there, so the options are learn Welsh, don’t learn Welsh and wander round and soak it up, or don’t go at all And if you are learning Welsh take full advantage of the opportunity to practice your Welsh and learn about Welsh-language culture. Who said learning another language was going to be easy?

  18. Ben Screen says:
    “You make the mistake in thinking that I care what their attainment levels are. Their parents moved to another country with its own language”

    First of all you need to substitute the word ‘country’ with ‘county’, but other than that I cant fault your logic… particularly if this means that when the next tranch of Welsh speakers from the North and West take up residence in South East Wales (for their well paid ‘Welsh essential’ jobs) and start demanding a brand new WM school and a bilingual lolli-pop lady/man we can tell them to ‘do one’ on account of the way its done in Gwynedd. What’s good for the goose and all that!

  19. The essential point here is that the title is the National Eisteddfod, yet only one culture prevails. If the vision being rehearsed is a monocultural Wales, then it’s a pretty disturbing one. The dilemma is therefore do you accept this view of Wales in order to join in or do you keep a multicultural perspective on your country but be left out?

    Speaking to friends yesterday, they assured me that the Eisteddfod has expanded the range of activities to be found on the Maes and that there is a more to see and do than used to be the case. Since it’s coming to Abergavenny in 2016, I will pop along and check it out for myself.

    I will however never feel truly comfortable until this ‘one people united by a singe culture’ idea is abandoned and allowed to become a memory which is where it belongs.

  20. @J. Jones In terms of this section of your comment ”when it comes to the counties where non Welsh speakers form a large minority English medium education is denied to their children”, this I do not doubt; EM education is not provided, and it is denied to them. However there is nothing wrong with this; no one has yet forced anyone to set up home in Gwynedd, and its education policy is not a secret. In short- if you don’t like a particular areas’ demography and resultant education system, stay away.

    Secondly, your contempt for the language is evident when in your use of the word ‘prate’. I fact the benefits of learning in a second language are well understood, the research is there. I am sure you are able to find the research yourself and maybe such an exercise would be beneficial to your world view.

  21. It appears that any ‘adverse’ comments on the a) imposition of welsh language on people who do not wish to be imposed upon,b) The relevance of NEof W to 80-85% of welsh people who are not welsh speakers,c)the obsession with all things welsh in this region of UK. I have friends who are thoroughly welsh speaking and who grew up in welsh speaking heartland and it is very pleasant to hear them talking in their ‘native’ language,and I would defend their right to do so,as that’s called ‘democracy’,however the rights of the vast majority who are monoglot English speakers and perfectly happy in that status now have the WLC disturbing their peace of mind.In my 70 years a quiet ‘revolution’ has taken place in Wales where a minority of ‘fanatics’ are now driving policy in WAG/BBC Wales/S4C etc etc,and this is breeding a deep,but SILENT resentment,but look out if you stick your head above the parapet and a ton of abuse is going to land on your head. Perhaps when the ‘cuts’ have worked their way through the system in coming years and local authority services reduced to bare minimum then much greater scrutiny/accountability of where hard working tax payers money is going will be demanded through the political system.

  22. @SeamorBytts – I will read your comment and happily respond to it when you use your full name and not a childish nickname.

  23. @ J Jones

    As a point of information, children in Gwynedd are taught to speak English and become fluent in it.

    Secondly, the English language’s existence is not under threat; therefore special measures are not required to ensure its future. You impose a supposed equality on an unequal situation and, in doing so, perpetuate the inequality that has led to the language’s demise. Thankfully, the Welsh Government is not following your advice.

  24. @Rhobat Bryn Jones
    “The essential point here is that the title is the National Eisteddfod, yet only one culture prevails. If the vision being rehearsed is a monocultural Wales, then it’s a pretty disturbing one. ”

    Isn’t it actually the Royal National Eisteddfod. If I were to let myself get into a conspiratorial twist over a plan to influence our cultural profile it’s the “Royal” bit I’d tend to object to rather than the “National” one.
    Just as well I’m not really bothered either way or I might well get into a state of angst over the way our culture is being molded by such things as the Grand National and RSPCA.

    However, come to think of it I do object to National Bake off day. If the vision being rehearsed is for a land where everyone is an obese diabetic, then it’s a pretty disturbing one. Perhaps we have more in common than I first thought.

  25. @ Ben Screen

    No need because I know you read my comment 😉

    Plus I don’t use my real name for fear of retaliation from Welsh language activists…. they have form for such behaviour

  26. Rhobat/Ben; you are both making statements that are unsubstantiated. The initial position that Ben took was that pupils from English monoglot homes who went through WM schools in Gwynedd were equally fluent (in the fullest sense) with pupils from Welsh L1 homes. The data shows that amongst that group the failure level is high and that this leads to failure to achieve in other areas of schooling. The answer from Ben and Rhobat is the same….”we don’t care….if you don’t like it move”.

    I’m quite happy to accept your position but you can’t keep on about the advantages of bilingualism when the disadvantages of the Welsh medium school system are just disregarded. There is no evidence from an increasing amount of research done on the Welsh medium school system, particularly in Gwynedd, that WM schooling delivers acceptable levels of attainment when the socio economic status of pupils is taken into account. It’s good to see that both of you who are based in Cardiff university have such a callous disregard for the well being of children in the fro Cymraeg…I would expect nothing less from that august institution. Perhaps you could look at the research by Dr Mirain Rhys, actually sponsored by the WLB:-

    Does it really show equality of outcomes in language acquisition in Gwynedd? Nope.

  27. One day the 80-85% will indeed rise up and make their voices heard. They will cry out…

    “Will these boring bigots please desist. We may not all speak the language but, just like JRR Tolkein, we are happy to know it survives and being a part of an open-minded, outward looking country, we are willing to ensure its survival by what is done today. We may think it is not enough, but it is not too much. We are not ashamed of our national anthem, let alone the language with which it is sung. Now, would you please go back to your bunkers, because the Rugby World Cup is about to begin.”

  28. The point is that if you describe something as ‘national’, then you expect it to be inclusive. That means that you expect it to be culturally inclusive. However the culture as represented at the Eisteddfod is qulte narrowly defined and does not represent the nation.

    If you do not believe in an inclusive society, then it won’t bother you.

  29. What really annoys me is that all this money is spent on the Eisteddfod at a time when there are cutbacks on services provided in Urdu, Hindi, Amharic, Yoruba, and so on. Welsh Government and local authorities should have a rethink in order to get our nation’s priorities right.

  30. @Rhobat Bryn Jones
    “The point is that if you describe something as ‘national’, then you expect it to be inclusive.”

    Why does it have to be “inclusive”. It’s an eisteddfod and it does what an eisteddfod does and it does it at a national level. Hence it’s title – National Eisteddfod. No one is forced to take part in it. to attend it or watch it. There aren’t any cerdd dant press gangs or cynghanedd wranglers roaming our streets.
    Would you critise The Welsh National Opera for excluding hip hop music and brass bands performances because those are part of our musical culture also. Perhaps the Welsh National Sheepdog Trials should allow other species to take part. It is a very dogist event.

    If you do not believe in an inclusive society, then it won’t bother you.

  31. @ Jack Rawls

    Just to support your argument, what proportion of the population speaks Welsh and what proportion of the population speaks Urdu, Hindi, Amharic, Yoruba and not forgetting Polish?

  32. @J.Jones – The article is highly informative and well-written, and totally contradicts all you say. As the authors state with complete clarity in the conclusion:

    ‘The current research demonstrated quite clearly that bilingual education in Wales did not negatively affect L1 English-speakers’ abilities in English. In fact, L1 English bilinguals and their monolingual English peers performed equally well on measuresof English vocabulary and English reading skills, despite the fact that L1 English bilinguals attended schools where Welsh was the main language of instruction’.”

    Do explain how that backs up your argument that WM education is detrimental to English pupils?

  33. Jasmine Donahaye dares to speak truthfully and honestly – that is to be applauded – especially if it raises prickly questions. The subjective relationship between an individual and a social context. I can’t see that there is much that can be done to assuage awkwardness in a social context except redouble the ‘yma i helpu’ (here to help) team’s efforts to be inclusive on the Maes, but we all find some things awkward at the Eisteddfod, and someone learning the language will naturally find a challenge in the unusual dominance of the language.

    However, what I find interesting is the discussion on Jasmine’s piece – and probably proves its worth. The point identified by a number of respondents – problematic to some – is the centrality of Welsh to the event. The language – still of the majority at the start of the 20th century – has for centuries been unofficial, ‘other’, a patois, a marker of social status, of lack of education, and of social ambivalence; it is understandable that many – who now no longer speak it – see it negatively. Without direct contact with the language, it is easier to see it outside the cultural norm – something that belongs to ‘them’.

    It surprises me still that people feel that they can make disparaging and highly partisan remarks with impunity. It puzzles me why this self-inflicted, self sensoring attitude to Welsh remains (by Welsh speakers as well as those who do not), and goes largely unchallenged. There is no ‘us and them’ – I speak Welsh and English, a bit of French a little German – but I don’t claim anything on behalf of anyone, linguistically. I am part of the 100% that makes up the Welsh population.

    Official recognition and use of Welsh is something very very recent (within my memory) so we have a way to go before the language is regenerated, but a bit of self respect and confidence building is needed.

    I’m tired of having to apologise for speaking Welsh, or for having to plough through poorly translated (tokenistic) webpages and forms. I’m just as good a Welshman as any of you (IMHO).

  34. For the benefit of those who haven’t read the article, the ‘full’ conclusions are as below. Though I have to say that having read the article I think this does rather simplify the results. And I don’t think it in any way invalidates anything that J Jones has said where we are dealing with results in the real world rather than in a separate academic study with rather small sample sizes. And of course it only deals with English and Welsh and not how pupils learn other subjects as a result of being taught in those languages.

    The current research demonstrated quite clearly that bilingual education in Walesdid not negatively affect L1 English-speakers’ abilities in English. In fact, L1 Englishbilinguals and their monolingual English peers performed equally well on measuresof English vocabulary and English reading skills, despite the fact that L1 Englishbilinguals attended schools where Welsh was the main language of instruction. Allchildren continued to progress with their abilities in English and in Welsh, althoughL1 Welsh bilinguals were ahead of the other bilinguals, as expected, in relation toWelsh vocabulary and reading due to their additional exposure to the language athome. Coupled with the fact that L1 Welsh bilinguals and simultaneous Welsh

    English bilinguals were yet to ‘catch up’ with their L1 English bilingual peers interms of English proficiency by age 11, the results raise important issues relating tobest classroom practices. Supporting the continued development of both languages iskey to providing children with the best start toward becoming bilingual andbiliterate, and in fulfilling the Welsh Government’s goal toward a truly bilingual Wales.

  35. “….totally contradicts all you say” Really Ben? Read back over what you and Rhobat have said and read what I have said. You contended that:- ” children from all backgrounds become fluent (in Welsh) within a matter of months.” Rhobat put forward the other side of the coin:- ” children in Gwynedd are taught to speak English and become fluent in it.”

    In response I pointed out that pupils from English first language homes significantly under perform in Welsh in comparison with Welsh L1 pupils at the end of primary schooling in Gwynedd and that this under performance is replicated in other subjects which are taught through the medium of Welsh (English isn’t).

    Dr Rhys made a study of pupils in Gwynedd in order to show that pupils from English first language homes schooled in Gwynedd’s WM primaries had English language capabilities on a par with monoglot English speaking pupils within Gwynedd. There is a problem with the design of her study that I will return to later.

    What Dr Rhys actually succeeded in demonstrating (picked up on quickly by other academics) was that the English L1 pupils lagged behind Welsh and bilingual pupils in their acquisition of Welsh and that the Welsh and bilingual pupils lagged behind the English L1 and English monoglot pupils in their acquisition of English.

    “…children’s home language experience affects their performance on both vocabulary and reading tests, not only in Welsh, as demonstrated in previous studies of vocabulary and grammar, but also in English.These differences persist throughout the primary school years, with children from English-speaking homes (monolingual English and L1 English bilinguals)continually outperforming the other children on tests of English

    particularly in
    terms of vocabulary

    and children receiving the greatest amount of input in Welsh(L1 Welsh bilinguals) performing the best on the Welsh tests across ages. At the same time, performance on vocabulary was related to their performance on reading.”

    These results came as a surprise to Dr Rhys:-“….Contrary to expectation, results revealed a clear significant difference across home language.” But data analysis of KS2 figures both in the Fro Cymraeg and across Wales repeatedly shows that WM primary schools are a lose- lose option for overall educational attainment.

    The design error that I mentioned earlier relates to the unique situation in Gwynedd. Dr Rhys should really have cast her net more widely to get samples of monolingual English pupils; in Gwynedd she had just one school to choose from; Our Ladies in Bangor, thus there was no diversity in the very small sample, 17 pupils in the 7/8 range and only 15 in the 10/11 range. The 7/8 group showed a distinct superiority over the similar aged group amongst the 28 English L1 bilinguals in WM schools. The (15) 10/11 year group slightly underperformed (not significantly) the (27) English bilingual group.

    The problem is that a small cohort in a single school can easily be an anomaly.

  36. @J Jones ”The problem is that a small cohort in a single school can easily be an anomaly”. Indeed it can, and quantitative researchers put a high price on generalizability. That said, and with your own statement regarding sample size, it is interesting that you critisize the research design but yet take her results as a stick with which to beat the current system in Gwynedd. Given a bigger sample is it not likely that the results could in fact go the other way in terms of statistical significance?

  37. Ben; any single research paper might have errors inherent in it. This particular paper actually replicated other data analysis with regard to pupils in Welsh medium schools and the specific conclusion that Dr Rhys offers; that pupils from English L1 homes within Gwynedd who go to Welsh Medium primary schools are not significantly less able in English than English L1 pupils who go to the English medium primary school in Gwynedd may well be correct. That particular aspect of her research was very difficult to do because of the small number of pupils available for the English medium sample. The other samples were all much larger and therefore the data was less liable to suffer from anomalies. Throughout this discourse I have not at any time criticised the level of English attained by English L1 primary pupils in Gwynedd, it was you who set that hare running.

    For the Wales KS2 results in 2014 I looked at only Non-free school meals pupils in schools grouped according to the percentage of free school meals eligible pupils. I looked at only the pupils who were assessed in Welsh and I compared the outcomes in Welsh, Maths, English and Science. Generally speaking pupils in WM schools, from homes where Welsh was spoken, did as well in all subjects as pupils in similar English medium schools. For pupils in WM schools who spoke only English at home the picture was very different, the most marked difference was in Welsh where the English L1 pupils were more likely to fail to reach level 4 and much less likely to reach level 5. The oft repeated mantra that home language makes no difference to outcomes in Welsh at the end of primary is quite clearly a lie and Mirain Rhys demonstrated that with her research. What she didn’t look at was the effect that poor literacy in the language of instruction has on attainment in, say, Maths.

    Looking at level 5 Maths attainment, 9.7% fewer English L1 pupils reach that level in WM primaries when compared with pupils in English medium schools with less than 8% eligible for free school meals. In schools with 8-16% EFSM the difference was 5.9%, in schools with 16-24% the difference was 2.2%, in schools with 24-32% a difference of 6%, in schools with 32-40% a difference of 3.2% and in schools with 40%+ EFSM the difference was 4.2%.

    So across the board pupils from English only homes under performed in WM schools in Maths…and by far more in Welsh.

    All in all though I think that the most telling thing that you have said was in your post where you told me that you just don’t care. In that at least you are in good company in Cardiff’s Welsh language department…indeed I am sure that you share the same attitude with Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis.

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