Marginalised and disrespected: But childcare is essential to hitting 1m Welsh speakers

Picture by: Mudiad Meithrin

Gwenllian Lansdown Davies

“A language is not just words” says Chomsky, before adding that languages represent “a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is”.

This essentially summarises Mudiad Meithrin’s position. A language cannot be understood as simply a means of communication.

So whilst it is true that it is often only the language that differentiates a Cylch Meithrin from any other playgroup, the word “only” here is deceptive.

Cylchoedd Meithrin exist, as does Mudiad Meithrin, in order to promote the easy integration of children (whatever their background) into a Welsh language community of communities.

It does not purport to teach them fluency (after all, they’re only two or three years old!) but it does aim to propel them towards fluency, and to begin by understanding Welsh, via the first recognised steps associated with immersion methodology.

This isn’t easy, for thee reasons:

  • The majority of children who attend Cylchoedd Meithrin do not speak Welsh at home.
  • Cylchoedd Meithrin are independent, managed by voluntary management committees operating at a time of economic uncertainty.
  • The regulatory and legal framework is necessarily onerous given that Cylchoedd are effectively providing childcare and Early Years education, by qualified staff, to very young, “vulnerable” children.
Picture by: Mudiad Meithrin


The stakes are understandably high:

  • Peer-reviewed research points to the importance of high-quality Early Years provision on welfare, happiness and attainment levels (a view shared by charities of global repute such as ‘Save the Children’).
  • The Welsh Government’s new Welsh Language Strategy – #Cymraeg2050 – recognises the importance of the sector in achieving its ambitious goal of one million Welsh language speakers by 2050.

As a sector, we have often felt marginalised, un-heard, disrespected even. There remains an intellectual snobbery around childcare despite the evidence highlighting its importance to child welfare, happiness and achievement in later life.

To be acknowledged in the important task of doing the heavy-lifting by creating new Welsh speakers is overwhelmingly positive.

The key issue then for Mudiad Meithrin as a major stakeholder and agent in the goal of creating new Cylchoedd Meithrin in order to feed more Welsh-medium schools.

But while the elements associated with the Early Years in #Cymraeg2050 are eminently do-able, we need additional investment.

In fact, without it opening 40 Cylchoedd Meithrin (let alone 150) is virtually impossible (or will progress at a snail’s pace).

In our response to the Welsh Government’s new Welsh Language Strategy published here we outline the steps required to ensure that Mudiad Meithrin and the Cylchoedd Meithrin can play their part in hitting the million speakers mark by the time this generation of Cylch Meithrin goers are parents themselves.

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  1. Capitalist and Welshnash

    A revolution is the last thing I would like to see. Ireland, France, Russia, America, Mexico, China, these nations prove minority cultures lose when revolutionary change happens. After all, it is Welsh conservatism via William Morgan’s Bible, the gentry and then the common folk which kept Cymraeg alive with no legal acknowledgement. A miracle.

    However, what Mudiad Meithrin is asking for is revolutionary. 150 meithrinfeydd would be nothing short of revolution. It csn be done, along with the other goals set out in 2050. But we must understand that it will take nothing less than a revolution to achieve such numbers.

    There is always violent resistance to any revolution.

    • you are confusing revolution from the ground and from communities…..with stodgy effete “revolution” conducted from the top down……….

      The only constant in life is CHANGE bachan…..

  2. Vive la Révolution!

  3. Aaron Clwyd Jones

    If we need 150 new Cylchoedd Meithrin to achieve the 1,000,000 speakers where do we stand currently across Wales? What s the current situation and what are the challenges to achieving progress with this besides Government being unwilling to fund or assist?

  4. My main worry is the level of Welsh of those working in these nurseries. I’ve heard so many stories of staff in Welsh-medium nurseries who are barely able to say more than the colours and numbers in Welsh.

  5. The deeper reason we will struggle to reach 1 million speakers ………. is a lack of future for most Welsh youth in most Welsh areas. Ive had to work and live in England and Europe for 7 years. I am now 30 and in Eastern England. I desperately long to be able to afford to come home…..Ive even seen neighbours in my English city, sell their house and move to Wales to escape the “rat race”…yet young Welsh speakers like me can’t stay in Wales.

    Power + Land (+education) = wealth creation – I was told in my Master’s degree…………..yet do welsh communities have that?

    • the people who leave Wales also tend to have higher educational attainment or vocational skills …Caerdydd may sit pretty and see a resurgence in Welsh… but the communities around my parents have been massively changing since 1970s…..which would be fine (change happens, you must ADAPT OR REGULATE) if it wasnt so unsustainable

  6. Tame Frontiersman

    It continues to worry me that aspirations for the Welsh language are not being turned into action plans.

    The 80th anniversary of the opening of the first designated Welsh medium school in Wales by Syr Ifan ab Owen Edwards in 1939 in Aberystwyth is fast approaching and Wales is now supposedly a nation of two languages. So why seems somehow acceptable that so many of Wales’ young people are leaving the education system without anything that approaches fluency in the Welsh language?

    Does it actually matter when a child from a non-Welsh family background starts Welsh language education in terms of language attainment and subsequent use? Does early years’ Welsh language education encourage parents to learn the language themselves perhaps resulting in a language shift to a Welsh medium household? Could more be done to encourage and support that “Ti a Ni (“You and Us”) concept? Are other families in the network of this family who didn’t choose Welsh medium early learning programmes encouraged to reconsider Welsh medium education for their children at age 5?

    We need to know what really works in language education so that the best possible outcomes from inevitably limited resources of money and people are achieved

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