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New report highlights concerns over the future of Welsh on Anglesey

12 Mar 2021 6 minutes Read
Photo by Menter Iaith

Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter

Nearly a quarter of Anglesey households where both parents can speak Welsh are failing to transfer the language to their children before they start school, a new study has warned.

Also finding that little more than a third succeed in passing it on when only one of the parents can speak Welsh, Menter Iaith Môn’s report also sheds light on the impact of inward migration on many communities.

While it was once rare to hear English spoken at all in vast swathes of the island – with over 80% recorded as Welsh speakers in 1951 – that figure slumped to just 57.2% by 2011.

Since 2016, a council-led language strategy has targeted the boosting of that figure to at least 60% when this year’s census is released.

Among the findings of the report compiled with Fforwm Iaith Môn are:

78% of Welsh-born islanders can speak the language, with another 11% able to understand it. Welsh-born speakers varied from 58.8% around Holyhead to 90.4% in central Anglesey.

Outward migration of younger Welsh speakers coupled with the inward migration of non-Welsh speaking older people said to be “Anglicising” areas and affecting its sustainability.

The result of inward migration being clear within older age groups, with fewer than half of over 50’s speaking Welsh (with over 40% of this group born outside of Wales in many parts), said to be having the biggest impact on coastal communities.

More Anglesey pupils being taught mostly through the medium of Welsh at school (86.8%), but only 49.1% of children speaking Cymraeg regularly at home.

“Looking at the trends of the last 50 years, an increase in the population is leading to a decrease in the percentages of Welsh speakers,” it noted.

“Arguably, the language has held its ground quite well so far given the extent of inward migration from outside Wales.

‘Real threat’

“On the other hand, a further increase in population could pose a real threat to the Welsh language in many parts of the island.”

Among those are Covid’s impact on face to face social use, continued inward migration and a failure by some non-Welsh speakers to assimilate and the busy housing market pricing many locals out.

An “over-dependence” on the public sector for employment and a lack of opportunities in some parts of the island are also cited.

However, positives include a growing appetite for online language learning and the authority’s emphasis on increasing usage of Welsh as the main internal medium of administration.

Language transfer from parents to children even before they start school has been earmarked as an area needing attention, however, with Anglesey’s figures being highlighted in a Welsh Government consultation document.

In households on Môn where one parent of the pair could speak Welsh, it was found only 38.1% of three and 57.8% of four year olds could do so.

And even where both adults spoke Welsh, the corresponding figures were 76.7% and 84.2% respectively.

According to Elen Hughes of Menter Iaith Môn, the message to parents is not to miss a “golden opportunity” to give their children an advantage in life.

“What strikes us is that perhaps not all parents realise what a gift Welsh can be for their child,” she said.

‘Benefits’

“With so many benefits to being bilingual, especially on an island where there are obvious benefits in terms of job prospects, what can we do to raise awareness of the advantages of transferring Welsh to children at home?

“It’s so much easier to acquire a language as a baby and when very young, so we’re appealing to Anglesey parents to offer the best chance to their child in life by speaking Welsh with them at home if possible.

“It doesn’t matter what the standard of Welsh is, every natural conversation you have will help your child, and of course Nain and Taid have a role to play as well.

“If you speak Welsh of any sorts, then note it down proudly on your upcoming Census form and set yourself a goal of sharing whatever Welsh you were given by previous generations, with the up-and-coming generation.”

Among recommendations to help address the issue are calls for more support for parents, the need for early years immersion facilities in Holyhead and more and better paying employment to retain local families.

Welcomed, however, is Anglesey Council’s growing emphasis and an increase in the number of pupils being assessed as first language speakers during the foundation phase and later key stages.

Elen Hughes added that delaying Welsh language learning until formal education reduces the children’s chance of becoming bilingual, with only 8% of those who start learning in secondary schools remaining fluent speakers.

‘Immersion’

She said: “To learn a minority second-language well is so much easier if the child receives early learning, through childcare or nursery, which uses language ‘immersion’ techniques.

“Immersion involves learning more than a few words in Welsh, it means that the atmosphere around the child, including conversations amongst adults, is in Welsh.

“Providers such as Mudiad Meithrin are very experienced in ensuring a child will learn the language naturally through play.”

In response, Anglesey’s Director of Education, Rhys Hughes, said that the local authority believed strongly in developing the skills of pupils so that they can use both Welsh and English confidently.

He added, “Language transmission in the home is an essential part of this process, enabling every child to be a full member of our bilingual society, fostering pride in their language and culture.

“We work with regional and local partners such as GwE, Menter Iaith, Language Charter, Bangor University, Fforwm Iaith Môn and others to develop confident bilingual pupils in all primary and secondary schools .

“I would like to endorse the message of Menter Môn and others to encourage parents in the process of transmitting the language to their children.”

He concluded that the under development Welsh in Education Strategic Plan was key to the success of bilingual provision, covering the next decade and setting practical targets leading to the development of bilingualism at all levels.

The report can be found here.

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