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‘Signs of hope’ in Welsh language census data despite fall says lobbying group

07 Dec 2022 5 minute read
A Welsh language stall at the Urdd Eisteddfod. Pictures by the Urdd Eisteddfod.

There are “signs of hope” in the Welsh language census data despite an overall fall, a lobbying group has said.

Yesterday’s 2021 census results showed that the number of Welsh speakers had continued to slide from 582,000 (20.8%) in 2001 to 538,000 (17.8%) today.

But Dyfodol i’r Iaith said that a look at where the number of Welsh speakers had risen and fallen painted a rosier picture.

They said that the fall since 2011 was mainly in the 3-15 age group where children’s Welsh language ability would be reported by parents rather than the individuals themselves.

Meanwhile, there was an overall rise of 2,500 speakers across the 16-64 age groups. Among 20-44 year olds, there was a rise of 3,100 from 15.6% to 16.5%.

“The negative attention as a whole is based on a fall in the percentage of 3-15 year olds it is claimed speak Welsh,” Heini Gruffudd, the Chair of Dyfodol i’r Iaith, said.

“But those percentages are more of an interpretation by parents that a real test of whether children can speak Welsh.”

Dyfodol i’r Iaith pointed to the fact that amid 16-64-year-olds there was a rise in almost every county, with a small drop in Denbighsire, Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot.

It was only in Carmarthenshire that there was a significant drop in that age group, they said.

“The growth is quite positive considering that the patterns of emigration and immigration are so negative towards the Welsh language,” Heini Gruffudd said.

“The growth is a positive sign that schools are producing an increased number of Welsh speakers.

“We need a complete program of community action throughout the country, including solving the crisis in housing, promoting the Welsh language in the home and in the community, together with ensuring the rapid growth of Welsh education and teaching Welsh to adults.

“Ultimately enjoying using the Welsh language personally and communally is key, and the positive messages need attention.”


The fall in the number of Welsh speakers as reported by the census drew a more negative reaction by language activists Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

They said that the Welsh Government needed to show that they were serious about tackling the issues that were causing the decline of the Welsh language.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Chairman Robat Idris said that setting a goal of teaching all schoolchildren through Welsh was essential in order to prevent the decline of the Welsh language.

“The Government has declared the intention to aim for a million speakers, but hasn’t taken the action needed to ensure growth,” he said.

“Today’s results show that an urgent change of gear is needed – one practical thing the Government can do now is to set a goal in the upcoming Welsh Language Education Act that all children will be educated through the Welsh language in future.

“Setting a clear path towards Welsh-medium education for everyone will ensure that future generations become confident Welsh speakers, and we can then expect to see some positive change from the 2031 Census.”

‘Not inevitable’

Cymdeithas yr Iaith said they were also concerned about the pressure on Welsh-speaking communities, highlighted once again in today’s Census results.

Robat Idris added: “Even more serious than the decline in the total number of Welsh speakers is the fact that our Welsh language communities are under increasing pressures as local people are forced to leave due to a lack of homes that are affordable on local wages.

“We need a Property Act that will regulate the housing market, give more power to our communities and prioritise local people in housing.

“Is it any wonder that we’ve seen a decrease in the number of Welsh speakers? At the moment, 80% of our young people leave school unable to speak Welsh.

“Considering the language’s history, concrete action is needed from the Government if they are serious about revival. There are practical things they can do straight away – Welsh-medium education in all schools and a robust Property Act would transform things for the language at grassroots level and create the change needed to start turning the tide.

“The decline of the Welsh language is by no means inevitable, but the Government needs to act.

“The Government and local authorities also need to consider the Welsh language in all policy areas, and not leave language revitalisation efforts to specific language officers or departments. Reviving the language is a major effort that requires action across all policy areas”.

‘No future’

The group Hawl Fyw Adref who campaign for affordable homes in Welsh communities added that the “biggest threat to the language is a further decline in the percentage of speakers in Welsh speaking areas”.

“The results of the census have highlighted this reality. To ensure a future for our language the government and local authorities must act without delay, paying particular attention to communities where Welsh is the everyday language of the majority of the population.

“Without Welsh communities, there is no future for the language as a living language.”

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Shân Morgain
1 year ago

I do wish polls and surveys would offer more than the grossly inaccurate opposites Welsh speaker or Non. Our family is what I’d call “Welsh familiar”. We use a lot of Welsh words in every day life, We can read all public signage, and can understand many titles parts of emails etc. I understand little spoken Welsh but can read the gist. Yet we are classed as Non because we are not up to full conversation. Give a middle category and the Welsh language stats will look very different. There’s a lot like us.

1 year ago

Is there any theory on why the number of children reported as being able to speak Welsh has dropped? Surely in all previous censuses their parents have been filling it out for them too.

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