Welsh helps set novel new world record in Belgium
A nation without a language is a nation without a heart, as the old saying goes in Wales, and today the Welsh language was used in a novel world record attempt designed to get the children of Brussels reading more in the “language of their heart”.
Members of Brussels’ Welsh community joined speakers of 65 other languages to help break the Guinness World Record for the most languages used in a reading relay.
Participants each read one sentence, in their mother tongue, of The Magical Life of Mr Renny, a Belgian children’s book about the life of the legendary local surrealist artist, René Magritte.
Gareth Lawrence, the chair of the Brussels Welsh Society who read the passage in Welsh, told Nation.Cymru: “As is normally the case globally, the Welsh diaspora has a far lower profile than other groups, the Irish most obviously.
“So it’s good to raise the profile of both the Welsh community locally but also the Welsh language locally and globally.
“For the previous record attempt, Gaelic was involved but none of the other Celtic languages.
“We’ve tried very hard to rectify this fully and have Welsh, Breton and Cornish this time, alongside Irish Gaelic.”
The book had previously only been translated into 10 of the languages used and Guinness World Record rules mean there could only be a maximum of 10 seconds between each reading, creating both a linguistic and logistical challenge.
Despite that, the previous record of 55 languages, which was set last year using the widely translated book, the Little Prince, was easily surpassed (after a practice run) in a reading which lasted around 15 minutes.
The event took place at one of a network of Dutch language libraries located across Brussels, which are on a mission to help the city’s multilingual children access books in their mother tongue as well as Belgium’s official languages.
“There’s very many languages spoken in Brussels yet there’s only two school languages: Dutch and French,” explained Maarten Coertjens of the Bib Sophia library in the Schaerbeek area of the city.
“Basically everybody goes to school in a language which is not their own and very many children and parents struggle with that.
“The approach of the government has been ‘you have to do everything in French or everything in Dutch.’ But academic research and our own practice shows that is not what helps most.
“Because, if as a parent you don’t speak Dutch well, you’re not really helping your child if you read to them in bad Dutch. Actually the opposite, you confuse the child more than helping them.
“If you read in your own language, what we call the language of your heart, the child develops their mother tongue much better and learns to understand the world much better which allows them to learn the school language faster too.”
Reading is also an important part of the activities of the Welsh community in Brussels.
“I have the opportunity to speak Welsh in Brussels two or three times a month, sometimes at the Welsh society, which is bilingual, once at the Clwb Darllen where we read a story together and once at the Cinio Cymraeg,” explained Esyllt Meurig.
Meurig was one of the language experts at the event today to certify that the texts had been read correctly in order for the record to be officially recognised.
“The main thing for me of course is just the importance of making sure that Welsh is included in the record breaking event,” she added.
It will take around three months to confirm officially whether a new world record has been set, which means children from Brussels to Barry should be able to read about today’s multilingual marathon in next year’s Guinness World Book of Records – in whichever language they like.
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