1 million Welsh speakers by 2050? It’s a fake policy

Picture by Sarah Joy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tim Richards

When the Welsh Government recently announced that they planned to increase the number of Welsh speakers to a million by 2050 my reaction was, so what?

It is a fake policy, meaningless when it comes down to ensuring the future of the Welsh language.

It might sound like a solid target but it ignores the reality of whether the language is actually spoken in our communities, and the census figures are no guide at all.

Let me let you into a little secret about census figures – they can be very misleading.

I live in the Aber valley, just over the mountain from Cardiff and the census reveals that 15.8% of the population here can speak Welsh. But you rarely hear it spoken and never in public.

When I go into my local pubs, shops or cafe I never hear Welsh spoken. Unless, of course, that the moment that I walk in that they switch from speaking Welsh to speaking English!

So, while one in seven people in my community can speak Welsh, frankly I have to say it does not matter a damn. And nor does the Cymraeg 2050 target because it entirely misses the point.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being against yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh language, becoming the living language of Wales I can assure you that I’m not.

I fervently believe that we need a renaissance of Welsh language culture if we want our nation to survive and become more than just an English county.

But we must realise right now that a) increasing the number of Welsh speakers, and b) making Welsh a living language in the community are two entirely different things.


Let me explain where I am coming from. I was born and brought up in Cardiff in the 1950s and while my father was a Welsh speaker my mother was not.

In fact, she was hostile to the Welsh language and used to tell me from an early age that there was no future in speaking Welsh and that if I wanted to get on in life I should speak English – preferably with a strong English accent.

Ironically, her father was a Welsh-language speaker but she got her beliefs from her mother’s side of the family who were from Lancashire. There are definitely shades of the same kind of arguments still around today from people of English descent.

However, the Welsh language was never far away. My dad’s sister, my Aunt Jennie, lived near us in Cardiff and it was on visits there that I met the only grandparent I remember, my Taid.

I inevitably became familiar with various Welsh language phrases, like “chwarae teg” and “ych-a-fi” which I will always associate with stepping in a dog turd.

Unfortunately, when it came to learning Welsh in school I never got beyond “yr ydwyf fi”, yr ydwyt ti” – which is how it was taught in the 1960s.

And so, it might have stayed that way until the family moved from Cardiff to Swansea in the early 1960s.

It was like moving from England to Wales because suddenly I had school friends whose first language was Welsh, particularly those from the Morriston area. It woke me up more to Welsh being a living language.

It was from that point on that I began to rebel against my mother’s views on Wales and going to Aberystwyth University to do a Law degree brought me in to more contact with the Welsh language.

While I was still an English speaker, I had no idea what my accent was like, until I left and started working for Oxfam.

I was based in Oxford where, much to my amazement, they soon began to call me Taff. When I asked why, their reply was, “well we don’t say ‘by here’ and ‘by there’…”

But it was when I moved back to Wales that my attitude began to really change.

By the 1980s I began, off and on, to learn Welsh, making real progress after going on an intensive Welsh learners “Wlpan” course just before the Eisteddfod – where, for the first time in my life, I went around the Maes actually speaking Welsh.


But, when I came back to Abertridwr after the Eisteddfod it became too difficult to practise speaking Welsh every day and so I forgot almost all I had learnt.

And that is the point of this article. Sending children through Welsh Medium education is a start but without the chance to keep on speaking Welsh, it can seem to be a pointless exercise.

I did send my children to Ysgol Ifor Bach, the local Welsh medium primary school, with the full support of Judy, my English wife, who believed that it would be a good thing for them to be bilingual, because she was a French teacher.

My boys went on to Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni and contrary to what many anti-Welsh critics believe (that all Welsh medium schools teach you is to speak Welsh), then went to University to do Physics degrees.

Alas they do not speak Welsh these days for the simple reason they have got jobs in England.

But I believe that their Welsh-speaking friends who remained in the Rhymney Valley probably don’t speak Welsh much these days either – because where are they likely to be able to converse?

Mobile app

I am, once again, learning to speak Welsh, by using an online web-site “Duolingo” but I have to say that without the chance to use the language in a social situation then it is an uphill task.

However, I have been thinking about this and have been discussing an idea about overcoming this handicap by carving out a space where I can use my Welsh in conversation, and it is a simple idea.

We need to have places that I call “Lle Cymraeg” that can create anywhere, starting online and then arranging to move into real places, such as a table in a local cafe or pub where Welsh learners like myself could meet up to practise speaking the language.

I have come to the conclusion that if we created a mobile app that would allow people to find, nearby, other Welsh speakers, of varying abilities and enable them to meet up to speak Welsh, then that would overcome what I feel is limited about the Cymraeg 2050 plan.

It might even be used to encourage English-speaking incomers to start using the Welsh language.

Beth dych chi’n meddwl?

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