Four reasons why you should support the Welsh language
The Welsh Government this year set out their vision to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.
Growing up in Welsh-medium education, I considered the language to be a hindrance. Going back five generations on my father’s side, nobody in my family spoke it fluently despite living in Wales.
Call it the zeal of the convert, but I’ve now realised that I was badly mistaken.
It’s undoubtedly time for the Welsh Government to wholeheartedly support the Welsh language, which is an integral part of our culture and heritage.
I’ve come to realise that it confers immense benefits even for those (like me) from English-speaking families, in English-speaking towns.
Here are four reasons why you should support the Welsh language, even if you don’t speak it:
- Benefit to the individual
Welsh speakers earn on average 10% more while bilingualism more generally provides an observable cognitive benefit.
For example, people who speak two languages or more develop dementia symptoms an average of five years later.
The majority of my jobs have necessitated the use of the Welsh language and there have been times where, were it not for my Welsh language abilities, I would not have been employed.
My experience in University was also greatly improved by the Welsh-speaking community, by whom I was well received despite my Welsh initially being restricted to a formal educational context.
- Benefit to the wider economy
But it’s not just the Welsh-speaking individual who benefits, but all of Wales.
Studies find that the wider Welsh economy benefits as well; £1 of funding for S4C means nearly £2 for the Welsh economy, and the impact is estimated to be worth almost £90 million.
Could S4C exist without the Welsh language? It is highly unlikely that Wales would have an extra channel of its own if Welsh language activists hadn’t waged a political campaign for one.
This Economic benefit more than accounts for the £40 million pounds spent on promoting and facilitating the Welsh language.
Much of this £40 million also benefits Wales in other ways, for example contributing towards the funding of schools, youth clubs, sports provision, nurseries and cultural events (such as the Eisteddfod).
This funding, which benefits us all directly or indirectly, only exists because of the Welsh language.
If nationalists’ insistence on promoting the Welsh language is heavy-handed, it is only because there is real demand for Welsh-language provision in schools, which are over-subscribed.
- Cultural benefit
You could argue that all of the above misses the point, anyway. The assumption that a language must be solely of practical use and financial benefit dismisses its sentimental and social value.
If we are intent on pursuing a pluralistic society of different cultures, wherein we are united in diversity, why should we all speak just one language?
Minority languages are a unique and irreplaceable part of our global heritage. It would be a dull world if the measure of everything were financial, instead of cultural and social.
Outside Welsh language funding, there is an implicit understanding that there is value beyond the monetary, for example in arts and culture funding.
Should we stop the state funding music lessons because they’re unlikely to create as much monetary value as STEM subjects?
It would be a sinister and cynical decision to decide that monetary value should take precedence over culture.
- Bolster Welsh identity
The Welsh language is an integral part of Welsh identity, and it is no coincidence that Welsh identity is strongest in its linguistic heartland.
The fiercest proponents of Welsh nationhood have often been those for whom the language has been of great importance.
It’s no coincidence that those who declare that Wales is merely a principality and not a country are very often also those who claim that the Welsh language is ‘pointless’.
Devolution, nationalism and the Welsh language are inextricably linked, because before Wales had its own political institutions it was a linguistic and cultural nationalism that sustained the idea of Wales as a separate country.
In fact, it’s fair to say that Wales would have long become a county of England if it wasn’t for the Welsh language. We would have gone the way of Cornwall and Cumbria after their languages died out.
There is a desire in Wales for an identity of which we can be proud, and also for an escape from colonial hegemony and unforgivable marginalization.
The Welsh language is an important element in this open inclusive identity, and must survive to fight another day.
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Try having a son in Penglias in Aberystwyth where the Welsh 2nd language teacher has already given up on a class, spending most of each lesson reading from Powerpoint slides. No matter what we do as parents, we can’t overcome that. School senior staff are condescending when we raised the issue. Despite our best efforts, our son is now determined not to learn Welsh. Your aspirations set out in the article are great, but the education system in Wales is turning out a subset of children for who Welsh language education experience has only been very negative.
I know Penglais well and your son is not going to get good Welsh instruction there. No wonder the teacher has given up, without children who want to learn 2nd language Welsh is an uphill struggle. 2nd language Welsh is unfortunately a mistake and is making attitudes to Welsh negative amongst a raft of pupils. On a more positive note actual Welsh-medium education can instill pride in Welsh, as long as parents are supportive outside of the classroom. I cannot stress how much parents can make a difference by reinforcing the importance of Welsh. Tell your children it helps their… Read more »
Why would you send your son to Penglais when there is Penweddig? It seems that you made a choice for your son not to be fluent in both languages.
The crime is that schools like Penglais exist at all in Wales. Education should be through the medium of Welsh (which means a bilingual school) from primary onwards, with immersion teaching to get immigrants from England up to speed and into mainstream education as quickly as possible.
As I have intimated here before, languages should NOT be taught in schools. Not just Cymraeg but all languages. The teaching (cough) in most ‘state’ schools is so abysmal that for example the only French I remembered after eight years of school is ‘la plume de ma tante!’ Children absorb languages very easily and quickly if they are ‘immersed’ in a language in the playground, at home, in shops and eventually in a work environment. Imposition or forced learning of a language never works.
If languages were not taught at schools no-one would be able to read.
The fact that most people in Scandinavian countries speak English pretty much fluently is evidence that your argument is a bit flawed. I suspect that it’s the general cultural attitude amongst English speaking communities that has led to a situation where most are monoglots. I remember an old joke which goes: “What do you call someone who speaks many languages? Answer: a polyglot, What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Answer: bilingual, What do you call someone who speaks only one language: Answer: English! Okay, the joke stretches things, (a bit) but I think we would all recognise… Read more »
The economic benefits need to be said again and again, because of the sheer variation of economic benefits which can come from the language. Festivals like the Eisteddfod and Tafwyl are merely one form. In nations like Iceland, where packaging must be in the native language, an entire industry has been created to Iceland-fy everything, which employs thousands of people and which has created a film industry bigger than the entire GDP of some nations, pumping out 12 Icelandic language films a year of high standard. That’s 1 film a month in their native language; was Hedd Wyn the last… Read more »
For once I find myself broadly in agreement with you, and there are big questions that need to be asked as to why a country like Iceland can outperform Wales when it has an entire population little bigger than that of Cardiff? I’ve have queried this situation before, and pondered as to why, when Iceland can provide an online platform where Icelandic film and TV is available to be streamed to an international audience, and seemingly Wales can’t do this. As a start, why doesn’t our National Library initiate a service similar to that of the BFI subscriber service, which… Read more »
I got a shock working in a Welsh science lab … seeing 10 different EU languages on a product I had bought in (obviously no Welsh)…..but it was made in Ireland and had no Irish…..and they are independent….
My heart sunk……what are they doing over there?
I think what has happened to Irish in Ireland is an object lesson for us here in Wales. Sadly, Welsh seems to be going the same way as Irish.
I agree with you on this. There is much potential for creating an internal market, which then has potential to expand/export goods. But how do you answer the critics who may claim that this market is just tax-payer funded duplication of effort, e.g. why make films in Wales when America makes films we all understand?
I think it then comes down to culture, and avoidance of ‘universal blandness’, not just economics.
While agreeing in principle with Dewi, the point raised by ‘hackedoffplaid supporter’ is important. The fact that Welsh as a subject in Secondary schools became compulsory in the 1990s was an important step forward and the result of decades of campaigning. However there has continued to be active and passive resistance in schools where Welsh lessons are often under resourced in time, there is a lack of teaching materials and where a generally negative attitude continues. As a result of these negative pressures the job of Welsh language teachers in English medium schools is often very difficult. Add to that… Read more »
The answer can lie anywhere from outright opposition to Welsh, to passive opposition from those who speak Welsh but are unfriendly to Welsh learners. There’s no simple solution to building competencies in those wish to begin, or raise standards. The more esoteric arguments of culture and Nationhood is at a distance, or even over hill. Unnoticed. The arguement for its existence can only be achieved with the much broader mind set of drivers, and that is identification with first role models, try Aaron Ramsey, or even Kelly of Pobl y Cwm! And then all Welsh speakers promoting its use, wider… Read more »
“to passive opposition from those who speak Welsh but are unfriendly to Welsh learners”
As a Welsh learner who has lived all over Wales…..I have never in 25 years of living here, found an unfriendly Welsh speaker to me as a learner – although this is anecdotal and Im not saying this has not happened……just my experience has been blessed
As a Welsh learner as well, I can only agree and can’t imagine it any differently to be honest. I suppose there will always be some grumpy git somewhere or someone just having a bad day or simply too busy to be bothered – such is life..
Me too. In my experience of learning Welsh over a number of years, I have never come across an unfriendly Welsh speaker. In exchanges long enough for them to realise I was learning, they have been nothing but kind and very encouraging.
I would agree with Joe Chucas that Cymraeg is a cultural asset, not a liability – as the late 19th century generation were taught. But a couple of things Joe wrote that made my skin creep. Such as: “we are intent on pursuing a pluralistic society of different cultures” Who is this “we”? The anti-national PC brigade? That approach, if successful, will be the death of Wales. “we are united in diversity” This kind of oxymoronic doublspeak has no place in a nation fighting for its continued existence. Regarding Cymraeg as a “minority language” on par with other languages imported,… Read more »
Welsh is the native language of Wales I agree…..just feel a bit luckier you arent cornish / aboriginal or native american……parts of the world where the native culture was so decimated and hidden by English imperialism….people have laughed in my face for sticking up for them
Cywir dach chi. Welsh has a different status from imported languages. Welsh is not the language of an ethnic minority in the UK, but of a national minority. As such, there is a legal obligation to protect and promote Welsh language and culture but no such obligation could be enforced in regard to immigrant languages, which can have no such legal status either in Wales or any other UK country. We must not legally equate Welsh, Cornish or Scottish Gaelic with languages transferred in the 20th and 21st Centuries from Europe or elsewhere, and to do so would contravene international… Read more »
Unlike many comments I read on blogs of this nature, I see valid suggestions and views from all who have spoken thus far. It’s unusual since there is a negative feel from many in Wales to the very idea and promotion or discussion on Welsh language development. Isn’t the key to discovery of the real issues lie in why this is so prevalent. Is the issue really about identity ? if 30 % of parents would like Welsh taught in schools, should parents be given the ultimate choice of what is, or is not, taught in schools, Then I guess… Read more »
Sorry you mis-read my comment. 30% of people polled in towns in Gwent wanted Welsh medium education, ie every subject in Welsh which means creating truely bilingual citizens. There is at present only provision for around 5% in this area. In other words there is huge demand for a better education. Expansion of Welsh medium education is the only way to reach the target of a million speakers by 2050.
These figures from Gwent are most encouraging. The inadequate provision is not a new feature of Welsh Language medium education, throughout Wales but particularly Gwent. Everything is hard fought for and the provision inevitably becomes inadequate places available once established. It’s no coincidence that many Welsh medium schools perform well in all respects of formal education, and extra curricular activities in art and cultural awareness. A prize in itself that not only informs but aids personal development. I agree with the importance of Welsh medium education to the survival and future of its language and existence of Wales as a… Read more »
There is a VERY VERY long way to go to make Wales bi-lingual……..and we need to even laugh in the face of supermarkets claiming they are bilingual…..a few token welsh signs high up near the ceiling, does not make a bilingual store in West Wales
As you’ve raised the subject of supermarkets, I must give kudos to Tesco in Wrexham for the best supermarket Welsh translation I have ever seen. There is a sign there, the English version of which reads “Single Portion Dog Food”. I’ve never seen such a specific sign in any other supermarket, anywhere. Why have they put that up? Well, so that the Welsh translation underneath can read “Bwyd Ci Un Dogn”. Brilliant!
I’m glad Edeyrn has experienced favourable attitudes to Welsh learners. That’s positive and encouraging. I’m sure there are others as well who have benefited by it. I choose friendly in the sense of embrace. Positively helping and engaging. To learn Welsh you put yourself as a child would put itself in learning it’s language. Often repeated, fine choice of words, simple in context, actions, and with smiles and endorsement.
I’m no linguist, barely proficient in any language, but willing to learn. We need a flood of communications, from different sources, and experiences. Or is this fantasy ?
If you took away the link to work and the need for a good grade, then learning English beyond Key Stage 2 would feel pointless and annoying to many teenagers. I suspect that the majority of kids learn English, because it’s either compulsory, expected of them or it’s an essential grade to have on the CV. I would argue that only a few are actually genuinely passionate about learning English, to any extent beyond the level of what’s deemed necessary. We need to inspire a more general understanding and perhaps a bit of a love for languages and maybe do… Read more »
Without the language Wales would not exist and would have been fully assimilated into England hundreds of years ago. Wales is the language. Whist it is a credit to so much hard work and political pressure that more and more children are able to be educated through the language the non Welsh speakers are a majority and must not be neglected. So support and goodwill for the language needs to be gained from the majority of non Welsh speakers in many ways but in schools with a syllabus that deals with the history and culture of Wales to replace Welsh… Read more »
I grew up in a Welsh speaking home. From about the age of 5, I only spoke English to my parents but my parents always spoke Welsh to me and never spoke to me in English throughout their lives, that may seem and sound strange to some people! When I met my wife we spoke English on the first day we met but on our second meeting we started to speak Welsh with each other and have never spoken English ever since. So I say, always speak Welsh if you can and if someone replies in English continue to speak… Read more »
I live in Gwent and find the majority attitude on the Welsh language sad.English monoglots are not the only Europeans like this while working for the UN in Kosovo I remember a local joke,two elder Serbian men were sitting near the bridge in Mitrovica when they were approached by a French officer”parlez vous Francis?”he asked receiving blank looks he tried “sprechen Sie deutch? Again blank looks ,exasperated he tried ” do you speak English?again the blank looks frustrated he walks away,one Serbian man turns to the other and says”see what am I always saying about language’s he speaks three what… Read more »
I often wonder if in places like Gwent if it is more important than perhaps in other areas where Welsh is more widely spoken to try to link the language to the area, by trying to develop an interest in the dialectal differences that have influenced local speech both in Cymraeg, English and Wenglish. Maybe those differences could be highlighted and accentuated a lot more since it is about ownership and developing interest – it is about trying to create a bond to the language and making it relevant and personal – making it about Gwent and the people of… Read more »
I was born in North Wales and am proud to call my-self a North Walian, my parents, cousins and aunty speak Welsh, and I applaud them for speaking and maintaining the language but at their own cost and by speaking it at home or within their communities. I don’t however feel that public money should be spent on this area to fund and promotion the language where the money could be spent on more pressing areas such as Health, Education and Local Councils (who desperately need extra funding). News headline today – ‘Most schools in Wales are struggling to make… Read more »
Terrible comment that shows a lack of perspective and basic logic from start to finish. For each paragraph: 1st) So they shouldn’t speak Welsh outside their communities? 2nd) Welsh spending is tiny compared to Health, Education and Local Government. Allocate it to these areas and you still have the problem of underfunding. And read point 2 of the article 3rd) “Once you leave Wales…” why are people who argue against the language obsessed with people leaving Wales? And why can’t they realize that there are many first language Welsh speakers who have gone through Welsh medium education and do live… Read more »
Good, positive article. It is the duty of us all to promote our language, especially the economic benefits; I agree with Capitalist & WelshNash. Cymraeg makes money for Wales. Call centres in Welsh won’t be found abroad. We also have a publishing industry due to our language. As a former languages teacher, I know that some school mock Welsh with just a half hour lesson a week or fortnight. What does that say to our kids?
Well, i would agree (to a point) wouldn’t i. Here in Gwynedd if you are working class, the language actually holds you back. If i go to a job interview in the private sector and ask the, invariably, English boss about the company’s language policy (i’m welsh speaking, proud of it and bolshy), i won’t get the job. The English private sector here is as racist as most English incomers are (note the most). And since i’m a learner, my welsh is ‘different’ (i try to use the indigenous words, if know ’em), welsh language institutions – local council –… Read more »
Why not make it a legal right for parents in Wales, wherever they are, to insist on Welsh medium education for their children? If that is outside their local community, the council would be obliged to provide transport as needed, which might encourage them to make Welsh-medium more widely available, to avoid excessive transport costs.