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Knowing a few Welsh words really isn’t too much to ask for a job with the government

13 Jul 2021 4 minute read
A Welsh language sign at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol festival in 2019.

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

Should the people running Wales have a basic understanding of the country in which they live?

The Welsh Government has recently come to the view that the answer to that question is yes, they should.

It has moved to ensure that ‘basic Welsh skills’ are a requirement for civil service jobs with it in the future.

And by basic they mean very basic. Being able to pronounce Welsh place names, knowing a few words and phrases, being able to read short texts, and demonstrating ‘awarenes’ about the importance of bilingualism.

Knowing a few words and phrases is a level of Welsh-speaking ability beyond which Bryan Habana has passed in two presenting stints with S4C. And he lives in South Africa.

But prospective non-Welsh speaking mandarins need not fear, because if they are not in possession of such skills, they will simply be given the time and the resources to learn them on the job.

You might think this would be pretty uncontroversial. However, it has not gone down well everywhere.

There have been howls of incredulity in certain quarters that the Welsh language and the culture it engenders is not being left to languish at the margins.

The loudest of these howls have come from the Welsh Conservatives, who have claimed that non-Welsh speakers will be prohibited from government jobs. This just isn’t true.

According to the Tories, the government’s priority “should be recruiting the best person for the job”.

Well, I’m sure no one would disagree with that. But their definition of the “best person” seems like somewhat of an odd one.

Should someone who is unable to learn a few basic Welsh words and phrases really be considered among the best and the brightest? Someone who can’t master ‘diolch’ and ‘shwmae’ in six months probably isn’t going to be queuing up for Mensa membership, chaps.

Is someone too lazy to remember ‘sut wyt ti?’ going to be the most efficient, effective and dynamic at implementing government policy? I very much doubt it.

Is it a particularly good idea to have somebody who is tone-deaf about the Welsh language and about Welsh culture in general at the heart of the government of Wales? I’m going to go with no.


This is also bad politics. Yes, it may well play well with its base. But the Conservatives need to attract more than the base if it aspires to be the governing party of Wales.

One of the central pillars of Labour’s electoral dominance in Wales is its embrace of Welsh identity. The attacks from the Conservatives simply allow them to buttress those credentials.

Being antagonistic towards Welsh identity is not a winning strategy.

But it isn’t only the Tories who are moaning. Some activists from the Liberal Democrats (a self-proclaimed internationalist party of inclusivity and diversity) have also been taking cheap shots.

One even made the outrageous claim that the new recruitment criteria amounted to an “English Not”. This is nothing less than an anti-Welsh language dog whistle.

Equating a few English speakers having to learn a tiny bit of Welsh for a job, to children being mentally and physically abused for speaking their mother tongue, is not only wholly at odds with anything resembling reality – it is abhorrent.

We should remember that what people are complaining about doesn’t even amount to equality for the Welsh language.

The new employment criteria from the Welsh Government, though welcome, and proportionate, still comes nowhere near to putting Welsh on a par with English. You have to be fluent in English for jobs, but you don’t need much more than a five-minute Duolingo lesson in Welsh.


But the Welsh language still coming off as second best isn’t enough, it seems, for some people.

The driving force behind their complaints seems to be a belief that the language is not valuable or important enough to Wales and its people to merit it being a necessary skill for certain posts.

Over the centuries, institutions have been used to marginalise the Welsh language, and to elevate English at its expense.

This has been so effective that many do not even realise that English has been elevated in this way. Its ubiquity is seen as the natural order of things.

Our institutions are now being used to redress the imbalance, but to some it feels like a disruption to that order – a threat to how things should be.

If only they realised that to lift up the Welsh language is not to push them down.

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Stephen John Owen
Stephen John Owen
3 years ago

Excellent artice, I totally agree. It is shocking that it has taken this long for some knowledge of the Welsh language to be a requirement, long over due and hardly asking too much. Being the best person for the job would include having language skills in both official languages of Wales, imagine someone trying to get such a job in England without speaking English.

Stephen George
Stephen George
3 years ago

It’s important to note that this is a post rather than a pre recruitment matter. Whether someone can speak any Welsh at all will have no bearing on who is recruited. The only thing a potential recruit needs is a willingness to learn a (very) small amount of Welsh.

Stephen John Owen
Stephen John Owen
3 years ago
Reply to  Stephen George

Diolch am yr eglurhad-Thanks for the clarification.

Ned Parish
Ned Parish
3 years ago

The request for employees to gain a knowledge of a few Welsh words and phrases comes down to basic politeness. If in a country and you refuse to say please of thank you in their relevant language it is just rude. If I had a temporary job in say, Belgium and refused to greet people with a simple hello, or good morning in either Flemish or French as appropriate, I should be sacked!

3 years ago

The Welsh Conservatives are now so out of touch with majority Welsh opinion on so many issues that it is accurate to describe them as a profoundly anti-Wales party that has picked up where UKIP and Abolish left off.

3 years ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

Maybe we should refer to them as the Conservatives in Wales. Calling them Welsh Conservatives suggests they are of our people. They clearly think that are above us – yet below England. They exclude themselves, so let’s help them realise their dreams.

3 years ago

Did the tea planters of the Raj learn Hindi? The same old gang have the same attitude here.

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