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Opinion

The Welsh Language belongs to everyone – let’s make bilingualism the norm, not the exception

23 Apr 2023 4 minute read
Heledd Fychan. Picture by Plaid Cymru

Heledd Fychan

An important part of my job as a Member of the Senedd is to visit schools, to discuss with children and young people the issues that matter to them. What has struck me when visiting English-medium schools in particular is how angry so many of our young people are that they cannot speak Welsh, even though the majority of them have a GCSE in the language.

Undoubtedly, the Cymru men’s football team World Cup campaign and the use of Yma o Hyd contributed to many feeling that they had been deprived of the opportunity to become confident and fluent Welsh speakers.

But it would be wrong to believe that this was the only trigger, with many telling me that they felt throughout their childhood a sense of confusion over their identity having been denied the opportunity to learn our nation’s history as well as the Welsh language.

How do we therefore put this right? It is my view, and that of Plaid Cymru’s, that we must now commit to making bilingualism the norm by changing the way Welsh is taught to children and young people.

After all, more and more organisations are now embracing y Gymraeg. Earlier this week, we saw a second national Park decide to revert to its Welsh language name only: Bannau Brycheiniog.

This came as quite a shock for those who have told us time and time again that Welsh is a dead language. ‘No one uses the language’ they say. And to them I say: ‘What nonsense.’

Cymraeg is alive and well. The language is not elitist, and is no more difficult to learn than any other language, and has been here longer than any of us.

Relevant

In this ever tumultuous and digital world, we’ve seen the Welsh language remain relevant.

We’ve seen refugees who have fled to Wales for sanctuary proudly learning the language, and their children competing in Eisteddfodau.

The Welsh Language has also staked it’s place in the international market – Duo Lingo has proclaimed that Welsh is among the most learned languages on its app.

Shows like Welcome to Wrexham on Disney Plus, and Dal y Mellt on Netflix are showing to the world – and the long time naysayers in the UK – that Welsh is relevant.

There is a future for the language and it has, as Plaid Cymru has long argued, both social and economic value.

But what of the language on the ground? The most recent census figures have shown a strange movement of the language. Although declining in typical Welsh heartlands, the language is growing in our cities and larger towns.

The sure fire way to ensure that the language flourishes in all parts of Wales is to make sure that every child has the opportunity to become bilingual.

And if we truly believe that Cymraeg belongs to everyone in Wales, then nobody should be deprived of their chance to learn it. Something which is becoming a step closer, thanks to the influence of Plaid Cymru on the Welsh Government.

White paper

A recently published white paper setting out proposals for a Welsh Language Education Bill has been published with input from Plaid Cymru as part of the Co-Operation agreement.

The proposals take Wales further towards ensuring the education system delivers Welsh to all pupils in a way that creates confident speakers and one where Welsh medium provision is “normalised” within our schools and communities.

These proposals set out a foundation towards an education system that delivers Welsh medium education to all pupils. They include more Welsh medium schools, an increase in Welsh medium education in every school in Wales and ensuring that every child will leave school as a confident Welsh speaker by 2050.

Continuing as we are will not safeguard the future of the Welsh Language. That’s why we need a Welsh Language Education Bill that is ambitious and brave, so that no young person living in Wales is ever again deprived of the opportunity to become bilingual.


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Hayden
Hayden
10 months ago

Ydy wir. People who’ve been blessed to have been raised speaking Welsh will also hopefully work to discourage anyone feeling a smug, ‘superior’ sort of Welshness, just because they can speak Welsh, since Anglo imperialism is to blame for severing so many of us from our mother tongue, and that sort of attitude really doesn’t help the language. Thankfully, I don’t encounter that so much now. It feels more like we’re all pulling together more now, which is great. Welsh speakers from west, north, and south Wales have usually been keen to help me regain my language, encouraging, and often… Read more »

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
10 months ago
Reply to  Hayden

Good point. I would hope that every Welsh speaker feels a degree of solidarity with those Welsh citizens who, because of events in the 19th and 20th Centuries, are di-Gymraeg, and should show support for any who want to learn the language. This is, regrettably, a political issue, and the London right-wing media has attempted to weaponise those who have not learnt Welsh by presenting them as victims of crachach exclusivity. The Blue Books did a number on this country , and we haven’t yet fully recovered from it, but the national mood has begun to change to one where… Read more »

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
10 months ago

I’m from the south and therefore brought up English speaking. It’s this result that I have an affinity with the Welsh language because dw i hefyd yn ddysgwr y Gymraeg. Yr iaith Saesneg, however, doesn’t hold the same; I feel that Saesneg holds no regard for me whatsoever simply for two reasons: 1) I never had to put in the same time and effort to learning it the way you do simply by being brought up with it, so I never had to sacrifice anything. 2) I speak it as a result of English cultural imperialism and not because any… Read more »

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
10 months ago

Unless we admit that the language has declined under devolution we can’t fix the problem. It’s not good enough just to say “The most recent census figures have shown a strange movement of the language.” All the political parties in the Senedd have been complacent with the Welsh language. Unless there’s a new Welsh Language Education Bill that states that all new schools opened in Wales must be Welsh language medium only they’ll never meet the target of a million speakers by 2050. Nothing else is good enough!

Karl
Karl
10 months ago

Damn right, my kids have hugely benefited from being bilingual. Opens the mind, reminds you of your real culture. The real Cymru, not dome weird fake arrogance of Britain. Best thing I could offer them.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
10 months ago

Well written Heledd ! Cymru is on the up, with a new belief in itself and that includes its language. We should be proud of it, proud that it still exists after centuries of attacks and decline. Our language is our soul, our difference, our heartbeat. We should do whatever we can to preserve it and make sure those who can speak it grows.

Stella
Stella
10 months ago

The Brythonic language is the original language of these isles, I am not from a Welsh speaking family, i lived in North Wales for many years and I learned the language while I lived there. I live in England now and having forgotten a lot of what I had learnt previously, I now take 3 lessons a week. I have Welsh Ancestry and I have always felt ultra connected to my Welsh side.

Richard Morse
Richard Morse
10 months ago

Yes, Yes, Yes for the vision. But the white paper proposals so totally miss the point about how to successfully to learn a second language after early childhood as to make one wonder if any actual fluent learners had any input into it. Piling more bureaucracy in top of the existing unsuccessful bureaucratic systems that have existed for decades is a plan doomed to failure. To briefly share my experience here in order to illustrate an important principle. I was born and grew up in Cwmbrân in the 60s and 70s. There was no Welsh taught in my primary school.… Read more »

Caleb
Caleb
9 months ago

Good discussion.
But elitism will remain structurally built into WG strategy until the programmes that address poverty include free access to Welsh immersion opportunities for pre-schoolers and parents who would otherwise have no access to Welsh. There’s still the default setting that the priority for economically and socially deprived families is to communicate in English, missing the point that early bilingualism gives the child an early boost to succeed in education and the workplace in a bilingual Wales. Let’s also address the earlier formative years.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
9 months ago

Bilingualism born of linguistic parity is the solution to our most pressing language and cultural issues. Bilingualism is the minimum accomplishment of most Europeans, as also of any peoples sharing larger – continental – lands such as Asia or the Americas. Many European children are naturally tri- or -quadrilingual, speaking with equal facility French, German or Flemish, for just one instance. This isn’t particularly political, but is just the friendly pragmatism of close neighbours. It would be nice to hear less of the petty anti-Englishness in the Senedd, which only distracts from the dialogue of the best on either side.… Read more »

Esths
Esths
9 months ago

I’m a Spanish national who has lived in England for 14 years. I decided to start learning Cymraeg during lockdown and never looked back – it’s a beautiful, logical language, so easy to learn (although, granted, my speaking skills are lacking because its very difficult to find anywhere to practice in Southern England!). So much more emphasis should be put on it in schools, especially early years and primary, to develop confident speakers.

Chris Mitchell
Chris Mitchell
9 months ago

Absolutely! I’m English and have lived in England virtually all my life, apart from a brief university placement in Cwmbrân in 1980, where I did an evening class to learn a little Cymraeg. I’ve been learning more seriously for the last year using Duolingo, SaySomethingInWelsh (and am going on the SSiW bŵtcamp in June), and attending some Cymraeg-speaking groups locally – because yes, there really are people in Leicester, right in the middle of England and who have no Welsh connections, who want to learn Cymraeg! I suspect that if it hadn’t been for Henry VIII imposing the English language… Read more »

Ian Thomas
Ian Thomas
9 months ago

I have been learning for several years, I found the mynediad and sylfaen courses enjoyable, however the canolradd course was/is another matter, personally I found the jump to canolradd difficult and also I feel the emphasis on setting targets, writing to be to the detriment of speaking and learning to converse in welsh, also there seems to be perhaps understandably a desire to see people move to the next level but in my case I was clearly not able or capable of progressing to uwch, given I’d only get 20-25% in canolradd past papers that we did for those doing… Read more »

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