We need to get serious about giving the gift of bilingualism to every child in Wales
Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru
It is difficult to convey the feelings of loss that come with missing something you never had. Isn’t it a contradiction? How can anyone possibly miss something they never had?
Let me try to explain.
I was brought up as a monoglot English speaker and as I grew I heard different languages spoken around me. I had the feeling that there were things going on that I couldn’t fully be a part of.
We had language lessons in school, including Welsh, but we didn’t see the value of it then as children. But now, when I look back, I wish that I had paid more attention.
I wish someone had explained to me why learning other languages was important. I wish someone had shown me that languages can open doors for you into different worlds. I wish someone had told me how important the Welsh language is.
I wish they had explained the threats it has faced through history and still faces. I wish I had known what I could do – what we can all do to make sure there is a future for this unique and precious treasure that runs through the contours of the beautiful and rugged landscape of my home country, Cymru.
My own story is a microcosm of the problems our language faces. I understand a lot of Welsh, but I am not a fluent Welsh speaker and I don’t have the confidence to use it. I know I should. I know that using it will help it survive.
But the confidence question gets in the way.
The lack of confidence is, in my view, linked to the mixed feelings I have towards the Welsh language – and these feelings run deep.
I’ve lost count of the times I have felt awkward, uncomfortable and wrong when a group of Welsh speakers all switch to English for my benefit. Every time that happens I feel like I am striking it yet another blow.
I feel resentful of the art, film, poetry, prose, and plays I am missing out on because my understanding isn’t at full fluent. but most of all, when I think about the opportunities missed, I feel anger.
Growing up in Wales, I should have been given the gift of bilingualism from birth.
Pictures by Llinos Dafydd from this week’s Urdd Eisteddfod,
Today, more children than ever before are in Welsh medium education, which means all of their lessons are taught through the medium of Welsh.
It’s known that this is the best way to achieve bilingualism – children end up proficient in both English and Welsh when they leave school.
It is also known that bilingual children find it easier to learn a third, fourth, fifth language.
We are also beginning to understand the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism in terms of preventing illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life.
If we are really serious about not just protecting the Welsh language but creating citizens who are equipped to live long, independent lives, to be confident and to reach out to others throughout the world, then we should be serious about giving this gift of bilingualism to every child who grows up in Wales.
But I am hopeful.
This week saw yet another successful Urdd Eisteddfod held this year in Llanelwedd in Powys.
We really are fortunate to have something like the Eisteddfod for children and young people here in Wales which gives them the opportunity to express themselves and develop their creative talents through the medium of Welsh.
The Rhondda’s very own Lloyd Macey, singer and former X-Factor contestant, said that he would not have been able to take part in the TV talent show without the experience of competing at the Urdd Eisteddfod.
Like me, Lloyd is from a non-Welsh speaking household and said that the Urdd showed him that Welsh was more than ‘just a subject in school’ but a gateway into something much richer and valuable.
The last time the Rhondda hosted the Urdd Eisteddfod was in 1947 in Treorci and the last time the Rhondda hosted the National Eisteddfod was in 1928 – the Gorsedd stones placed to commemorate the Eisteddfod still standing proudly on the Maindy hillside overlooking Cwmparc and Treorci to this day.
Perhaps it is time for the Rhondda to host the Eisteddfod again.
So let us put an end to robbing people of something that is arbennig iawn – very special to us all.
Let us celebrate – dathlu.
Let us have confidence – hyder.
Let us make sure Cymraeg has a future – dyfodol.
That future is in our hands – ein dwylo ni.
Let us rise to the challenge of the responsibility that has been given to our generation.
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