Why all roads in Wales should lead to the Welsh language, and how to make it happen
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
We’re all on a journey with Cymraeg.
We all have our own story to tell, our experiences to share—and everyone’s journey is different.
For some of us, Welsh is something we see around us on signs. Others may speak Welsh every day. For some who can speak Welsh, their language may not have been part of their routine for a while. And there’s a wide range of experiences and knowledge in between. Language is complex.
Where we are on our language journey may depend on where we live and whether we use our Welsh socially, or have the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, it may depend on whether our parents used Welsh with us at home, or whether we learnt Welsh at school. Our connection with the language is defined by our experiences— both good and bad—whether at home, at school or in the community.
But what we do have in common is, wherever we are in Wales, whether we speak it or not, whether we use it or not—Cymraeg belongs to us all. It’s part of our shared history and it’s helped to forge our culture. It’s part of who I am—of who we are. Cymraeg is more than just something I speak. It’s something I feel.
Education obviously plays a vital role in our language journey. For most, and especially for younger Welsh speakers, Welsh is first acquired at a Cylch Meithrin or in school. I’ve said Welsh belongs to us all, so I want it to be easy for all of us to become Welsh speakers.
That’s why we’ve committed to legislating to increase provision and to make access to Welsh medium education fairer, and to provide all of our young people with the chance to access language skills tuition until they are 25. This will help consolidate and build on Welsh acquired in school.
But the language is about more than education. We’re five years into Cymraeg 2050 and it’s six months since I took on responsibility within Government for our language. I’ve said that our language is both rich and complex, but my vision for Welsh is quite a simple one: wherever we all are on our Welsh language journey, all roads should lead to us using the language more and more.
Grateful to my parents
Welsh is my first language and I’m grateful to my parents for passing it on to me. Many of us now learn to speak Welsh outside the home, and that’s great. Joining our growing community will give you opportunities to learn a language and open the door to a rich and vibrant culture.
I want to see our young people speaking Welsh to their children. I want more people to learn and use our language. And I want to live as much of my life as possible using my Welsh.
Nothing new in that, maybe. But how do we make this happen? Learning Welsh in the first place is crucial, of course—that’s why we have a goal of a million Welsh speakers. But our vision is also to have speakers and a community of speakers who actually use our language, so it thrives and is passed from generation to generation.
So the questions we in the Welsh language policy community should be asking ourselves are:
- Are we focused enough on Welsh language use? Is this what drives our delivery, or in all honesty, do we avoid that because it’s a little bit difficult?
- Do we do what’s easy, rather than innovating and trying things out of our comfort zones?
- Do we engage new audiences?
- What can we all do differently to make sure everything we do leads directly or indirectly to more people using their Welsh with each other?
I’m interested in building empathy for our language, in building communities’ capacity to promote Welsh themselves. I’m interested in empowering people who may not use Welsh to the extent they could, to use just a bit more.
It’s not just about institutions talking to institutions. But behaviours inside institutions do matter. I am looking forward to expanding our Leading in a Bilingual Country Programme.
Leaders in organisations are key and this programme helps leaders think about the sorts of challenges and opportunities they’ll encounter when moving organisations along the language continuum in a meaningful way. It also makes sure the organisation has space to build empathy for Welsh and to embrace it more than just tokenistically. ‘Bore da’ is good as a starting point, but it’s a starting point – and we need more engagement so that more workplaces use Welsh in the future. This is more than just a matter of compliance – it’s about creating a culture within institutions.
One of those institutions is the Welsh Government itself. For us, Cymraeg 2050 is a whole-Government effort—just like other cross-portfolio issues, like equality and climate change. I want to ensure all parts of the Government have a sense of ownership of language policy. I want all of us to understand what we can do to support, to get involved. Often language is only seen as relevant to those who speak it. But we all can play our part to see the language thrive for future generations.
Some of this is about confidence. So we need to lead the way, making it easy for people to chat in Welsh, wherever they are and whatever their age and background. For example, we’re already looking at what ways we can help people use more Welsh with their children at home.
And it’s not a question of “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to language policy. Different areas have different needs. That’s reflected in our recent Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan. This will allow us to do different things to support our language in the areas where they are needed most.
This is true as well with the “immersion” projects we have just funded through our local authorities—to help children and families access Welsh-medium education at any point and to give a helping hand to those who may have lost some confidence in their Welsh during the pandemic to get back on track. The project proposals we received show that the solutions and innovation are varied and bespoke to different areas—they reflect the language journeys of communities across Wales.
We need to learn lessons from what works and what doesn’t – our investment in immersion is a good example of this. But we also need to be brave enough to change our approach if what we do doesn’t work. We need to prioritise, and that could mean stopping doing certain things in order to do things that are more far-reaching in their impact. The world has changed in the last 18 months. It’s clear that we also need to change the way we work so our language can evolve.
As Education and Welsh Language Minister, I want everyone to feel Cymraeg belongs to them and I want all our young people to have a real opportunity to become confident Welsh language speakers and to live, work and enjoy in Cymraeg.