Efan ap Ifor
Support for the Welsh language regularly polls in the 80-90%, with many of those wishing they could speak the native tongue of the nation in which they live and call home.
However, many of those same people will have been deprived of the opportunity in being fluent in Welsh through no fault of their own. Many are also parents of children that are part of the ever-growing demand for Welsh medium education.
The Welsh Government have set out a strong policy of one million speakers by 2050, otherwise known as Cymraeg 2050.
Welsh language education, however, will only get us so far towards that goal – people need to be given opportunities to use it outside the classroom or they would soon forget what language skills they had on leaving secondary school.
To attain one million Welsh speakers people need opportunities to use the language every day, with friends, colleagues, in social situations and hopefully with their children and wider family.
I speak from experience, because I am one of those people: a Welsh learner now trying to pass the language on to my children.
I grew up in in the south west of England in a Welsh family who had moved for employment. I moved home to Wales in 2000 to play rugby and go to university.
I subsequently decided to learn the language and met my wife, who is a Welsh speaker from Treorci, during my first year of learning. I was determined that I would say my wedding vows in Welsh and have a Welsh wedding ceremony, and I am proud to say I did, albeit very nervously.
It was important to me as I wanted our future children to use Welsh as their mother tongue, and I wanted to instil in them the importance of our native language.
So, if they were to watch back our wedding in the future it was vital to me they watched it in Welsh, as how could I say one thing and then use English on one of the most important days of our lives?
When our first daughter was born we committed to never using English with her, and six years on and two more children I can proudly say I have only ever used Welsh with them, and so has my wife. They are first language Welsh speakers even though both my wife and I speak it as a second language.
This has proven to be a challenge, however. My Welsh is constantly improving but I am always in a race against time to stay ahead of their linguistic abilities and use Welsh like a native speaker so that they speak it as native speakers and not the children of a muddled or bookish learner.
We live in Cwm Cynon and the everyday world around me is predominantly in English. In my case, I get a lot of support from online applications. I use Ap Geiriaduron and Ap Treiglo religiously.
So, for example, when I go to the supermarket with my girls they will ask me what this is and what that is. Both my wife and I don’t have the extensive vocabulary to know these products and words like a native speaker.
Just today I was teaching two of my daughters the different types of fish but only knew two of them in Welsh, Eog (Salmon) and Macrell (Mackerel) I then had to pull my phone out discreetly and look up trout, sardines and bass (brithyll, penwaig Mair and draenogiad y môr respectively).
If the Welsh Government is serious about reaching its target, it needs to ensure that the world these children and their parents see around them is bilingual.
Every learner, future learner and potential learner in Wales must have access to the words of the language they are learning all around them. We must immerse our visual surroundings in bilingualism.
In the case of a visit to the supermarket, this would mean requiring private companies to also make an effort to include the Welsh language on their products. It sounds like a small step but having bilingual products in the home would be a massive step to expanding people’s Welsh vocabulary.
If the packaging in the supermarket was bilingual I would have just been able to read the label in Welsh to my children, helping me grow my vocabulary in the same natural way in which I learnt the vocabulary of my first language, English.
And they would be able to live through their native language without exception.
We claim that we want a bilingual Wales, but if we do not allow ourselves to use Welsh in the same way we use English, i.e. Cymraeg mewn popeth, popeth yn Gymraeg – Welsh in everything, everything in Welsh, we are essentially discriminating against ourselves.
Why should my life be made harder due to my linguistic choice?
Why should I be deprived of learning and using the vocabulary of the language of my children and the native language of my nation? Why aren’t these words in front of me when I need and want to use/learn them?
If we are serious about being a bilingual nation, then let’s be a bilingual nation for real.
The alternative is to expect Welsh learners to only learn from textbooks, Apps, tutors and CDs. This isn’t the normal way people learn languages. No first language English speaker in Wales learnt this way, nor any person who makes Wales their home and learns English after making it their home.
We are essentially happy enough to make it harder to learn Welsh for a Welsh person in Wales than it is for a non-English speaking person who has made Wales their home to learn English in Wales. How is this logical? It isn’t, plain and simple. It makes no sense whatsoever.
We must remember every person in Wales who cannot speak Welsh at this moment in time is a potential learner, so we must put the language in front of them so they can use it as and when they wish to, anything else represents linguistic and social inequality to all, to every single one of us, as who knows when we may wish to use what language and when?
Currently, that choice is being made for us. We need stronger, braver, more robust and significantly more ambitious leadership now. We need a new, more comprehensive Welsh language Act.
An additional thought also; Why is every mainstream talking toy sold in Wales only in English? Why are my children deprived of talking to Elsa from Frozen in their own language? English is still being forced onto Welsh speaking children and into Welsh-speaking homes.
This is an easy change that can be made via legislation as ever toy is fitted with a microchip. We just need bilingual microchips as you see in other countries like Switzerland, so every family can choose their linguistic preference.
This would be no problem for international companies, who already have to deal with hundreds of languages and wouldn’t even notice one more being added to their roster.
As a learner, I want linguistic support and as a father, I want linguistic equality.