The Welsh government aims to reach 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, and there is little doubt that great progress has been made. The number of Welsh speakers has risen from 25% to just under 30% of the population of Wales over the last decade. Plans are afoot to significantly increase Welsh-medium school places over the coming years, with parents choosing a Welsh-medium education for cultural, educational and employment reasons (Hodges, 2011). The percentage of Welsh speakers is unsurprisingly reflected in Wales’ education system, which has seen a rise from 50,000 Welsh-medium school pupils in 2008/9 to over 75,000 pupils in 2017/18.
It’s not only numbers but attitudes that are changing. What a pleasure it was to read Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article in The Guardian that speaking Welsh is increasingly regarded as cool. Welsh-speaking bands like Alffa are gaining millions of plays on Spotify while Welsh-language TV dramas such as Hinterland are winning international plaudits and audiences. From the promotion of the Welsh language in sports clubs across the country to a growing demand for town planners to take linguistic considerations into account, the Welsh government’s ambition for Welsh to be integrated into ‘every aspect of life’ is starting to bear fruit.
Despite this growing success for the Welsh language, there are some persistent challenges for society, academia and schools that need to be addressed if this upward trajectory is to continue. First, at a societal level, there needs to be a greater recognition of minority and regional languages in the UK, an encouragement of new speakers, and a move towards debunking the myth that the UK is a monolingual nation. Welsh is more than a language; it constitutes a heritage and identity that are too frequently overlooked. Second, in academia, more research conducted and communicated through the medium of Welsh may help to raise the status and use of the language. This is encouraged by e-journals such as Gwerddon Fach along with the increasing opportunities for students to access Welsh-medium higher education, promoted by organisations like Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.
In schools, as our research with the MEITS project found, there needs to be more support for children with special educational needs to be able to access a Welsh-medium education. For example, we found that some families with a child on the autism spectrum faced a difficult choice. Parents commented on a lack of Welsh-medium specialist provision, which left them having to choose between sending their child to an English-medium specialist autism school (with less exposure to Welsh) or sending them to a Welsh-medium mainstream school (without sufficient specialist support). Although we found that children on the autism spectrum really appreciated being bilingual in Wales, more opportunities may be needed to enable children with special educational needs or developmental conditions to access bilingual education systems – both in Wales and beyond.
In sum, there are some important steps for policy-makers in Wales to take to ensure that the Welsh language continues to grow in prominence and popularity, but, for the most part, the future of Welsh is bright. Or should I say: Mae’r dyfodol yn ddisglair!
With thanks to Dr Lucy Rayfield for her help in putting this blog post together.
Hodges, R.S. (2011). Welsh-medium education and parental incentives – the case of the Rhymni Valley, Caerffili. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 15(3), 355-373.Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
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