Welsh traditionalists fear their language is losing its appeal

Even where language is widely spoken, youth prefer using English on web and social media

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 2:46am


There was a time when Welsh was the only language to be heard at the post office in Pontyberem, a former coal-mining village nestling in the rolling hills of Carmarthenshire, southwest Wales.

"It's not really like that now," said postmistress Morfydd Evans. "The older people still always speak Welsh but lots of the young ones don't. They can speak it. They learn it in school, but they choose not to use Welsh. It makes us older ones sad. We're proud of our culture and our language and more needs to be done to protect it."

The older people still always speak Welsh but lots of the young ones don't. They can speak it. They learn it in school, but they choose not to use Welsh. It makes us older ones sad

This is an important time for the language in traditional Welsh-speaking heartlands, both in south-west Wales and across the country.

A report just published by the assembly government, the BBC and the Welsh language broadcaster SC4 has concluded that only half of Welsh speakers aged 16-24 consider themselves fluent, compared to two-thirds of the over-60s. Just a third of the young speakers said they always or usually communicated in Welsh with friends.

The report established that few Welsh speakers, even young, tech-savvy youngsters, are using the language when they communicate online or when they use the internet for research or entertainment.

The study comes after the census revealed that the proportion of people in Wales able to speak Welsh fell from 21 per cent in 2001 to 19 per cent.

If the headline figure wasn't disturbing enough, there is particular concern about what is happening in the traditional language stronghold of Carmarthenshire. In 2001 there were five electoral divisions where more than 70 per cent of people spoke Welsh. Now there are none.

"There is no doubt this is a crucial time for the Welsh language," said Cathryn Ings, business manager of the Welsh language initiative Menter Cwm Gwendraeth in Pontyberem. "If we don't act, the number of people speaking Welsh will continue to fall."

Ings said there was a lot of pressure on young people to keep the language alive.

"They are seen as the future, as the great hope," she said. "But it's very difficult when you're living next to a language superpower. The young people are bombarded by English, whether it be in computer games or on social media."

She believes one problem is a lack of confidence and a perception that Welsh is not for everyone. "A lot of people who can speak it aren't confident enough. They don't think their Welsh is good enough," Ings said. "We've got to make the language more welcoming, more inclusive."

The new report published by the government and broadcasters picked this up. It found that the fear of getting things wrong was one of the main reasons why Welsh speakers were not using the language. It said people needed to be reassured that they did not have to speak grammar-perfect Welsh but it was acceptable to use "everyday Welsh" peppered with some English words.

At the Caffi Cynnes, a community cafe in Pontyberem, Rhian Hudson's policy is to greet customers in Welsh and then proceed in whichever language they answer in. "We like to give people the chance to speak Welsh first," she said.

At some of the tables, teenagers were speaking in English. One of them, Simon, explained that while three of the group spoke Welsh, the fourth was not confident so they tended to speak English. Another teenager, Ioan, said: "I text and Facebook in English. It feels that English is more international, more universal. It seems to make more sense to use it on the internet."


How do you say ... in Welsh? … Sut ych chi'n dweud ... yn Gymraeg?

Hello, how are you? … Helo, sut mae?

Goodbye … Hwyl fawr!

Please … Os gwelwch yn dda

Thank you … Diolch yn fawr iawn

Happy birthday … Penblwydd hapus

It's raining …Mae'n bwrw glaw

Numbers 1-10 … Un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, chwech, saith, wyth, naw, deg

Source: BBC, Wikipedia