Monday, 16 November 2009

Welsh desirable

Today's story in the Western Mail about whether the First Minister should be able to speak Welsh or not is, of course, based on a bit of mischief-making amongst the contenders for the leadership of the Labour Party. Given that background, it's tempting to simply ignore the question, and treat it as a bit of froth.

However, the fact that anyone can raise the question as a serious one in any context is something which worries me more than a little. Is someone seriously suggesting that the post of First Minister should be restricted to the 25-30% who have enough knowledge of Welsh to be able to give interviews in either language? I can think of absolutely no reason why a non Welsh-speaker should be barred from the job - devolution and the future of Wales is about much, much more than the Welsh language.

The Western Mail's editorial comment, suggesting that this is an issue which has a limited lifespan because all children educated in Wales now learn Welsh is the stuff of fantasy, sadly. Anyone who believes that the education system is turning out bilingual children is deluding him or herself.

I wish that it were so, but the harsh reality is that teaching second languages in school - whether Welsh or any other language - simply does not turn children into fluent speakers by the time that they leave school. Only fully Welsh-medium education achieves that, and the demand for that type of education continues to exceed the supply.

And far from turning Wales into a bilingual nation, the current policy direction of the Welsh Assembly Government seems to be to support those who seek to deliberately weaken Welsh-medium provision in places like Carmarthenshire, in pursuit of a more 'cost-effective' approach to the provision of school places. That issue of policy matters far more to the future of the language than the ability of any particular politician to speak Welsh.


Anonymous said...

Well written balanced piece. Although schools are not turning out fluent speakers places like the internet are providing forums for the growth and use of Welsh language that are forward looking, and relate to the culture of the now.

Anonymous said...

As a parent fighting tooth and nail for my children to be taught in bilingual education, ultimately despite the fair reservations here it is the only real way to get the next generation to speak both.

The next stage of this roll out to make ourselves a truly bi-lingual nation is to enable Welsh to be a far more socially visible language. The other side of the coin is that many kids in non welsh speaking areas see welsh as the language of school, and seen in the same way school uniform or uncool teachers are. We cannot allow welsh to die once it leaves the school gates.

John Dixon said...


It really depends on what you mean by 'bilingual' education. If you mean an education which is delivered largely through the medium of Welsh, then it can indeed ensure that pupils leave school fluent. But if you mean education in one of the country's 'bilingual' schools, then a great deal depends on the category of the individual school. Carmarthenshire, for instance, has a number of category 2C 'bilingual' schools, but in practice that means a basically English-medium education for most pupils. It's another of the ways in which we are being collectively deluded into thinking that the situation in our schools with regard to the language is better than is really the case.