Welsh Speakers 2050

Plans to increase the number of Welsh speakers

Wales’s identity and traditions are under threat as Welsh drops in popularity, with the language being taught increasingly less to young people in Wales. Twenty years after devolution, however, the Welsh Assembly plans to bring back the Welsh language to avoid potential obscurity, having set targets to increase the number of Welsh speakers by up to one million

Welsh speakers in decline

Devolution of the Welsh Government in 1997 was intended to protect and revive Wales’s identity. At first, it seemed that it had been very successful in promoting the popularity of the Welsh language, with the percentage of those speaking Welsh rising from 2% to 20.5% in the 10 years from 1991 to 2001.

Unfortunately, this was short-lived, with Welsh-speaking numbers falling back to 19% by 2011. Almost 75% of the population of Wales have no Welsh language skills at all. The Welsh identity also seems at threat, with 35% of people in Wales describing themselves as ‘British’ rather than ‘Welsh’.

Even those who are fluent in Welsh seem reluctant to actually use it; in a recent study, less than half of Welsh speakers said they would ‘definitely’ speak the language as an adult.

The benefits of speaking Welsh

The ability to speak a second language is an incredibly useful skill. Data show that Welsh speakers are more employable, with almost 5% more Welsh speakers in employment in Wales. Speaking Welsh will also help to protect the traditional culture and history of Wales; a total of 2,500 languages are now under threat of extinction, so it’s more important than ever to keep the Welsh language in use.

Bilingualism has many benefits. Other than the joys of being able to understand and talk to more people, second language acquisition has proven cognitive benefits. Professor Antonella Sorace, founder of the Bilingualism Matters Centre at Edinburgh University, states that bilingualism could protect the brain in later life. Recent studies have found that dementia appears up to five years later in bilingual people. Other cognitive advantages include, amongst many others, improved problem solving, decision making and critical thinking.

Turning the situation around

The Welsh Assembly, Wales’s devolved government, has an ambitious plan. By 2050, the target is that there will be one million speakers of Welsh, up from the current level of around 550,000.

“Reaching a million speakers is a deliberately ambitious target so that the Welsh language thrives for future generations,” the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said last month. It’s important, he adds, “for people to take ownership of their country’s language”.

The main course of action underway is to increase Welsh-medium education by one-third by 2030. At present, just over one in five seven-year-old children attend a Welsh school, and under the new proposals even English-language schools will need to focus much more time on teaching Welsh. The estimate set out by the Welsh Government is that 70% of students will need to be fluent in Welsh by the time they finish their education.

Any progress towards a greater understanding of Welsh must be a good thing, whether the National Assembly for Wales (soon to be known as the Welsh Parliament) hits its goal of one million speakers by 2050. The success of the ambitious target proposed by Carwyn Jones seems to hinge on the adoption of the Welsh language in schools throughout the course of the campaign, and that Welsh is integrated into as many areas of people’s lives as possible.

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