Why speaking Welsh is such a wonderful thing
Dwi’n siarad Cymraeg. I speak Welsh and I am proud to be able to speak, communicate, write and sing in a second language.
However, I am worried about the state of the Welsh language. My children speak Welsh too, but all too often I find myself having to tell them off for speaking English to each other. It’s quite natural, they spent some of their formative years in England, and went to English schools. But on the hearth we always spoke Welsh to one another. They’d never think of starting a conversation to me in English. Observing my daughter and her friends also talking English to each other is very annoying. Especially as I was in school with some of their parents and I never heard them speak a word of English then.
I’ve seen some girls who were younger than me bring up their children in English, although they are bilingual. I think, what the hell is the problem? The gift of bilingualism is just that. A gift.
Welsh history 101
We are a little outcrop stuck onto mainland England thanks to plate tectonics, but it’s always been a bit of a love hate relationship between the Welsh and English. Welsh is the eldest spoken language in Britain, probably Europe. And I’m sorry to all the Welsh who don’t like to be called Brits. We’re the original Brits, since the territory of Britain was governed by clans who spoke a very similar language, just with varying dialect.
Before the Roman invasion, the Celts ruled Europe. Present day place names indicate the extent of their influence: the town of Bala in Turkey and the city of London both have names with Celtic origins, as do the rivers Danube, Rhone and Rhine. Celtic languages that survived are those that migrated from mainland Europe to the western islands of Britain and Ireland.
It is true however, that the Welsh were oppressed in the 18th and 19th Century, and if it wasn’t for the fire and resilience of the working classes it could have died out completely.
Knowing this history, and teaching it to my children is part of the reason I’m so annoyed at the apparent apathy of today’s youngsters.
Having visited the beautiful Nant Gwrtheyrn today, a Welsh language and heritage center nestled on the Llyn coast. It’s got my brain buzzing. Learning Welsh in schools within Wales is compulsory up to GCSE. I don’t think that’s solved the problem though. According to recent Statistics only 11% of the population is fluent and that’s in pockets of Wales. We’re lucky enough to live in one of those pockets. But I honestly think the problem starts at home. People think it’s too hard to teach their kids another language.
I think we forget that a child’s brain is akin to a sponge. I’ve watched French cartoons with G and he repeats words back to me. It even helps me with my very rusty French. Where I could hold a conversation quite happily I don’t get to practice as much as I once did. I’ve worked hard to make sure the kids are Welsh and English, and this has meant repeating words in both languages. That isn’t a big deal. Is it?
More people over 35 use the language fluently, and more opportunities come from being bilingual in Wales in the form of jobs. But I’ve talked to many young people who can’t see the value as they want to move away etc. I’ve also spoken to many who regret not learning the language. You’re never too late!
Now, I know I’ve concentrated on the Welsh language here, but I truly believe that being multilingual is a gift. My grandmother spoke five languages. I self taught French, and a little Arabic. Kids will always benefit from learning new languages. They are the gateway to new cultures, and indeed the world! A school I taught at a few years ago offered Mandarin as a third foreign language. That’s genius because kids who want to get ahead in business will need those skills.
I love my homeland, and I also know the history of the fight for being Welsh. The fight for using Welsh in our schools, and on our streets. I know for a fact that the Irish language is thriving. What are Southern Ireland doing that Wales can take notes from? The Welsh language community is absolutely thriving. I was part of the society out of Wales in Liverpool and in London, and we reveled in being able to speak our language away from home.
So why can’t our youngsters be proud to embrace their traddodiad? Is it a case of embarrassment or a can’t be assed attitude? Will the Welsh language die out completely within my lifetime? Just because people can’t be bothered to build relationships with their children? You tell me…