Opening address by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Welsh language and education, Friday 24 February.
At today’s conference, there are people who can transform the future of our language.
The work that’s already been done—your work at Canolfan Bedwyr and that of others—has created a treasure trove of language technology of which other languages are envious.
Please do make the most of those treasures. You, delegates at the conference today, are the people with the technological knowledge to do so.
Now I’m fond of technology, but not technology just for its own sake. I’m keen to hear your thoughts on how technology can increase the amount of Welsh we use every day. And do remember that technology must help Welsh speakers in a bilingual Wales.
Few are the working days where I just speak English, or just speak Welsh. I switch between both as most Welsh speakers do. And technology must help us use both languages at the same time.
Take the example of speech synthesis. Bangor University is hosting this event today. They’re about to release bilingual synthetic Welsh voices, not just Welsh language ones. That means, for example, that a blind person listening to a Welsh language text will hear the voice of the same ‘person’ as it were, when they then listen to an English article. Maybe we’ll be hearing those voices on train stations in the future. Who knows?
M-Sparc, on Anglesey, which is part of Bangor University, has held two ‘hackathons’ with our sponsorship. This is a competition inviting innovative ideas to get more people to use more Welsh.
One of the winners was ‘darllen.co.’, a project to help families read Cymraeg with their children, regardless of the parents’ ability in Welsh. For those non-Welsh-speaking parents, or those whose Cymraeg hasn’t been part of their routine for a while, these digital books include an English translation. Thanks to the technology, it’s possible to see how long and how many books children read with their parents in Welsh. This is one way for technology to help increase language use—and also to help build confidence. Do you have any similar—or better—ideas today?
With our sponsorship, Bangor University has created a Welsh language transcriber. It ‘listens’ to people speaking Welsh and transcribes what they say as text. It can create automatic Welsh language subtitles for videos. This will help us to find out what’s stored in archive programs and other videos. I hope it will be of great use to broadcasters. And in mentioning broadcasters, it would be appropriate to note that we launched a new partnership with S4C a few weeks ago, with technology as a central.
No doubt you’ve noticed the recent advances in artificial intelligence. For example, Chat g.p.t. surprised a lot of us. We must make sure that there such technology that works well in Welsh too. And Bangor University is currently working on this with our sponsorship.
I’m also pleased that we’ve funded Bangor University to share Cysill—a free Welsh language spell and grammar checker. It can boost people’s confidence in writing Welsh. And we need more confidence!
And we need your help too.
I’ve talked about some of the resources we’ve funded. There’s a lot in existence. But existing isn’t enough. The things we in government—you, the Welsh taxpayers—have paid for must be used in programs and other situations. So what can you do?
Well in the first place, why not spread the word about what’s available to developers?
- Visit our ‘helo blod’ website. It’s a website mainly for businesses. Draw the attention of tech businesses to its technology section, there’s a list of some of the technical components for you to use there.
- What businesses were also telling us was that there was no place that summed up how to offer a good Welsh language experience via technology. So we’ve created one. That ‘toolkit’ is also on the helo blod website and summarises and learns from the experience of a lot of us. It aims to help people understand how to design bilingual services that work equally well in both English and English. Spread the word!
- M-Sparc has started hosting Welsh language hacathon competitions. Why not pitch your ideas in the next one?
You’ll hear at this conference today about exciting, new developments for our language. You’re the people with the skills and knowledge to put them into practice. You’re the people who can make sure those developments help us use our Cymraeg more. And I hope today inspires you to go for it! Good luck to you all and thank you very much.