A speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh language on publishing a Memorandum of Understanding between Cymraeg 2050 and S4C at the launch of 'Stori’r Iaith'.
Wales Millenium Centre, 7 February 2023
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
Those words belong to philosopher poet George Santayana.
They tell us that to ensure our language’s future, we must learn lessons from our past. And when we learn those lessons, I wonder if we’ll be doing things differently?
That’s why I’m so glad to be here to launch the 'Stori’r Iaith' programme together with a new partnership between Cymraeg 2050 and S4C.
By examining our heritage as 'Stori’r Iaith' does, we can understand the challenges our language has faced over time.
It’s important for us to know our story.
And everyone’s story is different, personal, and emotional.
I know 'Stori’r Iaith' will be looking at Welsh language statistics. And I want to say frankly that the recent census headline figures were disappointing, and not what I was hoping to see.
I also want to say that I’m an optimist by nature and that there’s more to the story than just the headlines, and there’s more to our language than just the census results.
So what do we have to do differently?
For one thing, we have to listen—deeply—to what the people of Wales are saying about the Cymraeg. And more than just listening, we need to hear what they say.
And maybe hear things we wouldn’t want to hear. What else?
- We need to understand Welsh language confidence issues people raise with me.
- We need to understand what could help more people of all types use more Welsh.
- We need to understand Welsh speakers’ fears when it comes to using their language in formal or unfamiliar situations.
And a whole lot more.
And on top of all that, we need to meet people where they’re at, as it were, and not assume that everyone feels like we ourselves do about the Welsh language.
I’ve said that Cymraeg is more than just something I speak, it’s something I feel.
But for some of course, Welsh is just something they speak. Or something they could speak if an appropriate opportunity were available.
So that deep listening I mentioned is important—as is hearing what people have got to say. And I hope we can do a lot of that with the Memorandum we’re publishing tonight.
That MOU is just a skeleton. It sets a framework to collaborate with each other.
So, what could it do?
It could help us collaborate with people who’ve had a Welsh-medium education but aren’t confident to use it after leaving school. One question thatIhave is whether the problem is the lack of opportunity, or the formality of Welsh used in education, or something else, perhaps? What do you think?
It could help us to get a lot more English and Welsh subtitles on S4C programmes by using the S4C archive to train speech recognition technology. Using stories of the past to help people of the future understand and use more Cymraeg!
It could see a lot more collaboration between us and others on activities for young people to enjoy in Welsh. ‘Monolingual spaces’ as it were.
And we’ll work together to understand who Welsh speakers of the future might be, where they’re likely to be, and how often they might use their Welsh.
And just a quick little note to emphasise that it’s not the role of government to create or manage S4C content. There’s nothing in this MOU that affects S4C’s editorial freedom. And that’s just how it should be!
Before concluding, I want to turn my sights to one of the most critical areas of the MOU—one of the most critical areas of language policy, which is the intergenerational transmission of Welsh. And that’s a lot more to that just encouraging parents to send their children to a Welsh medium school.
We already know that the majority (69%) of young Welsh speakers started learning to speak Welsh at school. We know that not all those ‘new’ Welsh speakers will necessarily use Welsh with their own children later in life.
We also know that those who did acquire their Cymraeg at home use the language more often than those who learned it any other way.
So I’m looking forward to working together with S4C on Welsh language transmission so that more people who didn’t have Cymraeg in their homes as children will use it with their own children in the future.
So as we remember Santayana’s words that I quoted earlier, we need to work together to learn lessons from our past to help our language in the future. That future depends on more than just us and S4C obviously. My main message is that it’s important for each of us to listen deeply to a range of different people as they share their experience of Cymraeg. That’s what 'Stori’r Iaith' does and that’s what I’ll also be doing between now and the national Eisteddfod. Together we can succeed, if we to listen, hear, and act on the reality of the everyday experience of all kinds of Welsh speakers.