An address by Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, June 22, 2023.
Almost a century and a half ago, in 1891, almost seven out of ten people in Merthyr could speak Welsh. Seven out of ten!
Today, a little less than one in ten can speak the language.
What caused the change?
What lessons does the past hold as we discuss the future of our language here in Merthyr today?
And the future of our language is what I’m here to discuss. And I want to discuss what each of us can do to ensure progress in Merthyr from today onwards.
At the end of last year, we had the results of Census 2021 in terms of the Welsh language. At the national level, the figures were a disappointing and not what we wanted to see. According to the census, fewer children aged 3 to 15 were able to speak Welsh in 2021 than in 2011. But during the same period we’ve have seen an increase in the numbers of children in Welsh-medium education, with over 11,000 more children in 2022 than in 2011. We’ve also seen an increase in the percentage of 16–19-year-olds, and 20- to 44-year-olds who can speak Welsh – parents of the next generation of Welsh speakers.
So it’s important to look at the whole range of evidence that we have to understand the position of Cymraeg on the ground.
There’s more to statistics than just the census, and there’s more to language policy than just statistics! Language is basically a people thing and all of us here today have a role and a contribution to make. Cymraeg belongs to us all, so does the responsibility for its future. We in the Welsh Government remain fully committed to our goal of a million speakers by 2050. And as I go around Wales between now and the National Eisteddfod in August, I want to hear what you think and your experiences. What would make ‘doing’ Welsh easier? What are the barriers? What needs to change?
It’s clear to me that you here in Merthyr want to see the Welsh language and Welsh-medium education flourish. Your Welsh language strategy emphasises the need to normalise Cymraeg and increase its use across Merthyr. The commitments in your 10-year plan for the Welsh language in education also confirm that. Diolch for sharing our vision. I’m sure there’s a lot we can do together to raise the numbers in Merthyr. The ‘how’ is what I’d like to chat with you about afterwards.
I very much welcome your commitment to open a third Welsh-medium primary school. That school of course builds on the success of the other two primary schools. And you’re currently considering Welsh-medium secondary education. That’s wonderful.
I’m also delighted that we’ve recently been able to fund the post of champion for promoting Welsh-medium education in the south east region. This work is in collaboration between local authorities, the mentrau iaith and a host of other partners in the region, and it will be very exciting to see how the work develops!
In order to increase the number of families choosing Welsh-medium education for their children we need to talk to families of course. Language is a people thing.
And as I talk to people about all of this, I sometimes feel like we’re a little too rational when it comes to Cymraeg. We discuss ‘the benefits of this’ and ‘the advantages that’. And maybe we should emphasize the emotional, human side of things more. Ask non-Welsh speaking parents how proud they feel hearing their toddler speaking two languages. Ask someone in Merthyr who went to a Welsh-medium school but lost confidence in their Cymraeg how determined they are to get Welsh-medium education for their children. Ask grandparents in Merthyr who remember their families speaking Welsh how happy they’d feel knowing that the language be spoken in their families once again. Language is a people thing which helps us relate to each other. And it’s important that we all remember that in our daily work.
So thanks for your ambition. People in Merthyr will thank you for it. And I thank you for it now. I want us to continue to work together to make sure that the decisions we make and the actions we take, bring us closer to our ambition of a million Welsh speakers. And it’s good to see that a number of the essential partners here today are contributing to the presentations and broader discussions.
In your WESP, you intend to change the language category of two English medium schools to offer the Welsh language to more children across the county. Also, Merthyr has benefited from the support through the Welsh-medium capital grant and the late immersion grant. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in this area. Our late immersion provision is unique to us in Wales and the potential for us to go even further is clear to see.
The Welsh Government has committed to introducing a Welsh Language Education Bill during this Senedd term. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen and increase Welsh language education provision across Wales to meet our Cymraeg 2050 targets.
We want to ensure that every learner in every school has the best chance of being confident Welsh speakers – in Welsh medium and English schools. We’re committed to establishing and implementing a continuum of learning in Welsh so that everyone has a common understanding of the journey to learn Cymraeg as an individual.
Embedding the continuum will take time to be achieved, but Cymraeg belongs to us all and that’s the philosophy I want to embed throughout the education system.
We’ll continue to work to ensure that the way we learn our language is innovative and supported by professional learning and resources. We’ve got to refocus our efforts in the English medium sector. I pride myself on the hard work that goes on in schools - something that schools in Merthyr can be proud of - and I know there is enthusiasm among teachers to take advantage of the opportunities available through the curriculum for Wales. We’ve already published the framework for the Welsh language in English medium education and the free Cymraeg lessons through the National Centre for Learning Welsh for 16- to 25-year-olds and the education workforce too. This is a good example of the collaboration that goes on with our partners. We’ve also funded the Centre and Say Something in Welsh company to develop an app to reinforce learners’ Welsh language skills and develop their confidence. Ysgol Pen-y-dre here in Merthyr is part of this exciting project. Developments like this could increase the use of Welsh in all of our schools. Well done, Pen-y-dre. How about it, the rest of Wales?
Cymraeg belongs to us all. It’s part of the very fabric of our being. It’s part of what makes us ‘us’, no matter how much we speak it, and even if we don’t speak it at all.
That means it’s a responsibility for us all to come together to secure its future—both here in Merthyr and across Wales. And that’s what I would like to chat about now.
I said earlier that I wanted to hear what you think and your experiences. And I’m of course willing to take questions from you.
I said that I’m very interested to find out more about:
What would make ‘doing’ Cymraeg easier here in Merthyr?
- What needs to change?
- And what are the barriers?
- Neither I nor the Welsh Government have a monopoly on good ideas - I’m here to listen to suggestions and ideas. By listening to each other and by working together we can reach our aim. Thank you very much for the welcome.