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Data on people’s ability in Welsh and how often they speak the language for 2020.

The Census of Population is the key source used to measure the number of Welsh speakers in Wales. However, as the Annual Population Survey (APS) provides quarterly results, it is useful to use the APS to look at trends in the Welsh language between censuses.

The chart shows the results of the APS from 2001 to the end of December 2020. In 2001 there were 834,500 Welsh speakers. The trend declines to 2007 and then increases again to 883,600 by the end of December 2020. The Census results for 2001 and 2011 are also plotted on the same for chart, to illustrate that the Census estimates for the number of Welsh speakers are considerably lower; over 200,000 lower.

Please note that the numbers, and changes in numbers, should be treated with caution. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is intending to adjust estimates from the Annual Population Survey, where appropriate, in light of emerging demographic trends since the COVID-19 pandemic. See 'Changes to the survey' below for more information.

Main points

For the year ending 31 December 2020, the Annual Population Survey reported that 29.1% of people aged three and over were able to speak Welsh. This figure equates to 883,600 people

This is 0.7 percentage points higher than the previous year (year ending 31 December 2019).

The chart shows how these figures have been gradually increasing each year since March 2010 (25.2%, 731,000), after they had been gradually declining from 2001 to 2007. The number of people reporting to be able to speak Welsh declined from December 2018 to March 2020, before increasing again in the most recent three quarters. This increase should be treated with caution due to the change of survey mode since mid-March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. See ‘Changes to the survey’ below.

The highest percentages of Welsh speakers can be found in Gwynedd (77%) and the Isle of Anglesey (67%).

The lowest percentages of Welsh speakers are in Monmouthshire (16%), Blaenau Gwent (17%) and Bridgend (17%).

The highest numbers of Welsh speakers continue to be found in Carmarthenshire (92,900) and Gwynedd (91,400).

The lowest numbers of Welsh speakers are in Blaenau Gwent (11,600) and Merthyr Tydfil (12,600).

16.3% (496,300) of people aged three or over reported that they spoke Welsh daily, 5.0% (150,300) weekly and 6.2% (189,400) less often. 1.6% (47,500) reported that they never spoke Welsh despite being able to speak it, with the remaining 70.9% not able to speak Welsh.

33.4% (1,014,600) reported that they could understand spoken Welsh, 26.0% (790,600) could read and 23.8% (721,300) could write Welsh.


The Census results and APS results for 2001 and 2011 have also been plotted on the chart above to indicate the large discrepancy between the two sources at the same time periods. There are a number of possible explanations for why Census results would be lower than survey results. For example, the census is a statutory self-completion questionnaire while the APS is a voluntary survey, which uses face-to-face and telephone interviews. 

The APS results should not be compared with census results, nor used to measure progress towards the Welsh Government target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. The Welsh language strategy Cymraeg 2050, clearly states that this target was based on census data and that progress towards this target will be monitored using future census data.

A blog published by the Chief Statistician in 2019, gave a brief discussion on how to interpret the Welsh language data from the APS. More information about the differences between the APS and the census can be found in a bulletin presenting more detailed results on the Welsh language from the APS from 2001 to 2018.

The APS is carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Details about how the survey is developed and carried out can be found on the Office for National Statistics website.

Changes to the survey

Following government advice regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Annual Population Survey as well as all other Office for National Statistics (ONS) face-to-face studies about people, families and households were suspended.

From mid-March 2020, the APS survey has been carried out by telephone only. A change in how a survey is administered can affect survey results. This set of results cover the period from January 2020 to December 2020. Until mid-March 2020, around half of the interviews were carried out face-to-face and half by telephone.

By comparing those who completed the survey over the telephone with those who completed the survey face-to-face in the period before March 2020, respondents did appear to be more likely to state that they could speak Welsh when answering the survey over the telephone. The ONS found that this change had resulted in a higher proportion of owner occupiers participating in the survey and a lower proportion of renters participating in the survey than before the pandemic. As a result, they changed how they weight the data and re-weighted their estimates for January to June 2020 (i.e. quarters 1 and 2 of 2020) to account for this change.

The ONS is continuing to monitor the impact of the change in survey mode on the estimates and intend to make further revisions to the APS data for 2020. One reason for a further revision is that the APS estimates are weighted to national population projections. As the current projections are 2018-based, they are based on demographic trends that pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office for National Statistics are currently analysing the population totals used in the weighting process and intend to make adjustments where appropriate. The percentages published from the APS below remain robust. However, numbers and changes in numbers should be treated with caution. This will particularly affect estimates for country of birth, nationality, ethnicity and disability.

At this stage, it is not possible to say whether a slight increase in Welsh language ability during April to December 2020 is as a result of the change in survey mode or actual changes in the population’s Welsh language ability. Results should therefore be interpreted with caution.


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Lisa Walters

Telephone: 0300 025 6682

Rydym yn croesawu galwadau a gohebiaeth yn Gymraeg / We welcome calls and correspondence in Welsh.


Telephone: 0300 025 8099

Rydym yn croesawu galwadau yn Gymraeg / We welcome calls in Welsh.