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Data on people’s ability in Welsh and how often they speak the language for July 2022 to June 2023.

We consider the census of population to be the key source of information to measure the number of Welsh speakers in Wales. However, as the Annual Population Survey (APS) provides quarterly results, it is a useful source to look at trends in Welsh language ability between censuses.

Census 2021 results about the number of people able to speak Welsh were published in December 2022. Census estimates of Welsh language ability continue to be lower than estimates from household surveys such as the APS. However, this is the first time that the census has estimated declining numbers of people able to speak Welsh at the same time as the APS has estimated an increasing number of people able to speak Welsh.

Users should note that there are important differences between these data sources, such as comparing census to survey data, differences in how the data are collected and their timeliness. These should be taken into consideration when choosing which data source best meets their needs.

In April 2023, we published a joint workplan with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which details further work to improve our understanding of these differences. An update on the progress of this work is provided below.

Main results

Figure 1: Number of people aged three or older able to speak Welsh, 2001 to June 2023


Description of Figure 1: This chart shows the results from the Annual Population Survey from 2001 to the end of June 2023. In 2001 there were 834,500 Welsh speakers. The trend decreases until 2007 and then increases again to 889,700 by the end of June 2023. The results of the 2001, 2011 and 2021 Census have also been plotted on the same chart to show that the Census estimates for the number of Welsh speakers are significantly lower; over 360,000 lower in 2021.

[Note 1] Changed to phone interviews only

  • For the year ending 30 June 2023, the Annual Population Survey estimated that 29.2% of people aged three or older were able to speak Welsh. This figure equates to around 889,700 people.
  • This is 0.5 percentage points lower than the previous year (year ending 30 June 2022), equating to around 9,800 fewer people.
  • 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 being able to speak Welsh decreased from December 2018 to March 2020, before generally increasing again since then. This increase should be treated with caution due to the change of survey mode since mid-March 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. See ‘Changes to the survey’ below. The numbers and percentages have levelled off over recent periods.
  • Children and young people aged 3 to 15 years old were more likely to report that they could speak Welsh (48.6%, 231,100) than any other age group. This is consistent over time, but the percentage of children and young people aged 3 to 15 years old who can speak Welsh has been decreasing in general since the beginning of 2019.
  • The highest estimated numbers of Welsh speakers are found in Gwynedd (89,800), Carmarthenshire (87,100) and Cardiff (86,400). 
  • The lowest estimated numbers of Welsh speakers are in Blaenau Gwent (8,800) and Merthyr Tydfil (12,300). 
  • The highest estimated percentages of Welsh speakers can be found in Gwynedd (75.4%) and the Isle of Anglesey (64.4%).
  • The lowest estimated percentages of Welsh speakers are in Blaenau Gwent (13.1%) and Monmouthshire (15.9%).
  • 14.9% (453,500) of people aged three or older reported that they spoke Welsh daily, 5.3% (161,900) weekly and 7.4% (224,700) less often. Around 1.6% (49,200) reported that they never spoke Welsh despite being able to speak it, with the remaining 70.8% not able to speak Welsh. 
  • 33.0% (1,005,000) reported that they could understand spoken Welsh, 25.2% (769,100) could read and 23.2% (706,700) could write Welsh. 


The Annual Population Survey (APS) is a UK-wide survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The APS, which began in 2004, is compiled from interviews for the Labour Force Survey (LFS). Details about how the survey is developed and carried out can be found on the Office for National Statistics website.

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 census of population data.

The census results and APS results for 2001, 2011 and 2021 have been included on the chart above to show the differences between the two sources at the same time periods. Differences in the estimates of Welsh language ability between the census and household surveys (ONS) such as the APS are longstanding, and both the ONS and the Welsh Government ('Welsh language data from the Annual Population Survey: 2001 to 2018') have explored possible reasons for some of these differences in the past. 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. A blog published by the Chief Statistician in 2019, discussed briefly how to interpret the Welsh language data from the APS.

While household surveys typically provide us with higher estimates of Welsh-speaking ability, this is the first time that the census has estimated declining numbers of Welsh speakers at the while the APS has estimated an increasing number of Welsh speakers.

Following the publication of Census 2021 data, we have published a joint workplan with the Office for National Statistics to examine the differences between these data sources in more detail, including the exploration of innovative approaches such as data linking, to ensure we have a coherent evidence base which can be used for decision making.

Update on the joint workplan with the ONS

In April 2023, we published a workplan which outlines the work that the ONS and the Welsh Government are planning to undertake during 2023-24 and beyond to improve our understanding of the main survey and administrative data sources used to produce statistics about the Welsh language. This workplan was accompanied by a blog published by the Chief Statistician.

Since the last update in July 2023, we and the ONS have since made progress on three of the six projects outlined in the workplan, with work on the remaining three projects scheduled to take place once the first projects are complete.

Project 1 involves linking Census 2021 data to Labour Force Survey data via the Integrated Data Service (IDS) to learn more about the groups of people who respond differently about their Welsh language ability between the two sources. Having undertaken an initial exploratory project to agree requirements for variables and process for accessing IDS, we submitted an application for project approval to the UK Statistics Authority’s Research Accreditation Panel in May 2023. We have since received approval from the accreditation panel and started analysing the data. A statistical article summarising the initial findings of this data-linking project will be published in October 2023.

Project 4 involves evaluating how questions about Welsh language ability have been developed and delivered on both the APS and the census. This project will provide a review and summary of these developments in order to understand the impact of mode or design effects on the collection of this data, and identify what further research needs to be done. Various sources and reports have been identified to support this review, and research is continuing with the aim to produce a publication by the end of 2023.

Project 6 involves understanding what data sources, if any, provide information on Welsh language ability and Welsh speakers living outside Wales. Joint discussions have taken place between the Welsh Government and the ONS to understand what sources exist, and consideration will be given to what options are available to collect this information in the future. A statement on this project is expected to form part of publication of initial findings in the statistical article from project 1 in October 2023.

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. Further details of these changes can be found in this statement on the ONS website.

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 April 2022 to March 2023, therefore all the interviews were carried out by telephone. 

By comparing people who completed the survey over the telephone with people 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. 

At present, it is not possible to say whether any recent changes in Welsh language ability are as a result of the change in the way the survey is conducted, or real changes in the population’s ability in Welsh. The results should therefore be interpreted with caution.


Datasets and interactive tools


Cian Siôn

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