The FAILURE of WELSH

Bore da, bawb.
Ymddiheuraf na fydd y cofnod canlynol yn y Gymraeg. Arweinir felly at gynulleidfa eangach na siaradwyr ein hiaith yn unig.

I’ll be the first to admit that the desired effect of teaching Welsh as a second language in secondary schools has not been fully realised. Students are largely switched off in lessons and see the time as a ‘lesson-off’ between the ‘important’ subjects about which they learn each day. The goal of producing young people who are both competent and confident in using the ancient language of our peninsula has not been achieved. Change is due.

Despite the many massively enthusiastic teachers who are now coming to the fore in the world of teaching Cymraeg to today’s youth, it seems that it will never be enough for many language campaigners. We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course.
My defence to the current system, if I’m afforded one, would be that it was a Welsh learner (at that time my school teacher in an English-medium secondary centre) who inspired me to progress with my studies in the language. I’m now myself a teacher of Cymraeg in an English-medium school and there the positive change in attitudes towards the language in recent years has been, even to myself, a dream come true.

 

Question: When a headline like ‘Welsh second language failure in schools’ appears on someone’s Twitter feed and/or Facebook timeline, do we honestly believe that most of the population will open the article? Are we naïve enough to think, even with 1 in 5 inhabitants of this land possessing the ability to speak Welsh, that 20% of people who see the article will open it and take genuine interest in reading and assessing it? Gyfeillion, I can promise to you now that, for the most part, the only words that will stick in the minds of the vast majority of our population (in Wales and elsewhere) when encountered which such a headline are ‘WELSH,’ ‘SCHOOL’ and ‘FAILURE.’ In my view, it is these subtleties that maintain our language as second class amongst switched-off learners – as well as amongst disinterested parents whose own scapegoat is that Welsh lessons were boring when they were in school. I challenge anyone to put those 3 words into any order and produce a positive case for Cymraeg.

SCHOOL.

WELSH.

FAILURE.


It’s all well and good that we, as protectors of our native language, blindly moan about the fate of our language but rarely do we offer a means of rectification or advice on how to progress.

So as I resist the urge to invite writers of such headlines and articles (that are both damning and detrimental to our language as a whole) to spend a year teaching Welsh in an English medium school, I offer a proposition. I propose that we do away with any detriment concerning our language and teachers (of any capacity) and we make one simple change in our lives. And I genuinely believe that we can make a noteworthy and effective change with one word….

Is it really that difficult to say DIOLCH?

It’s one word which is intelligible – not only within our lands, but around the planet – but how many Welsh speakers actually say it on their own doorstep?

Whenever I go outside of Wales, I make a genuine effort to learn the native language of the area I’m visiting. Simple words and phrases that, in my experience, regularly place a grateful smile on the faces of local shopkeepers and bus drivers. But even before I get my head around things like how to say ‘that one,’ ‘please’ and ‘hello,’ I ALWAYS wrap my tongue around ‘thank you’…. without fail. It is a basic word that not only shows appreciation and gratitude, but it shows that you’re not an ignorant bigot and that you appreciate your surroundings and your fellow human beings.

It always brings a smile to my face when holiday makers proclaim they’re brushing up on their French when visiting Paris. I love hearing that friends have purchased a ‘Learn Catalan’ book for their weekend in Barcelona.

But there seems to be a taboo (or maybe simply a downright ignorance) amongst people who maintain the simple ‘thanks’ when in Wales – and in ALL the Celtic lands for that matter. Welsh speakers, who are the first to explain and bemoan the decline of our language, are perhaps the most guilty of this when they are required to speak English.

I got a lot of stick from many mother-tongue speakers of Welsh during my time reading the subject in the university for not speaking Welsh as my first language. It hurt. My one saving grace was a question I asked myself…. placed in my linguistic situation, would they have taken the time to achieve fluency in this language? We need to take the little steps that support ALL use of Cymraeg in any capacity.

 

Saying DIOLCH does many things:

  • It shows that we speak (or maybe have at least a few words of) our native language.
  • It shows visitors that we have a language and that we’re proud of it.
  • It shows students in English medium schools that Welsh exists and is used.
  • It shows students in Welsh medium schools that Welsh exists and is used.
  • It shows that we are brave enough to speak our language.
  • It shows those who are perhaps unconfident or who ‘lack match practice’ in speaking Welsh can take it word by word.
  • It can spark and encourage a Welsh conversation.
  • It can force a Google search of the language when placed at the end of an email.
  • Hearing it as a non-speaker may encourage them to take those Welsh lessons they always promised they would.
  • It brings a smile to the face of ALL Welsh speakers and learners.

…. all by saying one word.
 

And how am I so sure of my bullet-pointed predictions? Because they’re not predictions; they’re facts.

Since deciding to scrap the word ‘thanks’ from my vocabulary during the 99% of my life I spend in Wales, I have stopped for a chat twice, overheard at least 3 people tell a (presumably non Welsh-speaking) friend that they’re now going to teach them a bit of Welsh and heard the word ‘croeso‘ so many times that if I had a pound for every time I heard it, I’d have enough money to paint the word DIOLCH on the bloody moon. As is stands, the smile that appears on my face when I get a response to thanking in Cymraeg is genuinely worth much more than the cost of a giant piece of lunar artwork! It merely takes effort. The effort it takes to say ‘hello’ to a friend. The effort it takes to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The very same effort it takes to say ‘thank you.’

May we please, os gwelwch yn dda, do away with the 800-year-old misconception that it is polite for Welsh speakers to use English with visitors but it is an ignorant disgrace for us to expect them to even say ‘DIOLCH.’

Am I naïve enough to think that everyone in Wales will read this article? I’ve probably done more damage by naming this report the way I have – which is all the more reason to take on the burden and to pledge, as a reader of this blog, that you will ALWAYS thank someone in the native language of their inhabitance.

I’ve imagined a Wales where no one says ‘thank you’ – and it’s even more polite and green and brave and wonderful than it is now. We may well be far into the depths of January but it’s only been a few days since Welsh New Year so resolutions are still allowed. What have you seriously got to lose?

Thanks.

🙂

Check out my video promoting the use of native-language manners in the Celtic nations….

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