What are the key barriers to accessing Welsh?

Source: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament (via Flickr)

By Eirian Jones | Comment Editor

Throughout my school years, I always felt a little “less Welsh” than everyone else in my class. Although I am fluent, was in the top set and achieved an A* at GCSE, I still felt that I wasn’t quite as good as everyone else there. I feel the reason for this was because my mother is English and father is Welsh but doesn’t speak the language, so even though my sister and I were both fluent, we spoke English all the time at home. However, as I’ve grown up this feeling of being a little ‘less Welsh’ developed into a resentment towards a small, tiny minority of Welsh speakers and the Welsh community. Although my dad’s the ‘Welsh One’, it was predominantly my mother’s decision to send my sister and I to an all-speaking Welsh school. Since then, she has spent years taking Welsh classes, attending Welsh speaking events and learning the language – and I admire her! It’s an incredibly difficult language to learn.

The issue is that there are a few within the community who tend to belittle learners which in turn severely knocks their confidence. Although, most of the time, my mother has been encouraged and supported by native speakers to practice the language, I have been present on several occasions (more than I’d like to admit) where people have refused to speak Welsh with her and have sometimes ridiculed and mocked her accent. Considering we live in Gwynedd, a county where 76% of people speak Welsh, this would happen anywhere, from shops to the local council. In fact, my first memory of this happening was a teacher that I always admired and, ironically, had a family member in the same class as my mother! What I’ve found to be a common between these people is that they’re all usually nationalists and all usually complain that the language is dying.

Similarly, my dad, whose family originates in Wales, was never lucky enough to learn the language at school and hasn’t had much time to learn it since. He has said himself that he feels a bit of shame surrounding the fact that he doesn’t speak it fluently and is extremely proud that my sister, my mother and I can. However, when we’re out on our family walks, for years, we’ve had multiple people mutter nasty things under their breath about our dad and the fact that we speak English. On two occasions in the last 6 months the things said have been so hurtful that my sister and I have had to intervene and remind them that he is just as Welsh as they are and that we can understand everything they are saying. On one occasion my dad was forced to list the reasons why he was ‘Welsh enough’ to walk on a beach with his family near Caernarfon by two strangers. On another occasion, he had just offered to help a grandfather and granddaughter to move their car in fear that it would be damaged on a mountainside and was greeted by ‘Look at this English man thinking he knows better than us’ and refused his help (their car was damaged in the end…)

Before anyone argues about the immense English migration into Wales, the significant rise in YesCymru members or the fact that Cardiff University has only recently been allowed a Welsh language officer in the SU, I understand and sympathise with the dislike the Welsh community has for the English. I have studied the history; I know the stories. I am a Law student here at Cardiff and speak Welsh all day, everyday and I can’t stand it either – I was told to ‘go back to where I came from’ in Cardiff on Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant! There are a myriad of examples of anti-Welsh ignorance in the world let alone in Wales.

What I fear a lot of Welsh people simply do not understand is that every time they tell someone “Oh just say it in English” or mock Welsh learners’ accents or attempt to belittle someone for not speaking Welsh, they are contributing to the Anglicisation of Wales, whether they’d like to admit it or not.

Eirian Jones Comment

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