By Indigo Jones
eing bilingual or speaking another language is something valuable, that not many people can do. This asset is usually seen as a positive and something to be proud of whether that’s for general discussion or something to boost your job prospects. Although, some people become offended, or feel isolated, if other languages are spoken in front of them if they cannot speak said language. This feeling is understandable as nobody would like the feeling of being excluded from a conversation.
As a fluent Welsh-speaker, who was brought up in an English-speaking household I am used to my day to day life being bilingual where I often have to switch languages. I attended a Welsh medium primary school, comprehensive and Sixth form whilst growing up, and now in University I study Welsh language modules. Growing up in this environment meant that I would speak Welsh in school, and English at home, meaning I often spoke Wenglish (a combination of the both). Growing up speaking Welsh wasn’t seen as cool as we were encouraged to speak the language at school, therefore my friends and I were very unlikely to speak Welsh to each other outside of school. As I am older now, I have gained a new sense of appreciation for my other language and ability to speak it. Although, I do still pick and choose when it’s appropriate to speak the language as I try not to isolate others but censor myself in the process.
There is a well-known stereotype surrounding Welsh-speakers, which is that if they are speaking Welsh then they are usually talking about someone. This stereotype is often untrue. It is not the intention of Welsh-speakers to isolate those around them, usually it comes naturally for them to speak the language, especially if they inevitably come from a Welsh speaking household. There is usually a story that travels around the internet where English speakers state that they “Walked into a pub and everyone automatically started speaking Welsh” in order to talk about them.
When bumping into a Welsh-speaking friend whilst talking with non-Welsh speakers, my automatic reaction would be to speak Welsh, perhaps I’ll then speak English to stop them from feeling excluded. On the other hand, Welsh speakers are usually already speaking the language, and therefore are unlikely to switch to English to not offend an English speaker who isn’t part of the conversation, but why should they have to?
Welsh is often considered a “dying language” and this couldn’t be further from thetruth. The Welsh Government have started a new strategy to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050, they stated that: “The target of a million Welsh speakers is deliberately ambitious. Its aim is to change people’s mindsets and work towards a situation where the Welsh language is truly thriving”. Although, how is the language meant to thrive with its speakers choosing not to speak the language to avoid hurting the feelings of those around them.
This rise in Welsh speakers is something to be hopeful for the future of Wales. In an interview with BBC Cymru Fyw, the former Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws explained that “The figures are encouraging and suggests we are moving in the right direction in our efforts of increasing the number of people who are Welsh speakers”. Hopefully, the increase in Welsh speakers also means an increase in tolerance towards people using and communicating in the language. The Welsh language represents a long line of history and culture that our country of 3.2 million has to offer.
Alternatively, rather than us suppressing our language and ability to speak it perhaps it would be worth more non-Welsh speakers attempting to learn parts of the language, to encourage the use rather than suppress it. Although, this could be applied to everyone when travelling to any country, for example learning some French when travelling to France or the odd greeting in Spanish before exploring Spain. This minimal effort to appreciate the language as well those speaking it demonstrates the respect you have towards them and their country. I know from a personal point of view how appreciated learning even a few words of Welsh would be for someone from the country. The odd ‘shwmae’ or ‘diolch’ is welcomed by all and nobody would judge for mispronunciation, the attempt to learn is what is important.
As I stated previously, I understand how those who are unable to speak the language can feel isolated, as I usually switch to English to avoid insulting those around me, which usually includes my English-speaking parents. The feeling of being excluded from certain conversations can feel disheartening, and in turn disappointing as you aren’t fully involved. Inevitably everyone has been left out of certain discussions due to language barriers, whether you are stuck in between a conversation between two Erasmus students or otherwise. Therefore, by knowing the feeling perhaps us Welsh-speakers should feel more sympathetic towards those who don’t know the language. If we could be more understanding, then perhaps there would be less of a stigma towards speaking other languages.
This column thoroughly discusses Wales and those who are Welsh speaking, but it represents more than us as a country it represents those who are from other countries coming to Wales and how they feel perhaps struggling to understand English let alone Welsh. Maybe, this article is my way of diplomatically agreeing with both sides as I can relate to both. But perhaps, it’s a plead to both Welsh and English speakers to take each other in to consideration.