Wales: Britain’s Hidden Corner of Bilingualism

A great, positive article by Alex Rawlings of Memrise. It is infuriating to have to defend our own language in our own country but you’d be surprised at the hostility we get from people in Wales and England, especially from the English press – there seems to be a revival of this at the moment

The Memrise Blog

Tucked away in the corner of the UK, one of the world’s most monolingual countries, you’ll find a beacon of bilingualism for the rest of the world: Wales. Out of the four home nations that make up the United Kingdom, Wales has led the way in its efforts to revive and promote the Welsh language, and has set a precedent for other countries all over the world. What makes this more impressive, is that it has managed to do so while living side-by-side with global giant English.

But only fifty years ago, it looked like the Welsh language was dying out. It was only spoken in remote, rural regions by mainly older speakers. But since 1999, when learning Welsh was made compulsory in schools up to the age of 16, things have started to change.

“I can’t go five meters out my door without knowing that Welsh is around…

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2 responses to “Wales: Britain’s Hidden Corner of Bilingualism

  1. J > Hmmm. A piece on the merits of language skills somewhat undermined by meters for metres. Unless the person quoted really does have five (or possibly more?) Welsh language meters close to the house door – presumably for registering when it is safely Welsh-enough outside to venture out? ;~) Seriously, though, I really, really, really wish that Gaelic was getting the same treatment as Welsh – but the institutional (and popular) support is decades behind Wales – if it is there at all. Gaelic is not as complicated a language as Welsh – but much harder to learn in practice, mainly because if (as an incomer) I attempted to use it, older Gaelic speakers would pretend not to understand or just speak back in English: and whilst the youngsters learn it at school (some teaching is in Gaelic, as it is in Wales), very very very few make any effort to use it. D and I lived in Germany for 18m in the mid 90s, and we went there with no German, and at the end we and the two girls were completely fluent, the girls passing their school exams in German just like others. Catherine now lives in Spain, speaks Spanish and Basque like a native, can still converse in German and of course English (plus some French). Bilingualism is great for the mind, but why stop there!

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  2. It is so sad when these languages are put under this pressure. When did Gaelic begin to die out? I completely understand your comments about learning German and your daughter’s ability in Spanish and Basque. My father was from the former Yugoslavia and I visited for the first time in 1966, with my (Welsh) mother. The country was still behind the Iron Curtain, it was before tourism there began and none of Dad’s family could speak a word of English. My mother spent her days with the women (no idea what they did) but I, as a 10 year old, spent every waking moment with my cousins and their friends. There were about two dozen of us and we ran wild! By the time we came back to the UK three weeks later, I could virtually speak Serbo-Croat.
    I agree as well that we don’t need to stop at bilingualism. Just because children (or adults) learn Welsh, it doesn’t exclude them learning other languages.

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