|One of the kids - enjoying Cyw and Rapsgaliwn!|
Wales is lucky to be a bilingual nation. Having two languages, especially two languages that come with such deep and vibrant cultures attached, has been a great asset to this country.
I consider myself lucky to have gone to a Welsh language primary and secondary school.
Being able to speak Welsh gives you access to a whole other culture. Countless books, festivals, television shows, songs, stretching back decades, centuries, and millennia, all are made available to me by the simple fact that my parents decided to give me a Welsh medium education.
Languages aren’t simply an interchangeable series of signs. They create meaning in different ways. A different language allows you to see the world differently.
Having access to this second world hasn't hindered my ability to speak English in any way. I am now a university lecturer and teach through the medium of both languages.
I can enjoy what the Welsh language has to offer as well as the English language. I can read the Mabinogi one minute and turn to Shakespeare the next.
I can flick over from the X Factor to the Eisteddfod and back again (although the latter has by far the better singers).
Learning a new language is a win-win situation. It doesn’t push any other information out of your brain. You get what you would have gotten anyway, and a lot more besides.
Why I'd want to deprive my own kids of this same benefit, and confine them to one language when the local school offers a linguistic BOGOF, I can't possibly imagine.
This may seem obvious to you, reader, but it seems that one particular anti-Welsh language ‘campaigner’ in Ceredigion has a hard time swallowing these basic facts.
A website run by this anonymous fellow received a large amount of press coverage in the Daily Mail and Telegraph last week, despite the fact that his claims were wholly unsubstantiated.
Note: He refers to himself on the website and twitter account as ‘we’, but I’m quite sure that this is the royal ‘we’. There’s no one else involved. (Although there seems to be a remarkable correlation between his opinion and one other account he's retweeting).
On his website he claims to be an entirely reasonable fellow who wants a discussion about Welsh medium education in Ceredigion.
However, his website originally contained allegations that children had been punished for speaking English in the classroom – allegations which have now been removed (because they were untrue).
Being a parent myself with children who are and will be attending a Welsh medium school in Ceredigion, I decided to challenge this fellow on Twitter.
His responses revealed the true nature of his ignorance regarding welsh medium education. Consider a few of these pearls:
“Join us on our glorious march out of the dark ages - we say ONE world ONE language.”
I can imagine Spanish, French and Chinese may have something to say about this.
“Let's talk economics - welsh is fine for songs and poetry at the Eisteddfod but English is the exciting language of science and progress.”
So English isn’t allowed to discuss songs and poetry then? Or does this arbitrary rule only work one way?
“When schools become all Welsh it is a statement to the world that says we do not want progress.”
No, they think ‘Oh, there’s another language. There’s thousands of them’.
So do French schools not want progress? Arabic schools? What about those Japanese schools? Urdu? Who wants progress and who doesn’t, hands up.
Unsurprisingly, what is taught at these schools is actually a rather better indication of the quality of the education that the language in which it is taught.
The ironic thing perhaps is that those opposed to Welsh medium education underestimate the spread of English. They seem to think you can live your life as a monoglot Welsh speaker. That hasn’t been the case since the middle of the 19th century.
Every Welsh speaker can speak English! I cannot emphasise that enough.
“If the world didn’t waste time catering to different languages, science would be more advanced. Its political correctness gone mad!”
I wonder if scientists at the multi-lingual Cern laboratory are saying ‘If only we’d abolished all these pesky languages, we’d have found that damned Higgs boson by now!’ Probably not, they’re clever people after all.
“I am proud to be Welsh but it doesn't look good to multinational businesses that we school our kids in Welsh.”
What multinational businesses are these? McDonalds? Apple? Google? Microsoft? Exxon?
Since these companies deal with hundreds of languages world-wide from day to day, the fact that a few kids were taught in Welsh is likely to be the least of their worries.
So I doubt ‘multinational business’ are particularly perturbed to be honest. Even if they did have a requirement that staff can speak English, let us not forget that all Welsh speakers can also speak English too.
And so on…
As a lecturer in the history of journalism these statements are very familiar to me. In fact you could pick them out of a manuscript from the 16th century, or a 19th century newspaper.
Here we have the age old and endlessly debunked, argument that the Welsh language is somehow holding back the people of Wales.
In fact historically the opposite is true. This attitude helped to keep Wales in the “dark ages” far longer than it needed to be.
The charitable trusts that were sent to educate the populace in the 17th century insisted on English only education, for the precise reasons outlined by our friend above.
They failed, and Wales was only dragged out of the “dark ages” when pioneers such as Griffith Jones introduced Welsh medium schools in the 18th century.
The idea that you have to speak only English to get a good job in Wales in also an anachronism, that dates back to the Acts of Union that legislated that only English speakers could hold important posts in the country.
Luckily today we live in a more enlightened Wales where neither language is a barrier to progress.
My children can attend a Welsh medium school in Ceredigion and I can be confident that they will be able to speak both English and Welsh by the time they’re five years old.
The Welsh language is no more of a hindrance to speaking English and getting a job through the medium of English than, say, being able to drive a car hinders your ability to be able to climb a flight of stairs.
It’s an extra skill, and a handy one to have in many cases.
When I challenged our friend on this, he claimed that he represented “the silent majority” who are “campaigning for fairness”.
As a journalist I’ve met people the length and breadth of Wales and can confirm that there isn’t an anti-Welsh language majority in the country. Especially in Ceredigion, where roughly 50% of the population can speak Welsh themselves. Even amongst those who are able to speak English only, the vast majority are supportive of the language.
He then argued that “the child cannot focus on the language of business. The science says two languages is at the expense of things like maths .”
The science doesn’t say anything of the sort. In fact it seems to suggest that bilingualism enhances cognitive activity.
When challenged to produce evidence he retorted: “we must not waste time arguing about minor details, we should think about grand ideas and plans for the future though”.
Minor details? Either Welsh medium education is bad for our children or it isn’t. Unless he can provide any evidence that it is, it’s time to pack up the campaign and retire.
He finished with a plea: “but does progress count for nothing? Does it mean anything to you?”
Yes, progress does matter to me. And yes, it seems as if we have not advanced as far as I had hoped. I thought we were done rebutting arguments like this back in the Victorian age!