So, I had a PGCE lesson this friday and a debate started off about the role of Welsh language in Education in Wales. For those not in know, The role ofWelsh language is becoming much more important in Wales. Compulsory in primary-high school, colleges will be able to recieve more funding if they can teach BTEC’s, OCN’s, A-levels etc in Welsh rather than English.
For non-Wels speakers in my PGCE class, this was portrayed, in my opinion, as something negative. My lecturer, who is Welsh, said that those working in the PGCE sector in the future may find themselves hard pressed to find a job in Wales and that their qualification may not be recognised in England. I couldn’t help but feel that a huge negative slant was being etched onto the discussion. I simply had to have my say! >:)
I commented in the discussion that alot of “fear” by both non-Welsh speaking Welsh and English about the language seems to be taking precedence over the cultural and economical benefits a bilingual Wales could bring. I explained that, as a Welsh learner, the more you learn the more “doors open on your own identity”. I compared it to, learning English and discovering Shakespeare. There’s so much Welsh literature and Culture that falls off the radar if you don’t speak the language.
“You are still Welsh, if you don’t speak the language” I said, Something I completely believe in. Just that, once you start learning the language you begin to discover parts of your own heritage that you never realised was there. There were two other students who were also pro-welsh language. Inevitably comments were made about Welsh history and the “Knott”.
“Wales for the Welsh” a phrase that kept being used by my lecturer, really grated on me. A phrase another Welsh pupil from Bridgend vocally disagreed with. “It’s not really Wales for the Welsh, though is it? There are oter nationalities that live in Wales other than the Welsh”. Obviously, what she (the lecturer) was actually meaning was “Wales for the Welsh speaker”. The student from Bridgend commented that a friend of his from Powys was pressured so much into learning Welsh that he left for England, he was Welsh. This is the most disturbing perception of being Welsh, you are either a “real” Welsh person (who is fluent) or a “wannabe” Welsh person (who doesn’t). A two tiered system of citizenship comparable to class.
On the one hand, compulsory Welsh in schools is a good thing, on the other it also robs people of choice. Welsh adults shouldn’t be pressured into learning Welsh, They should want to learn Welsh. The key is portraying Welsh as a vibrant and practical language today.
I couldn’t help but get the feeling that some huge exodus will occur within the next 20-25 years, by the attitude of my lecturer. That those that do not speak Welsh will suddenly up and leave to England. I didn’t feel that that was exactly correct in the slightest. Wales, if anything will become a bilingual state, rather than a monoglot one. English is the international language, and many nations of Europe. Sweden, in particular are largely bilingual. So I don’t see the Welsh simply abandoning it altogether, not when we have a neighbour right next door of some 48 million English speakers. Hardly good for the economy if we abandon it.
It was cited that “This is the beginning of an age where we are establishng what makes us different to one another, rather than what unites us”, but, isn’t that exactly the contrary to diversity. We concentrate so much on what makes us alike, that we forget, ignore or disregard what makes us different to begin with. There’s far to much fear that what is different is automatically bad. Welsh Language included.
A bit of history was cited about Wales being a principality of chiefdoms and princes and a non-united Wales. In contrast to Scotland. Which I had to correct. I mentioned Owain Glyndwr becoming the King of Wales (I believe there was another before him that united Wales) , she didn’t know about Owain Glyndwr at all.
This is what annoys me, this institutionalised perception of Wales that has been passed down generation to generation to Welsh people in the south at least. Without so much as an analysis of Welsh history to begin with. How on Earth can you present an argument in debate if you haven’t done any background information to begin with?! I don’t expect an in depth account of how sausages were cooked in St Fagans in 1412. But, Owain Glyndwr?! C’mon!
Perhaps this is the issue we face today in Wales, the voice of the new Welsh, confronting that of the old Welsh. The Welsh who have been affected by the Welsh Language act and its drive toward a bilingual Wales and the Welsh whoohaven’t had the opportunity/interest to discover their heritage and have their own preconceptions of Welsh.
It seems to me that the moment you begin to learn welsh, you begin to be tarred with the nationalist brush. As though language only serves to further a political ideology. Not to mention being “anti-English” apparently.