Welsh in Education – The Controversy.

24 03 2007

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.


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4 responses

24 03 2007
sanddef

Interesting. The idea that non-Welsh speakers will be driven out of higher education or the job-market is ludicrous and flies in the face of reality. The Welsh language is far far far away from being in any position to dominate or dictate such things.
Children are learning Welsh, which is one step in the direction of reviving the language, but the challenge is to ensure that when they leave school the language will still be relevant to them in a real and pravtical sense. This means giving Welsh an equal presence in all fields of Welsh life as English, but it does NOT entail turning English speakers into second-class citizens or infringing on their rights.
In higher education within Wales English is by far and away the dominant language, and it is still not possible to study all subjects through Welsh.
As to jobs, setting aside the odd token job for Welsh speakers so that companies have a bilingual service is hardly doing an injustice to English speakers.

Welsh should be portrayed in a positive way, the injustice that it has been done by anti-nationalist propoganda needs to be undone, and English speaking Welsh people should realise that the Welsh language is their language and forms part of their culture and identity, it belongs to them whether they speak it or not. The idea that Welsh speakers are all nats is false -Rhodri Morgan speaks Welsh! Equally the idea that we consider non-Welsh speakers as not being Welsh is false: show me a Welshman who’d deny Ryan Giggs his status as a Welshman!

Something needs to be done to bring all Welsh people together and thereby dispell these myths. One of the problems here in Wales is that we are a collection of geographic communities that are pretty much isolated from one another, due to the lack of any road and rail links unifying the country. As it stands -using public transport- if I wanted to spend an afternoon in Cardiff I’d have to leave Caernarfon in the morning, I’d reach Cardiff in the evening, I’d have to stay in Cardiff overnight, the next day I’d have to spend the whole day in Cardiff to get my afternoon shopping (or whatever) done, leave the following morning, and reach Caernarfon in the evening, altogether a trip of roughly 60 hours. It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be that way.

24 03 2007
Wynne Jones - Gog with a Blog

Da iwan, great post! As a Welsh learner myself I certainly agree that speaking and learning Cymraeg opens many doors and gives you more opportunities to explore the rich history of Wales. It also opens other doors, such as Welsh language music which is probably in a much better state than most English-only speakers realise. There’s also a large range of Welsh language literature, blogs, websites and of course festivals.

Cymraeg isn’t about politics, it’s a fundamental part of Wales – and always will be.

26 03 2007
Sixu

@ sanddef, thanks for the comment! I whole heartedly agree with you.

I really couldn’t see how teachers who are trained in Wales, would have to leave Wales if they don’t speak Welsh. As mentioned, Welsh language is far from being a dominant aspect of education within Wales, even so. Education is Education, it doesn’t matter what langage the content is is, rather the quality of said content. There will always be a market in Wales for teachers, regardless of the language they speak. English or Welsh.

A very good point about isolated communities, Geography isn’t on our side when it comes to being a nation, I believe that it has alot to do with the North-South divide.

Diolch

@ Wynne Jones.

Thanks! It’s a shame some people don’t share that same enthusiasm for the language as you and I. We Welsh, especially in regions of great decline like the South East, should be pro-active and optimistic when we discuss the future of the language. It is after all, the language of our heritage and one of the oldest languages of Europe.

Perhaps the problem really just stems from preconceptions and fears, if we could dispell them, there really wouldn’t be much of a problem.

28 09 2009
Cadell ab Arawn

Nice to hear pro-Welshness going on:) I’d have to say sod bilingualism go for multilingualism. that’s the way forward – we already operate on polyglottal basis; everyone can tell the difference between, say cockney and mancunian, or cardiff and dublin..even if they’re all speaking English. The reason I can’t understand why there’s any debate over bilingual schooling is because it’s pretty much guaranteed to increase intelligence in every other subject. We’re lucky in that we have two distinct languages with many dialects, it could never be a detriment. Linguistics is hardwired in children – for eg when kids from one place meet kids from another the first thing to imitate is often speech. everyone enjoys trying to do other accents. Diversity in language is natural – we’re even entering a time of having two written variants of any spoken dialect beacuse of txt. Nobody can say your average kids brain can’t cope with different languages! There’s even a few languages around us that are very similar, and as old Iolo Morganwg sed you should be able to read in Latin, Welsh, English and Arabic…whatever else there is. Why not? Why can’t we teach our kids not just the two main languages in the history of their nation, but all the others? Bilingualism/multilingualism doesn’t tax minds, it makes them more able to grow. Teachers not willing to learn a new language is completely weird to my mind – teachers should be focused on the wonder of education, shouldn’t they? I say, teach em hwntw, gog, english, breton to start off with. go for it – let’s try to raise a generation of superintelligent brainfreaks, see what happens. just for laughs like.

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