Drops in Welsh language speakers shows targets need to be backed by action, says Plaid MS
A Senedd Committee has called for increased funding to reverse fall in Welsh speakers.
The percentage of Welsh speakers living in Wales has dropped over the last 10 years from 562,000 (19% of the population) in 2011 to 538,000 (17.8%) in 2021.
Wales’ population is just over three million, with the Welsh Government aiming to have one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
But the 2021 findings show that more needs to be done to reach this target, with the percentage of people aged three years or older able to speak Welsh was the “lowest ever recorded” in a Census.
The decrease in both the number and percentage of people able to speak Welsh is “mainly being driven by a fall among children and young people who reported as being able to speak Welsh”, the Office of National Statistic (ONS) found.
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language said the census figures were “of course disappointing and not what we wanted to see.”
He added: “I’ve often said that Welsh isn’t just something I speak, it’s something I feel, and I feel more and more people feel that the language belongs to them. The key is changing those feelings into language use.
“The census shows us what has happened over the last ten years up to 2021. Cymraeg 2050 has been in place for less than four years of that period, and much of that time was affected by COVID-19. We’ve got good reasons to be optimistic about the next decade.
“Cymraeg belongs to us all in Wales. Today, we see more children in Welsh-medium education, more opportunities to learn Welsh, and greater pride in our language and our identity than ever before.”
A Senedd Committee has now called for increased funding to reverse fall in Welsh speakers.
Delyth Jewell MS, Chair of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee, saying: “The announcement is without doubt disappointing.
“Despite the introduction in 2017 of the target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050, the data published today confirms that it will take a long time and sustained support to reverse decades of decreases in the number of Welsh speakers.
“It shows the true urgency of need to stop this decline.
“The great Welsh historian Raymond Williams once said, ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.’ The Welsh Government must now be truly radical in its goal of achieving a million Welsh speakers. A goal that is shared by all parties.
“This means being clear and robust of what is expected of us all in Wales and putting in place increased levels of funding and resource to meet the challenge. Without it, it is hard to see how we will achieve the shared aim by 2050.”
The Welsh Conservatives referred to the drop being ‘despite the enormous emphasis placed on the Welsh language in schools and its compulsory part of the GCSE curriculum’, linking language to devolution noting ‘protection of the language being a central part of the campaign to locate powers in Cardiff Bay.’
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Welsh Language, Samuel Kurtz MS said: “This is a deeply disappointing statistic that shows the Labour Government is further off meeting its Cymraeg 2050 ambition than it was when it set the target of reaching a million speakers in 30 years’ time.
“What lies behind this? Self-reporting is a flawed model of measurement, and with such a long term strategy, with responsibility being handed from Minister to Minister as we approach 2050, there is little accountability around decisions impacting the language.
“While we fully support the ambitions of the Cymraeg 2050 target, the Census’ data shows the stark reality of a tired Government, in power for too long and out of ideas.
“Positivity around the language, showing that it is cool, modern and useable in day-to-day life is that way we can ensure the most beautiful language on Earth can flourish in its homeland.”
Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for children, young people and the Welsh Language, said: “This data shows that it’s not enough to simply set a target – it needs to be backed up by action.
“The reality is we’re now further away from Labour’s goal of one million speakers by 2050 than we were ten years ago.
“While it’s encouraging to see an increase in the number of young adults reporting being able to speak Welsh, it’s extremely concerning to see such a fall in the number of children. This shows how critical the role of teachers with Welsh language abilities is, as well as investment in Welsh medium schools – we don’t have enough of either, so if Welsh Government are serious about reaching their target, they must ensure further investment in these areas.
“The decrease in adults being able to speak Welsh in those areas of Wales which have also seen a large rise in second homes shows the impact on the language when communities are torn apart in this way.
“Plaid Cymru has long campaigned to ensure that access to learning and using Welsh is available to everyone in Wales and it is seriously concerning to see this demise in Welsh speakers under Labour’s watch. Cymraeg belongs to everyone in Wales, but we need more than warm words to ensure our language survives – we need radical action.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called for action to halt depopulation in the languages heartlands in order to preserve community use of the language.
Commenting the Mid & West Wales Senedd Member said: “These statistics will be a great disappointment to all of us who care about a thriving future of the Welsh language and a truly bilingual Wales.
“Although there is a multitude of factors behind the decrease, one thing is clear the depopulation of traditional rural heartlands of the language like Ceredigion, Ynys Môn, Carmarthenshire and Gwynedd must be halted if we are to ensure that usage of the language continues in everyday usage.
“These counties are losing many of their young people who move to more urban areas for work and who often then have less opportunity to use their Welsh skills.
“Providing jobs and investment in rural Wales is essential for the long-term protection of the language.”
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