A Million Welsh Speakers by 2050 - hgunn.uk


          Living languages need to shared between speakers like viruses. The notion that a million Welsh speakers can be created in Wales by 2050 is wonderful dream, but there is no convincing researched evidence that it can be achieved. The future of any language will be dictated by science.

       Language that is spoken rises above the sum of the meaning of the words.  Common ground understanding is shared through languages. Words and phrases are essential memory cues that trigger memories of shared experiences.

          Languages not only need to be all around learners to enable them to successfully learn them, but they must be all around  fluent speakers to enable them to sustain their native fluency in any given language. 

           It takes around 10,000 hours to develop a fully fluent language.  New languges cannot be learnt subconsciously through language immersion. The problem with learning minority language like Welsh is that there a limited number of people who can speak the Welsh language and the  opportunities to use it is consequently limited. The tipping point of a living language is 67% of speakers speaking it (University of Galway).  

          The richest Welsh speaking environments for children will be when both parents speak the language at home. Children's early language development is concrete. They develop their language in applied context. Native speaking Welsh children  will be more inclined to develop secure proper Welsh fluency, but even Professor Sioned Davies claims only the majority of Welsh native speakers
do so.

         Welsh medium schools offer intense Welsh speaking environments, but the fact that children learn or use Welsh there, does not necessarily mean they will continue to use it for the rest of their lives. There use of it will decline if they find spouses who do not speak Welsh.

          The ambition to create a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is a political one. The practicalities of creating it is scientific one. There is no convincing evidence it can be done (See Gunn 2017). 

The Problem 

         The most pragmatic way of considering the problem with the Welsh language is to reflect upon native English speakers application of their native language. Fluency is developed and maintained by people who use their language(s) as integral part of their everyday lives.
The Welsh language, which is very old language, was a language that was once used by many people to live their everyday lives.  It was even spoken in Scotland.

          What is important to recognise is that in pure terms developing Welsh language fluency is no different to developing English fluency, which is a majority language that speakers constantly use to live their everyday lives in Wales. It must be accepted that in terms of language form, English is probably a more difficult language than the Welsh language to learn and apply.

         Casting emotion and political rhetoric aside, there are few, if any places in modern Wales where Welsh speakers can apply their Welsh language to a similar level of immersion to English or French in Wales and France respectively. It is not possible for even fluent Welsh speakers to have the equivalent experience of going for shopping weekend in Paris, for instance, where French will be all around them, where French must be used to communicate with natives.

       There are Welsh speaking communities in Wales, but even Angelsey only has 50% Welsh speakers!

         Michael Jones in the toxic Llangennith despute stated in the media that if parents did not want hear the Welsh language they should go and live in England. There is no evidence that the native English speaking parents in that village said that. The harsh reality is that even if the parents did say that, then they would not have to go very facilityr to find Welsh being rarely heard on the streets of Wales.

          The problem with the Welsh language virus is that it is very weak one. Languages require a large vocabulary of words to be remembered and kept at the point of learners tongues. Factual memory is transient, insecure. Memorising words is no different to remembering security codes. We find it very difficult to securely retain and apply a range of them. 

         Second language teachers are aware that learners lose a great deal of new languages that they are learning over holidays. The language virus has got to be constantly reinfected by learners and speakers to become sustained. If it is not, it dies.

         Learning is process of cognitive growth. Children who acquire Welsh from birth develop strong hard wiring neural roots and continued growth in brain. They receive intense one to one support from their mothers, sibling and wider families. Native children who learn Welsh at an older age will not receive such intense support or
develop those roots. Even when they return home from school, fluent proper Welsh will not be spoken by their parents in their homes,  if their parents who do not speak Welsh.

      Languages cannot be totally leavingrnt in classrooms. They need to be lived through. People who move to a country where a different majority language needs to be learnt to live their everyday lives have no choice, but to learn the majority language.

       University second language learners, such as those learning French or German, go on residency in countries where the language is spoken, so they can experience living through the language that they are learning.

        Newcombe (2009) contended that many children in Wales speak English in the school yard and home. If they use it in the school yard, then they are unlikely to be speaking it elsewhere. There will be few opportunities for them to do so if their parents do not speak Welsh at home. It will take their parents around four years to learn Welsh to G.C.S.E. level, learning to speak  "Cymru am Byw" , which is not proper Welsh. 

        These issue relate to how learners learn Welsh and the
security of their Welsh learning. It is appropriate to consider the mathematics of the 2050 proposal.

The Mathematics   

         If learners are to learn the Welsh language through the medium of Welsh, then there must be some purpose to their doing so. The opportunity for the Welsh language to be used in Welsh cities like Cardiff, Newport and Swansea will be extremely limited.

      Creating Welsh speakers in public buildings, stations and increasingly other places is not going to significantly change the situation, because thousands of hours of language immersion is needed to create native like fluency and for it to be retained.

        The immersion opportunities Welsh speakers need to develop and retain the Welsh language fluency needs to be intense. Most people do not use council services very often. Buying tickets in Welsh will be very insignificant Welsh language practice.

        The fundamental feature of all learning is retaining  what has been learnt and applying it. Factual information is very transitory. A large vocabulary of words, which are facts, need to kept fluent in any living languages through usage . The vocabulary we develop and retain in our native language is dictated by usage.
 The brain is very plastic. What is learnt and applied in school will not unquestionably retained for rest of people's lives.

        The fundamental feature of bilingualism is that speakers cannot use two languages simultaneously. Bilinguals throughout the world use each language in specific contexts. The level of fluency that they posses in each language will reflect how much they use it and in the contexts they use it. 
     The fundamental problem with revitalising the Welsh language is that there are no enough people who can speak the Welsh language. Even if a million Welsh speakers can be created by 2050, which could be only gradually achieved, this would only create 33% Welsh speakers. This is below the 67% tipping point of a living languages, which allow them to used outside of peoples homes.

      The harsh reality is Welsh is minority language in Wales.  The notion that every Cardiff bus driver could be taught to speak Welsh, for instance, would requires that a 67% speaking environment would need to be created for learn and retain. It would be virtually impossible for them to learn Welsh. Cardiff only has a fluent Welsh speaking population of 5%. 
  Even Welsh medium native English speakers children will have minimal scope to use Welsh outside of their schoolchildren and especially when they leave school. It is catch 22 situation.
        Learning through the medium of Welsh is very different to socially
using it socially. There is not much discussion that takes place in classrooms. 
 Native English speaking children, who chose to learn through the medium of Welsh, will not be able to enjoy the home and family Welsh environments of native Welsh speakers, the Welsh language of the home.

       Although  a Welsh speaking environment conducive to learning Welsh can be created in Welsh medium schools, unless native English speakers obtain Welsh speaking employment, or have Welsh speaking spouses, most will not be able to enjoy rich Welsh speaking environments needed to develop and retain their fluency.

        The Beaufort Report contended that there are many Welsh speakers too frightened to speak Welsh. Alan Cairnes contended that there are many 18-26 with a knowledge of Welsh, who do not view themselves are fluent, proper Welsh speakers.

          There are simply not enough Welsh speakers in Wales to create the 67% speaking environments to allow the language to be easily learnt and retained. Unless such colonies are created, then there is no foundations to save, let alone grow the living Welsh languages as it currently exists.

        The different dialect makes the sustaining and revitalising the Welsh language mor problematic, because it will not allow Welsh learners to visit other areas, where Welsh is more widely spoken, because speakers in those communities will be likely to speak different dialects. This males the issue of the 67% tipping point of the Welsh language much more complicated.



        Learning is a process of cognitive growth. Language exists like viruses. They live when they are actively shared between people. The virus needs to be constantly reinfected to remain living.  There are only 11% fluent Welsh speakers in Wales. Learning a minority language is very difficult, because it is not all around learners.

        The problem with the Welsh language is that it takes around six years for native English adult speakers to even reach basic fluency in favourable circumstances. The step to developing the ability to communicate with native speakers requires considerable amount of work beyond that.
   There is five year learning deficit before the average child can reach the level of fluency of native Welsh speakers in school. Whether that is well-rounded Welsh language fluency is another issue. 

       Children and adults are not simply empty vessels that a new language can be poured into and they will come of the production line as fluent Welsh speakers. Expecting and, or legally compelling native English speaking children to learn through a language other than their native one,  has then potential to dilute children's attainment and damage their confidence in their learning capability,

     The concept of creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is clearly based upon ignorance, a 'feed the duck' view of learning. 

      The whole proposal appears to be based on a very narrow minded, instrumental view of learning and lamentable lack of understanding of the principles of bilingualism. Thousands of adults are trying to learn Welsh and fail to do so. Children will not retain anything they learn in school on a shorter or longer term, unless they are applied opportunities for them to use what they learn. The choice of which language to use is theirs.

       Ann Mortz, Editor of the Times .Educational Supplement, Editorial 4th August 2017, refer to the vital importance of raising reading standards of social deprived children's English in their early years education. There is a tail of under performing readers in Wales, which is influenced by social deprivation. If children are struggling to develop their basic language skills in English, then how they be expected to develop them in the Welsh language sufficiently to effectively be educated through that language is a complete mystery.

    Professor Sioned Davies research appears shallow. There is no convincing evidence her dream of creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050 can be achieved.  She is a university language academic. She has no legal teaching qualification. She has never taught a child. She was not professionally registered as a teacher.  Her ambition and the concept of creating a million Welsh speakers appear to have been 'made up'. 

      Learning a new language requires a very long term learning commitment. It will be extremely hard for children of lower learning potential and adults to learn a new. English speaking parents will rarely  be able to communicate with their children. 
Not every native speaking adults in Wales has the time to devote six years attempting to learn a new language, especially professional people or many others

       Where political words abound, little sense is often found!          

Independent Report by Shah on the Irish Language

Perhaps the highest blame that can be assigned for the failure of the language and its revival can be firmly placed with the language revivalists themselves. a great deal of language policy making goes on in a haphazard or uncoordinated way, far removed from the language planning ideal [Fettes, 1997 as cited in 15, p.25]. Despite obvious good intentions, some remarkably bad policy decisions have been made. Probably the biggest problem for the revival movement has been in putting the burden on the educational system, rather than in promoting the usefulness of the language in everyday life.

Irish Language Commissioner on dwindling number of Irish speakers

“English is such a dominant worldwid language and as the world becomes smaller with technological advancements - that’s probably the main reason why people aren’t speaking it as much as hereto”

RTE Ireland

Irish in the Gaeltacht is declining at an even more rapid rate than predicted in their last report in 2007.

They also conclude that spoken Irish in the Gaeltacht is becoming more confined to the academic setting of the classroom while declining in the community setting.

Grosjean and Ping – The Psycholinguistics of Bilingual

In sum, the bilingual’s languages will wax and wane over the years and the different stages will have an impact on psycholinguistic processes…. the amount of use it is given over the years all play role on how well the language is known, how it is processed, and even on the way the brain stores and deals with it

Professor John Sweller - Educational Psychologist (2017) – Talks to Tes – 8th  September

    The current trend to teach students subject content in a foreign language is problematic. Learning a foreign language and subject content simultaneously should be avoided.

Baker (2011)  Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.

p.170 Alongside this, a distinction developed between surface fluency and the more evolved language skills required to benefit from the education process (Cummins, 1984a.) ·This was partly a reaction against Oller (1979) who claimed that language proficiency differences between individuals were located in just one dimension (see Chapter 1).

Cummins (1979) found that everyday conversational language could be learnt in two years while more complex language abilities needed to cope with the curriculum could take five to seven or more years to develop. In California, Hakuta et al (2010) found that English oral proficiency takes three to five years to develop, while academic English) proficiency can take four to seven years.

This makes calls for English immersion schooling for immigrants (see Chapters 9 to 13), children are expected to acquire English in just one Year, unrealistic and damaging.

H.G. The above appears primarily refers to children learning majority languages. What is referred to is an average.

Quotes Margaret  Newcombe Cardiff School of Welsh 2009.

Thousands of people each Year set out to learn Welsh through. Evening classes, week-long courses WLPAN and others sessions, but a large proportion drop out – and for many the cballenge is going out from the classroom it in the community and using the language in shops, schools, homes, churches and pubs.

One of the main hindrances for learners who have attended Welsh classes for some time and have a good grounding in the language is lack of opportunity to use Welsh in the community. Many complain that it is difficult to persuade first Language speakers to bold a conversation in Welsh.

Laura commented to me that people she already knows are very helpful but casual acquaintance use ‘regional slang’, which she finds very difficult.

While course books are produced in north- and south-Walian versions, it is not possible to include all dialectal variations or slang, indeed would it be beneficial to learners. WLPAN intensive courses vary considerably in the north, south and west of Wales. but it does not contain do not cover all the dialect versions of the patterns learnt sounds and sentence.

Walter thinks that learners are less fearful of trying to use Welsh in Patagonia than they are in Wales. However, as happens in many school, children are educated in Welsh and then use their first language, Spanish, when playing with other children .in the yard and at home.

Grosjean and Ping – The Psycholingustics of Bingualism

Since bilinguals are rarely equally fluent in all of their languages (recall that they use them for different purposes, in different domains of life, and with different people their linguistic knowledge they have of their languages will be different, and this will have an impact upon speech perception and comprehension.

 Some, who live in bilingual communities where the two languages are used together extensively, may rarely find themselves at the monolinguals. Others, who are surrounded by monolinguals during their everyday activities, may never move to the bilingual endpoint and bring in the language in their interactions.

Reid 2017 - Dyselexia

 Focusing on the Welsh language. Forbes and Powell (2000) describe some of the language issues encountered when developing literacy assessment measures for a population, such as that in parts of Wales, who are exposed to two different languages at levels that may vary widely both within and between home and school. They suggest, therefore, that test materials for young students should not contain items that discriminate against some children because of their unfamiliarity with the language forms that are more prevalent in other parts of Wales.

        If anyone would like to answer the questions that have been raised in here with reliable reference, this will be published in some form. 

Colin Miles - I Do not want to Leann Pigeon Welsh I.W.A.

Timothy Williams - When Teaching Welsh is Futile Experiment I.W.A.

Home Truth About the Welsh Langauage  Decline - Harris

Confessions of a Welsh Learner