The title of this blog is 'y blog diweddaraf' - that just means the latest blog. We often have Welsh speakers in our shop. It’s hardly surprising. We are based in an area where half the population can speak Welsh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Welsh_areas_by_percentage_of_Welsh-speakers).
If you are reading this blog outside Wales and have never visited this part of Britain you might be forgiven for having some misconceptions over the use of Welsh. Firstly, not every single person speaks Welsh. There are plenty of non Welsh speakers even amongst those born in Wales.
Conversely it is most definitely NOT a dead or dying language. When we walk down the street we hear people speaking Welsh to each other all the time. It is not an academic language – it is the language of everyday life here. Those road signs are not bilingual just for fun. There are currently about 570,000 Welsh speakers and the Welsh government has set a target of a million people, about a third of the population, being Welsh speakers by 2050. ( https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/18/wales-launches-strategy-to-double-number-of-welsh-speakers-by-2050)
A bilingual family
Trudi - We are ourselves an almost bilingual family. Aaron is a Welsh learner who started learning when he was working as the blacksmith at the Museum of Welsh Life. Both of our children went to Welsh language nursery and primary school and attended the Welsh stream of the local high school. Pearl in particular enjoys communicating in Welsh and is often mistaken for someone who is Welsh first language.
Pearl - I don't really remember not being able to speak Welsh, though at home I have always spoken mainly English.
Trudi - I did learn Welsh when the children were young, attending lessons a couple of times a week but I admit I found it difficult. I struggle learning languages - I think it’s just how I am wired. I understand much more than I can speak. I am Welsh, I was born here, as were both my parents and grandparents but I came from an area of Wales that, at that time, did not routinely teach Welsh. However, I was very keen that my children had the opportunity to speak the language. There are many reasons why.....
Benefits of Bilingualism
Dr. Dina Mehmedbegovic provides an overview and further references for many of the following benefits of bilingualism in her 2016 discussion paper https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/benefits-bilingualism-dina-medmedbegovic_en.pdf)
- Having more than one language has been shown to improve overall learning – bilingual children have been shown to perform better across a range of areas. Cummins lists 160 studies from countries across the world which all provide evidence that bilingual children perform better across the curriculum. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Language-Power-Pedagogy-Bilingual-Bilingualism/dp/1853594733)
- Bilingual children seem to have better concentration and are less distractible
- There is evidence that speaking two languages actually changes brain structure. Bilingual adults have been shown to have denser grey matter in some parts of the brain, specifically in those areas where language and communication are processed. Yes folks – you read that right – having two languages actually makes your brain look different on a brain scan!
- It seems that learning another language may help prevent mental decline as we age. ‘Executive brain power’ developed by the use of two languages, has been identified as a key factor fighting off the onset of dementia by 3 to 5 years (Bialystok at al, 2012, Freedman at al, 2014).
- We live in Wales. Wales is a country in its own right and the language is central to that – it is part of the identity of Wales. The Welsh language is intrinsic to our culture. Even if you are not a Welsh speaker you cannot help but be influenced by it (the anthem and Calon Lan sung at the rugby internationals for example). It is additionally part of modern culture in Wales. Those who speak and understad Welsh are able to appreciate Welsh language music and literature. Its not all hymns and sonnets .....there's some great contemporary Welsh language work out there. See https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/whats-happening-welsh-language-music-14268316
- A willingness to learn Welsh is a very definite advantage in the jobs market in Wales and may even be a condition of employment.
- Trudi - our children may not choose to live in Wales as adults but if they do, then being able to speak Welsh would only be of benefit.
- Pearl - even if I end up living outside Wales I think the fact I can speak two laguages is a positive.
- Trudi - I may not have been brought up speaking Welsh but evidence from the census reports I looked at when doing my family history showed me that my grandparents and great grandparents did speak Welsh. Enabling my children to speak Welsh is a link to my linguistic roots.
- If Welsh is someone’s first language they may not be able to describe things as well in English. The nuances of meaning can be lost. There are words in Welsh for which there are no direct English translations.
- It is polite! If you live in a country which has two languages, you should respect that.
The Welsh language and our business
For most Welsh speakers the use of Welsh in everyday life is not something they even think about. If you speak Welsh, you speak Welsh – you’re probably not thinking about the benefits, how grammatically correct you are or what % of the population you are in but many Welsh speakers have stories about being made to feel uncomfortable when speaking Welsh in the company of a non Welsh speaker. Some have experienced overt rudeness, sometimes to a level and with an underlying belief structure that can only be described as bigotry.
Pearl - If we have a Welsh speaker in the shop I automatically speak WeIsh. I think it helps people feel welcome.
Trudi - I certainly don’t try and push the conversation towards English because I don’t know what is being said. If anything needs to be checked with me Pearl usually clarifies any queries in English and then goes back to Welsh. If Pearl isn’t in the shop. I will always try and say a few words in my limited vocabulary. I hope I come across as respectful.
Making our support of the language clear
We wanted to make clear our support for the Welsh language in the shop. We tend to take it for granted most of the time and thought it would be good to review what we do.
Trudi - I am not a big fan of sticking things up in the window - partially because it blocks up our display space and can make it look a bit messy but also because I am never sure how many people really look at that kind of thing. We did feel that having some statement was a good idea though and we decided that it would be most meaningful if this was something we had actually come up with ourselves.
We have written and had interpreted into Welsh, a statement of support that we have placed in the window. Its not huge (smaller than it looks in the photo) but it is at eye level and near the door where customers will notice it.
Translated it says ....................
“We are positive about the Welsh language and encourage Welsh to be spoken in our shop. We may not always have a Welsh speaker behind the counter but we will always support the Welsh language and culture and do the best that we can.”
We have also ordered copies of our business leaflet in Welsh so that customers have a choice.
Trudi - Obviously the best thing I could do is to learn Welsh (or at least start learning it again) however, and this really, really isn’t an excuse – I simply cannot take on any more learning at the moment. I am currently doing all that I can to learn about running the business. I will be returning to learning Welsh in the future when I am able to do this successfully. In the meantime I will use what little Welsh I have and make a point of greeting and saying goodbye to customers in Welsh. Pearl is teaching me one short and useful phrase a week that I have agreed to drop into the conversation whenever I can. Hopefully by the end of a year I will have learnt 52!
We are currently in the process of identifying a guest blogger in the creative field who can do us a blog in Welsh (watch this space).
We currently do not have enough Welsh language products in the shop - this is something we will be addressing in the next few months. Expect some Welsh language cards and other items. Having said that its important to realise that just having a token cushion that says 'cwtch' isn't the answer.
These are of course very small things but we hope they go some way towards showing our respect for the language of the place we live in (which is also the place that provides us with a living) and specifically the 50% of our local population that self identify as Welsh speakers.
So until next time, its Hwyl fawr from me......
........and from Pearl