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Welsh Language (Cymraeg)

Wales Millennium Centre (copyright WMC)
Wales Millennium Centre (copyright WMC)

Although the majority of people living in Wales can speak English, the Welsh language continues to thrive. Half a million people in Wales can speak Welsh, that’s around 19% of the population.

It’s called Cymraeg, and is a language with entirely regular and phonetic spelling. Our place names may look complicated but once you know the rules, you can learn to read and pronounce Welsh fairly easily.

Our Celtic language is closely related to Cornish and Breton and is one of Europe’s oldest living languages; the Welsh we speak today is directly descended from the language of the Sixth Century.

A living language

Welsh is a living language. It is used in conversation by thousands and can be seen throughout Wales. The Welsh Language Act 1993, Government of Wales Act 1998, and Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally. Public bodies are required to prepare and implement a Welsh Language Scheme.

Public bodies, including local councils, health boards, and the Welsh Government use Welsh as an official language. They provide services, issue official literature and publicity in Welsh as well as in English. Road signs in Wales are in English and Welsh.

Welsh is a compulsory subject for all pupils up to the age of 16 in English-medium schools in Wales. Welsh is taught as a first language in Welsh-medium schools.

Both Welsh and English exist harmoniously in Wales. The bilingual words of poet Gwyneth Lewis featured on the design of the iconic Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay is a proud illustration of this. The English reads ‘In These Stones Horizons Sing’ and the Welsh is ‘Creu Gwir Fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen’, which translates as Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration.

Welsh in the media

We have a national Welsh language television channel, S4C, and a Welsh language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru. There is a weekly national paper, as well as Welsh language magazines and regional monthly papers.

Two Welsh language films have been nominated for Oscars – Hedd Wyn and Solomon a Gaenor under the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category.

Hinterland, our own Nordic-noir-style TV detective series was filmed twice. The Welsh version, Y Gwyll, was shot simultaneously with the English version, Hinterland. It has enjoyed success around the world.

The Welsh language is celebrated online with an increasing number of Welsh language sites and blogs being created. There are plenty of fun and informative Welsh language Apps and Games available, too, including a Welsh version of Minecraft, and an app (available for a small charge) which helps you learn the Welsh National Anthem.

Welsh around the world

The Chubut province of Patagonia in Argentina was formed by Welsh settlers in 1865. Today there are still around 5,000 people who speak Welsh in the region.

The Welsh Language Project promotes and develops the Welsh language in Chubut. Every year three Language Development Officers from Wales develop the language in the Welsh speaking communities through both formal teaching and informal social activities.

There is also a permanent Teaching Co-ordinator from Wales based in Patagonia, who is responsible for the quality of teaching. Another aspect of the project is a network of Patagonian Welsh language tutors in the region.

Cymdeithas Madog, the Welsh Studies Institute in North America Inc. is an organisation dedicated to helping North Americans learn, use and enjoy the Welsh language.

Courses are held at a North American location each year during Welsh Leaners Week. The courses will be held in Portland in July 2015.

Learn some Welsh phrases
Find out the meaning behind some of our most popular place names.
Take a look at our alphabet.
Want to learn Welsh? There are online resources as well as classroom learning. Find out more...
Learn our National Anthem