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Welsh Language (Cymraeg)

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. In 2017, the Welsh Government unveiled a new strategy, ‘Cymraeg 2050’, to increase the number of Welsh speakers in Wales to 1 million by 2050 and to build a platform in society for Welsh to be spoken more often.

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, with a second due to be launched in November. 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

Of course our neighbour England has the largest number of Welsh speakers outside of Wales. Around 600,000 people were born in Wales and around 110,000 of those can speak some Welsh, but the language has spread to other countries across 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. It is thought that up to 50,000 Patagonians can claim to be of Welsh descent.

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.

Canada – Welshmen arrived in Canada at the beginning of the 17th century and the mid-1800s Cariboo gold rush saw even greater numbers arrive. As a consequence there are more Welsh speakers in Canada, surprisingly than the United States of America, despite large numbers of emigration to the USA in the mid to late 1800s as well. Parts of Canada and USA still celebrate St David’s Day and host several traditional Welsh festivals including Gymanfa Ganu and Eisteddfodau.

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 Learners Week. 

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