The Welsh language is one of Europe’s most robust minority languages, having survived despite its close proximity to the most dominant world language of the past two centuries (English). The Welsh language is a key part of the region’s culture and identity, being the primary language spoken in some of our communities, as well as having a significant presence in many workplaces, learning institutions, and around our town and village streets. Welsh skills are increasingly seen as key employment skills in a number of emerging sectors, such as the media, food and tourism sectors, and the production of digital content.
The 2011 Census estimates that there are 52,850 people aged 3 or over who are able to speak Welsh in Conwy CB and Denbighshire.
This is 26.1% of the population. (Conwy CB = 30,600 people or 27.4%. Denbighshire 22,236 or 24.6%).
For Wales as a whole only 19% of the population are able to speak Welsh.
Only slightly more than half of the population of the area were born in Wales (56% overall – 54% in Conwy CB and 58% in Denbighshire), which in part accounts for the lower proportion of the population who are able to speak Welsh when compared to the neighbouring districts to the West (Gwynedd contains 65% Welsh speakers).
In general, the incidence of both Welsh speakers and those born in Wales increases towards the west, and as one travels inland. Ability to speak Welsh is at a peak in the rural southern ward of Uwchaled (71% Welsh speaking), and at its lowest in the coastal community of Towyn & Kinmel Bay (less than 12%)[i].
Data from the Welsh language use survey 2013-15[ii] show that
fluency levels amongst Welsh speakers aged 3+ are around the Welsh average at 49% Conwy CB, and 43% in Denbighshire (Wales = 47%). Levels of spoken fluency are strongly linked to other Welsh language skills
most Welsh speakers in Conwy CB learned to speak Welsh at home as a small child (52%), in Denbighshire they mainly learned at school (53%). About 5% in both areas learned through Welsh for adults courses. (Wales = 43% at home, 50% at school, 5% at Welsh for adults course)
only 31% of Welsh speakers in Conwy CB and 22% in Denbighshire always or usually use Welsh when dealing with public organisation (Wales = 29%)
about a third of Welsh speakers always or usually speak Welsh at work in both Conwy CB and Denbighshire, which is comparable to the all Wales figure. Across Wales, Welsh speaking public sector employees are more likely to always/usually speak Welsh at work (35%) than in the private (30%) or third/voluntary sector (24%)
In the 2017/18 school year, 38 out of 99 primary schools in the area were first language Welsh or bilingual schools (Conwy CB = 22 schools, Denbighshire = 16 schools). There were 4,900 pupils at these schools, which was 27% of all primary school pupils. (Conwy = 2,500 pupils, which was 28% of all pupils; Denbighshire = 2,400 which was 27%; Wales = 24%).
Five of the 14 secondary schools provide Welsh medium or bilingual education, (Conwy CB = 2 schools; Denbighshire = 3 schools). There were 4,200 pupils at these schools, which was 33% of all secondary school pupils. (Conwy = 1,200 pupils, which was 19% of all pupils; Denbighshire = 3,000 which was 49%; Wales = 20%)[iii].
[i] Census of population 2011, Office for National Statistics
[ii] Welsh language use survey 2013-15, National Survey for Wales, Welsh Government
[iii] Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC), Welsh Government
Though the number of Welsh speakers in the area increased between 1981 and 1991 they have decreased in number in more recent years. The proportion of Welsh speakers within the population has been in slow decline for several generations within both Conwy CB and Denbighshire.
Source: Census of Population, ONS
Skills in Welsh
Source: Census of Population 2011, ONS
Percentage is of those aged 3 or over. To select multiple categories/areas for comparison, hold down Ctrl whilst making your selection.
The encouraging increase in the number of young people speaking Welsh after the Welsh Language Act’s introduction of Welsh as a compulsory subject in schools needs to be treated with caution. Most of these young people were learning Welsh as a second language, and their exposure to the language and their level of fluency is likely to be limited compared to children who receive Welsh-medium education. Latest figures from the Census suggest that Welsh language abilities learned as children are not necessarily sustained into adulthood.
Nationally, fluency levels fell slightly between the 2004-6 and 2013-15 Welsh language use surveys.
In order to survive, the Welsh language needs to be a language of communication. The introduction of Welsh as a compulsory subject in schools halted or at least slowed) a 1901-1981 trend which would have been heading towards a predicted ‘zero Welsh speakers’ by 2041, but more needs to be done.
Evidence gathered for Welsh Government’s Welsh language strategy[i] suggested that
Continual exposure through the lifespan to any language may be necessary for the individual to maintain that language.
The population most at risk of abandoning the Welsh language is families with only one Welsh-speaking parent/carer and that the perceived status of the language in the community affects parents’/carers’ attitudes towards using the language.
The language of a child’s ‘community’ of speakers which includes parents/carers, grandparents, siblings, teachers and school, influences the language spoken by the child. The language of interaction with friends correlates highly with the language the child speaks, and is influential in children’s attitudes towards either or both languages.
The literature suggests that there could be an enhanced role for Early Years providers in providing parents/carers with more practical and intensive support to create a stimulating home learning environment which promotes and facilitates the use of Welsh.
Early and teenage years are seen as a crucial period in developing a positive behaviour towards a minority language and in determining whether the language is maintained and transferred.
However, learning and speaking Welsh at school is not enough on its own; the language needs to be used and supported in the home (if possible) and through wider social and cultural activities.
Lack of confidence was found to be one of the main obstacles preventing staff from using their Welsh language skills at work. Language-awareness training appears to be a successful means of increasing positive attitudes towards Welsh among staff.
There is little explicit evidence that the provision of services in minority languages increases language status or use. However there is a body of evidence that shows that languages will thrive only if there are opportunities for use in all spheres of life.
Support by the population in Wales for Welsh-language service provision is well evidenced. Over nine out of ten Welsh speakers (with a range of fluency levels) take the view that Welsh-language service provision is important to keep the language alive.
Since the Welsh Language Act, evidence shows that barriers to accessing services in Welsh remain. Main barriers include a lack of supply of services in Welsh, a lack of demand for services due to lack of confidence among non-fluent Welsh speakers and a lack of awareness that services are provided in Welsh. Evidence on the effectiveness of specific ways of addressing these barriers is lacking, although there is some evidence to suggest that marketing of the availability of Welsh-language services can lead to increased uptake.
Research suggests focusing Welsh language marketing and promotional approaches on younger age groups; improving the accessibility to and relevance of available Welsh-language media and resources; and maximising the potential of technology such as the internet and new social media.
As part of the Welsh Government’s current Welsh language strategy, a projection for the number of Welsh speakers aged three and over up to 2050 has been produced, based on the continuance of current patterns and trends regarding the Welsh language and population.[ii]
This projection estimates that there will be 666,000 people aged three and over able to speak Welsh by 2050, equivalent to around 21% of the population. This is just over 100,000 more Welsh speakers than there were in 2011 but around 334,000 short of the Welsh Government’s target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.[iii]
The trajectory could be changed by initiatives which foster the use of the Welsh language.
The Welsh Government are promoting a range of initiatives, including:
The strengthening of Welsh medium provision at nursery level as part of the delivery of the childcare offer for Wales, to be fully rolled out in Conwy and Denbighshire from January 2019.
A continuum of teaching and learning Welsh, to be introduced as part of the new curriculum for schools in Wales, which is currently under development.
Expansion of the Welsh for Adults Provision, through the National Centre for Learning Welsh, established in 2016 to provide strategic direction to the Welsh for Adults sector.
An increase in the education and training workforce that can teach Welsh and teach through the medium of Welsh.
Increasing the use of Welsh in the workplace.
Increasing the range of services offered to Welsh speakers, for example by the ‘active offer’ principle with regard to Welsh Language services in the health and social care sectors.
Investment in the social use of Welsh.
The creation of favourable conditions in terms of infrastructure and context, for example, the provision of digital bilingual resources, Welsh language infrastructure such as dictionaries, terminology and translation resources.
Continued development of the evidence base for Welsh language use.
Embracing our unique Welsh culture and language.
[i] A living language: a language for living, Welsh language strategy 2012-17, Welsh Government’ [ii] Cymraeg 2050 – a million Welsh speakers, Welsh Government [iii] StatsWales, Welsh Language, projections and trajectory for the number of Welsh speakers aged three and over, 2011 to 2050.
Cultural identity and Welsh Language retention within communities were key priorities for the future identified through the consultation. People were concerned that over development within the towns and communities could have a negative impact on culture and language within Conwy. It was also felt that there was a need to balance the provision of Welsh language services with effective recruitment.