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 number of Welsh speakers and frequency that people use Welsh is clearly important for the vitality of the Welsh language and culture today and in the future, but it is also a core part of individual and community well-being. The ability to communicate in Welsh also leads to better (self-reported) well-being.
Until the 2021 Census data is available, we are continuing to use 2011 Census data which estimated that there were 52,850 people aged 3 or over who are able to speak Welsh in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire.
This was 26.1% of the population: 30,600 people in Conwy County Borough (27.4%) and 22,236 people in Denbighshire (24.6%).
For Wales as a whole, only 19% of the population at that time were able to speak Welsh.
Only slightly more than half of the population of the area were born in Wales (56% overall – 54% in Conwy County Borough 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 was, in 2011, 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%).
The Annual Population Survey tells us that, as at 31 December 2020:
More people say they can speak Welsh than the average across Wales (Wales average was 29.1%, Conwy County Borough at 41% and Denbighshire 31.9%)
As is the case nationally, more people say they can understand spoken Welsh than those that can read and write in Welsh.
Of concern is the impression that the language is not often used by many on a daily basis (25.6% in Conwy County Borough and 17.8% in Denbighshire compared to 16.3% across Wales).
In the 2019/20 school year, 38 out of 114 schools (primary and secondary) in the area were first language Welsh or dual stream (bilingual) schools (Conwy County Borough had 22 schools and Denbighshire 16 schools). 3092 pupils in Conwy were in attendance at these schools, which was 19.6% of all pupils at that time. In Denbighshire, 3,343 pupils attended either a Welsh language or dual stream school (21.3% of all pupils compare to 18.1% for Wales overall).
During school closures, as a result of social distancing measures across Wales, some children and young people attending these schools will have lived in non-Welsh speaking homes, while other children and young people will have had little or no opportunities to learn or socialise in Welsh. It is not clear to what extent this has impacted upon their education, but an impacts could be short-lived so long as they continue to learn and have opportunities to socialise through the medium of Welsh.
There are also concerns about the disproportionate effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on community activities held through the medium of Welsh, and whether people’s daily use of the language will reduce if working from home. There is also concern that the number of meetings held bilingually across North Wales has reduced due to the move online.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Cultural well-being briefing.
 Census of population 2011, Office for National Statistics
 North Wales Social Care and Well-being Services Improvement Collaborative. (2020). North Wales Population Needs Assessment Rapid Review
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 County Borough and Denbighshire.
Source: Census of Population, ONS
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 and everyday life; at home, in work and within the community. 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 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 previous iteration of its Welsh language strategy, a projection for the number of Welsh speakers aged three and over up to 2050 had been produced, based on the continuance of current patterns and trends regarding the Welsh language and population. This projection estimated 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.
The trajectory could be changed by initiatives which foster the use of the Welsh language.
The Programme for Cymraeg 2050 – the national strategy to reach one million Welsh speakers by 2050 – was launched in 2017. The document details what will be done over the next five years to help achieve that goal. In addition to reaching a million speakers, there is also a goal to double the daily use of Welsh by 2050. One of the interim milestones is for 30% of children in Year 1 to be in Welsh medium education by 2031.
Future trends data at the Wales level predicts that the number of Welsh speakers will grow.
 Welsh Government (2012). A living language: a language for living, Welsh language strategy 2012-17
 StatsWales, Welsh Language, projections and trajectory for the number of Welsh speakers aged three and over, 2011 to 2050.
People have told us they would like to see more done to sustain, value and protect Welsh language and culture, with accessible and affordable Welsh language classes within the community and in schools. They would also like more cultural and community events e.g. Eisteddfodau, carnivals, pavilion events, food festivals, Christmas markets etc, with better promotion to increase tourism, and make the most from our cultural assets (for example, St Peter’s Square in Ruthin).
Respondents to the regional engagement exercise, undertaken as part of the North Wales Population Needs Assessment, were asked to provide feedback on their ability to access services in Welsh. Overall, respondents concluded that provision of the Active Offer is “patchy”. Some reported doing this very effectively, for example throughout Denbighshire Social Services.
Some were concerned that in practice, the offer is still tokenistic. Many care homes and domiciliary care providers find it difficult to follow through with the provision of a Welsh speaker. They conclude that more needs to be done to attract Welsh speakers to the profession and to support staff to improve their Welsh. This needs to include opportunities for both complete beginners and those who need to gain confidence.
A major barrier is being able to recruit Welsh speakers. This is more of a challenge when seeking staff with specialist skills, and may become more difficult as services come to rely more and more on agency staff.
Similarly, many adults with a learning difficulty in Gwynedd prefer to communicate in Welsh. This is not an issue for local staff, but can sometimes prove to be a barrier when working across county borders, for example, all regional meetings are held in English, which means some individuals with a Learning Disability cannot contribute.
Some thought there are not enough staff with Welsh speaking skills working in children and young people’s learning disability services, and therefore families do not have the option to speak Welsh. Others highlighted that learning Welsh is particularly important when supporting people with dementia, who often revert back to the language spoken at home as a child. This is vital for building trust with service users.
The number of Welsh speakers and frequency that people use Welsh is clearly important for the vitality of the Welsh language and culture today and in the future. Social opportunities to communicate in Welsh are often linked to sporting, crafts and other cultural activities. At this point in time, we have been unable to evaluate the availability of these opportunities to people in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire.
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