Is Welsh forced down our throats?

welsh throatIt’s an amusing irony for Welsh speakers, that one of the main complaints heard about the language is that it is ‘shoved down people’s throats’. I’m not quite sure why it’s always the throat – given that the ears and eyes are the usual point of entry for any auditory or visual stimuli – but still this complaint persists.

No one has ever been forced to learn Welsh – at least, not this side of the 13th century. Many people do find themselves put under huge pressure to learn languages every day – usually indigenous people who suddenly find themselves encroaching upon the ever expanding territory of dominant languages such as English, Spanish, and Chinese. But while people who speak Welsh have always welcomed and encouraged anyone who moves to a Welsh speaking area to learn their language, it’s only ever been a suggestion. We’ve never tied anyone to a rack, or even tickled their feet.

And, let’s face it, if people who moved to Welsh speaking areas really were ‘forced’ to speak Welsh, the language would be in much better nick that it is at the moment.

What people actually mean when they say the language is ‘forced down their throat’ is that – God forbid! – they occasionally see the language written on signs, or once had to turn a letter over because it was written in Welsh on one side.

What they don’t seem to appreciate is that there are a lot of people out there who do live their lives in Welsh from day to day. And by wanting to get rid of any visible signs of the Welsh language they’re actually threatening to do what they themselves are complaining about – which is force a language choice on other people.

We don’t need no education

Alas, our imaginary antagonist will at this point play his trump card – the one place where the Welsh language is mandatory is when studying for your GCSEs in high school. Why is the Welsh language being forced down the throats of all these poor students, many of which would no doubt rather be somewhere else – behind the bike sheds smoking a ciggy, or snogging Gemma from class 3E?

The only problem with this argument is that GCSE students are ‘forced’ to take a whole range of subjects – not only Welsh, but also English, Biology, Physics, and even Religious Education.

They may well not enjoy it. They may find it useless in later life. But then I’ve never used had to calculate the radius of a circle since dropping Maths at GCSE level. Remember Xylem and Phloem? Probably not.

All these subjects have to be compulsory because neither the school, the parents or the children themselves have any idea what they’re good at, what they’ll enjoy doing as adults, what job they’ll be doing in 10 years, or even what jobs will exist in 10 years. I could well have ended up in Airbus in Flintshire designing airplane parts, in which case that physics class on gravity would probably have come in handy.

I’m sure countless students have considered Welsh in hindsight to be utterly pointless – just as pointless as biology or religious studies ended up being for me – but for other former pupils, it’s the most useful subject they did at school. Personally I regret dropping it at A/S level, given that a sound knowledge of Welsh grammar would probably be of much more use to me now as a bilingual lecturer than an intricate understanding of the post-war American New Deal, police stop-and-search powers, and the plot of Jane Eyre (which is all I remember from my History, Law and English A-Levels).

Ifan Morgan Jones

23 thoughts on “Is Welsh forced down our throats?

  1. Welsh GCSE shouldn’t be a compulsory. German and French aren’t, and students should have the option of binning Welsh for another subject that they feel will be more useful in the future.
    Kids only have the opportunity to get so many qualifications, and for those who are never going to use the welsh language again (and know it as I did) they are effectively being forced to waste one of their subjects. I believe this should be the same for “Religious Education” (an oxymoron if ever I heard one).

    • I agree completely. I am not anti Welsh, I took GCSE Welsh at a time when it wasn’t compulsory. However, I do feel the amount of time and resources wasted on the subject are unjustified while Wales falls short of the literacy and numeracy levels of England. I work in key stage 1 and lecture in childcare in post 16 education and find the time that is given to Welsh is detrimental to a struggling child’s grasp of basic literacy and numeracy.

  2. I am from a non-speaking Welsh background and got forced to do complusory full course second language Welsh at GCSE and I actually hated the subject. This is quite surprising due to I wish I could speak fluent Welsh and embrace my Welsh identity. However, when speaking to alot of young people across Wales (as I am part of Funky Dragon – The Children and Young people’s Assembly for Wales) many have expressed their opinion that when something is forced upon you, the passion is lost and this applies to anything. What alot of young learners think is that they would rather learn the language properly as a skill, rather than it be literature based (as it is in many schools) qualification. I know (well I think) that there is now work being done to re-write the Welsh language curriculum, seeing as I have been involved in this consultation and let’s hope things improve!

  3. Hi guys. As noted in the article, I’ve no doubt that some people hate Welsh lessons, that many find it pointless, and that it’s taught poorly in some schools. I don’t remember much enjoying it myself, tbh. But as noted above that would put it in the same category as all those other subjects – English, Physics, Chemistry, etc. Even at university you’re forced to take some modules. So Welsh shouldn’t be singled out for criticism – perhaps there’s an argument to be made that students should just have a free-for-all and pick what subjects they like, but that’s a separate thread.

    The point is however that most of the things I hated doing at school are some of those that have been most useful to me after leaving school (I used to hate PE, now I run marathons, I didn’t enjoy Welsh, now it’s part of my job). Perhaps more should be done at high school to communicate the fact that the Welsh language is an extremely useful skill later on in life.

  4. I quite agree with this article, but there are many Welsh-language evangelists who shout at shop assistants for not speaking Welsh. This is disappointing on several levels – it’s forcing a language choice on someone, disrespectful (how do you know they’re not trying to learn Welsh and are just nervous about using it?), and brings the whole welsh language movement into disrepute by perpetuating the “forcing down the throat” scenario. Some English and Welsh speakers need to learn a bit of empathy. I’m afraid the claim “it’s only ever been a suggestion” is simply not true – there are many jobs where non-Welsh-speakers are excluded from the recruitment process.

    • “but there are many Welsh-language evangelists who shout at shop assistants for not speaking Welsh.”

      I’ve never ever seen this happen or even heard of it happening. Sorry, but it sounds like another myth to me.

      • My mother worked in Asda and was called for on many occasions to check a cheque written in Welsh by an awkward customer. I remember at least three occasions where the customer become either offensive or aggressive to the member of staff who couldn’t understand the Welsh.

    • What a ridiculous comment, Derek.
      All jobs have certain skills and qualifications as part of the requirements, why is being able to speak Welsh not allowed to be one? Do you think it’s unfair if you don’t get an interview for a teaching job without a teaching degree?
      You wouldn’t get a job in Sweden without speaking Swedish, or in Germany without speaking German. I wold like to see you get any descent job in England without being able to speak English. Exactly where do you live?
      Stop moaning about the very few jobs that have speaking Welsh as desirable. Sorry, were you planning to go for that Welsh translator job, or the Welsh teacher position? Did one of those ‘Welsh-language evangelists’ get it?

  5. Great article!

    Thanks for your in-depth report – it helps me daily when people portray this attitude towards me and all I can think to say is “you speak French in France so wos the difference!”

    Very detailed and helpful

    • In France the French language is spoken by nearly 100% of the population similar to the English language use in Wales. Welsh is used by only 19% of the population – full fluency is noted to be lower. In relevance to this is the Breton usage in Brittany, France – it is 4%, the French government glass this as an unofficial “Regional” language.

  6. I can’t understand the first comment that was left here. It basically boils down to, “Well, if some subjects aren’t compulsory, then why should ANY be?!”

    Hmm… Why don’t we just give children the choice of whether they want to go to school at all?

  7. I have no sympathy for those advocating no welsh in schools many of whom are immigrants to Wales, others who are born in Wales but have scant regard for their locality. I am the youngest of four children born to a half welsh mother and a belgian father, all four of us have different views on the future of Wales one the eldest lives in Manchester, but still speaks welsh as husband and wife, children speak english. sister married a brummie speaks welsh when she really has to, my other brother speaks welsh and english, i live my life in Welsh as much as i can home and at work.

    The fact is all four of us embraced the local culture and language, encouraged by our parents, and taught through the medium of welsh, all four of us have been able to have productive lives as Head teacher, Nurse now a county registrar, a BT engineer and myself a Financial adviser owning a thriving business in working through the medium of Welsh and English.

    It is a difficult but beautiful language well worth the effort to learn.

  8. You article is completely wrong! I am currently in my forth year of Uni, so have only been out of school for four years and guess what? I was forced to learn Welsh from the moment I moved there. My parents were told when I moved to wales that I would be held back in the local state school because I couldn’t speak welsh (I lived in England until year 5), giving an impression that not being able to understand the language would seriously stunt my growth as a student.

    You also state that no one uses math after GCSE, in my opinion a bit of a stupid statement, of course there are some aspects you wouldn’t use, but I use basic GCSE level maths everyday outside of my studies – breaking down bills between my housemates and clients, working out how much my I am spending on food etc. per year, working out the best value thing to buy in the supermarket, working out how much food I need to buy for several people at a party (working out how many units I have drunk) and thats not even thinking about the things which can be done as a part of a working life, as a manger you will have to know some form of algebra for many things, and for a huge number of jobs you will too. Ok so a journalist or write may not need much but a lot of people do.

    Sorry for the rant, but I find it very annoying when people state a maths degree is useless, its not.

    I appreciate welsh is currently struggling as a language, and it truly is a shame, but if you are going to write about it get your facts straight first.

    • Hi HC.

      As far as I can say the facts in the original message are exactly the same as the facts in your comment.

      1.) It’s made clear in the original blog that Welsh is compulsory in secondary school up to GCSE level.

      2.) It also makes the point that GCSE maths is only pointless for those that don’t end up using those skills. Just as with the Welsh language.

      “I use basic GCSE level maths everyday outside of my studies – breaking down bills between my housemates and clients, working out how much my I am spending on food etc.”

      I would hope that you had learnt how to do the above before GCSE level – my daughter can add, subtract and divide, and she’s in the second year of primary school.

      Personally I’ve never had to use coordinates, transformations and vectors, calculating lengths, quadratic equations, probability, and other parts of the GCSE maths curriculum in order to work out how much I had to spend at Tesco. But of course I’m happy to accept that there are a lot of people to whom these skills are essential to do their jobs. Just as there are a lot of people for whom Welsh is essential to do their jobs.

  9. As someone from England…..I can say it seems to me the Welsh are one of the few people……who are not only hate themselves and look at themselves miserably….but are also stuck next to an imperialist neighbour who controls their lives through the media and fear mongering ideas….

    UK still lives in a fantasy world where they still have empire……….I now live in Wales….trying to escape the right wing rural part of Northamptonshire I was born in.

    England has many good sides, mainly honest people on the bottom rungs….but its elites have seemingly poisoned a potentially rich and beautiful country called Cymru


  10. Just think what we could do if we put the effort and resources currently used in welsh into things like hospital, roads, industry etc – what most people here actually want.

  11. Rhiannon’s “awkward customer” comment says it all, really – you are being an “awkward customer” if you use Welsh. Obviously technology has now largely freed us of the cheque writing issue, but Asda was in the wrong if they did this: they only needed to check the figures, not the words. Banks accept cheques written in many languages and also some (to us) unfamiliar ways of conveying the numbers. I have written many cheques in Welsh and my bank (my branch is in High Wycombe) has never, ever, queried it or refused to pay out. Very poor customer service, past Asda!

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