Sion Aled Owen
Trefenai, Normal Site

Welsh is just for school, isn’t it?

An analysis of the reasons for the use or non-use of the Welsh language outside the classroom by pupils of Welsh medium secondary schools

Siôn Aled Owen, Jean Ware and Rhian Hodges
School of Education,
Bangor University

The Issue
As the percentage of Welsh speakers declined during the twentieth century, education came to be seen as a vital tool in safeguarding and revitalising the language. Welsh medium primary schools emerged from 1939 with secondary schools following in the 50s and Welsh became a compulsory subject until the age of 16 in all state schools in Wales by 2000.
But the problem is that teaching children Welsh doesn’t mean that they will use it outside school. Dramatic increases in the percentage of Welsh speakers in the 3-15 age group in 1991 and 2001 were not sustained into adulthood in succeeding Censuses.
A reluctance to use Welsh socially has been revealed in studies across Wales, especially in those areas where Welsh is not strongly represented in the community.

Data gathering will be by means of questionnaires for pupils, parents, teachers and community workers followed by in-depth interviews and the use of focus groups. The study will concentrate on five secondary schools and two feeder primary schools for each. These schools will be from a variety of categories of Welsh medium education and demographic and linguistic contexts. The study will also involve comparing the Welsh situation to other contexts worldwide where the school system is being actively used to safeguard and promote the use of a minority language, for example, the Basque Country, Ireland and the Mohawk territories in Canada.

Interrogating the results
• Is the generally favourable attitude towards the Welsh language and bilingualism reported by other researchers reflected in these results?
• How important are the attitudes and linguistic practice of parents, teachers and community workers in influencing pupils’ use of Welsh?
• How important are social and community factors, for example, percentage of Welsh speakers, economic context, urban/rural?
• Are there parallels in the results to those found in similar contexts outside Wales?
• Are there existing strategies to enhance the use of Welsh which seem to be working and, if so, why?

This study has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.