Innovative project by Bangor University increases the use of Welsh in the workplace

An innovative project established by Canolfan Bedwyr and Behaviour Change researchers at the University in order to increase the use of Welsh in the workplace received praise from the Welsh Language Commissioner recently.

At an event organised by the Commissioner for the heads of Welsh public organisations, Dr Lowri Hughes, Head of Policy and Development at Canolfan Bedwyr, presented the findings of the ARFer project that has been conducted at the University over the last few months. The project team consisted of Professor Carl Hughes, Dr Emily Tyler, Dr Lowri Hughes and Arwel Williams.

The aim of the project was to delve deeper into the statistics on the use of Welsh by University staff and try to understand how those 71% who are fluent or with some knowledge of Welsh use the language - or not use it – in their day to day work. By gaining a deeper understanding about the use of Welsh by staff, an evidence base of that behaviour is formed and can be utilised to tailor interventions and provide support in the most effective way.

ARFer is a methodology inspired by the Aldahitz project designed by Soziolinguistika Klusterra in the Basque Country and is based on principles derived from the behavioural sciences. By asking individuals to make a commitment to use Welsh as the default language during interactions, the aim of the project was to establish the use of Welsh as a norm. The supplementary research was carried out by Arwel Williams. Arwel is a research student at the School of Psychology, studying for a doctorate in behaviour change under the auspices of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.

ARFer was piloted in a department within the University consisting of 22 staff. This cluster had a diverse language profile, with 64% being fluent Welsh speakers, 22% able to speak some Welsh and 14% without any skills in the language. As part of the programme, 5 staff members (~ 20%) were asked to make a commitment to use Welsh as the default language with those colleagues who had the ability to understand them. These 5 individuals were the 'ARFer Enablers' and the other seventeen members of staff had 'freedom of language' - that is, they were free to use Welsh or English with the ARFer enablers and other colleagues.

Discussing the project, Dr Lowri Hughes said: 'We were aware that staff who are able to speak Welsh don’t always do so in the workplace, and we wanted to understand this particular situation in order to be able to offer the most effective support possible to them. Initial research with one team showed that just over 25% of the interaction between colleagues were conducted in Welsh. As part of the research, we asked five members of the team to use Welsh at all times with colleagues who understood them. When observing the impact of the project, it was concluded that Welsh language use had increased to over 60%. As a result of these initial findings, the University will develop the ARFer programme with the aim of producing a package that other organisations can use in their own workplaces.'

In response to Dr Hughes's presentation on the project, Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws said:

‘In order to promote and facilitate the use of Welsh in the workplace, it is vital that organisations have an understanding of language use within the workforce. I believe that the ARFer project offers an effective methodology to change staff behaviour by tailoring interventions and support in a simple and cost-effective way.’

This was echoed by Dr Llion Jones, Director of Canolfan Bedwyr: 'What is really exciting about this work is that it offers new data and perspectives on the discussion surrounding the Welsh language. In the context of the Welsh Government's target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, the ARFer project reaffirms that Bangor University and Canolfan Bedwyr are at the forefront in seeking new solutions to the opportunities and challenges facing the Welsh language.'

Watch a video about the work here:

Publication date: 12 November 2018