It was wonderful to hear the news over the weekend that the ONS had noted a substantial rise in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales over the previous decade. The news of any increase is to be welcomed, but as with any statistical announcement careful further analysis is required before we start popping champagne corks.
Firstly we need to establish that the figures are correct and can withstand scrutiny. If the increase is real it is clear that much of this is down to the numbers who are learning the language as children and adults, remember that the Welsh language version of the DuoLingo App has been downloaded more than a million times since its launch and a special mention needs to be given to Mudiad Meithrin – the national pre school organisation – for making the case for the benefits of the Welsh language and bilingualism in such a positive manner.
But, and there’s always a but, it is in an increase in the numbers who can speak the language we are looking at here, not necessarily an increase in the numbers who are using the language. Usage is key, the need to normalise use of the language and offer opportunities, particularly amongst the less confident, to use the and interact with the language are vital.
The role of digital platforms in this context are key, enabling opportunities to meet and communicate and as homes for relevant content, content that, currently, doesn’t exist in sufficient volumes and quality.
With so many of us, both old and particularly the young, spending more and more of our time in digital worlds it is imperative that we investigate this digital landscape from a Welsh language perspective. Not only the current landscape but more importantly how this landscape will look over the coming decade.
There are so many ways that digital impacts on our daily lives, data, AI, navigation, education, health and entertainment to name but six. This influence will increase as will the pressures on the Welsh language to remain relevant. The need for effective coordination and for independent voices is important. Welsh Government has a key role in the development of long term digital strategy as do the institutions they fund, but there is a real need for independent thinking that will, at times, challenge the status quo. There is a saying in welsh, “nid da ge gellir gwell” which translates as “it’s not good if it can be done better”. We need to live by these words.
Digital has the potential to transform the economy of our country, developing new industries around the USP the Welsh language and bilingualism have to offer. We need ambition and confidence in equal measure, investment in research and innovation along with investment in commercial ventures.
This is why we launched Melin Drafod, its role will be to act as a conduit for the development of a comprehensive digital strategy for the Welsh language as well developing policy ideas and commissioning independent research in relation to the Welsh language in a digital context. Around 50 people attended our official launch on the first Monday of the Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay back in August, positive discussions have continued since on many levels.
Amongst our next steps we will be arranging meetings in the west, the midlands and the north in order to raise awareness and to hear from you, to learn about the priorities that exist in your specific fields and use this information to create a comprehensive Welsh language digital strategy.
The process of founding Melin Drafod as a registered charity is underway along with the work of appointing a board of trustees. If you are interested in becoming a trustee, please get in touch.
We will need your support in the form of ideas and financially, your support can change the future prospects for the Welsh language nationally and internationally.
We look forward to sharing further information over the coming weeks.
If you would like to support our development, you can contribute here https://pay.gocardless.com/AL0001WM01PCCZ