Welsh and those not from Wales

As the latest releases of information from the 2011 census for the Welsh language are a little bit difficult to piece together, I've put the information correlating language ability with country of birth and national identity together in a way that I hope makes things a little clearer. I've produced a full spreadsheet which can be downloaded here, and distilled that information into this table:


I don't think any of the information will come as too much of a surprise, but it might be worth making a few comments about it.


The biggest factor affecting the figures is migration. The numbers are huge. 28.1% of the population of Wales aged three years or older was not born in Wales. In Fflint and Powys, Welsh-born people are in a minority; and in Conwy, Ceredigion, Denbighshire and Monmouthshire the percentage of non-Welsh-born people is greater than 40%.

The figures show that people born in Wales are very much more likely to speak Welsh than those not born in Wales. On average the difference is about three to one (23.3% to 8.0%) but in some of the counties with very high levels of immigration, those born in Wales are about five times more likely to be able to speak Welsh (44.5% to 7.9% in Conwy; 74.6% to 15.0% in Ceredigion) than those not born in Wales.

However I want to repeat something I've said before. I don't think that immigration in itself is the problem, it is a symptom of a bigger problem: economic disadvantage. It is lack of economic opportunity that forces an inordinately high number of people to leave their local communities, either to find work or to find somewhere affordable to live. This in turn creates a vacuum which makes it easier for those who don't work or don't need to pay for a home (those who have retired, or those on benefits) to move into those same communities. Any solutions we propose should therefore not be directed at immigration (and certainly not against individual immigrants) but at improving the economic fortunes of the areas concerned, and at providing a more appropriate mix of housing tailored to meet the local needs of those areas.

It's also worth saying that the two main reasons why the 2011 census figures are lower than those for 2001 are the reduction in the number of children, and the migration of young people away from Wales. I've no doubt that the overall number of Welsh speakers went up between 2001 and 2011, but that tens of thousands of young Welsh speakers moved away from Wales and therefore weren't counted. In time many of them will move back; perhaps when they've finished university, perhaps when they've spent a few years seeing the world, perhaps when they decide to settle down and raise a family, perhaps when they retire. And, of course, some won't come back at all. This has been the pattern for several decades now, but the difference is that in the decade before last a far greater percentage of young people learned to speak Welsh at school than ever did before (which accounted for the rise in the 2011 census) and therefore a far greater number of Welsh speakers has now left Wales.

National Identity

It's no surprise that the percentage of people who think of their nationality as Welsh should go hand-in-hand with the fact that they can speak Welsh. But it's interesting to see that there isn't very much difference in the percentages between those who think of their nationality as Welsh only and those who think of their nationality as Welsh and British. However we do need to bear in mind that in numerical terms those who think of their nationality as Welsh only is eight times bigger than those who think of themselves as Welsh and British, and nearly four times bigger than those who think of themselves as British only.

As we know that about 21% of those who live in Wales were born in England, the British only group is likely to include both people who we might consider Welsh (i.e. born and raised in Wales, but thinking of their nationality as British even though they would consider themselves Welsh in a more general sense) and those from other parts of Britain who prefer to think of their nationality as British than English, Scottish or Cornish ... either for the same reason or because they prefer to adopt an identity that doesn't set them apart from their neighbours now that they live in Wales.

Choosing to Learn Welsh

Whether we look at things in terms of country of birth or national identity, one thing that I think is particularly important is that the percentage of non-Welsh/non-Welsh-born people in Wales who can speak Welsh is not zero, or anywhere near zero. It shows us that immigrants can and do learn Welsh.

Sadly the figures don't tell us when those who weren't born in Wales moved to Wales. Those that moved when they were children will have had the same opportunities to learn Welsh through the education system as everyone else in Wales; but fully half of the 66,000 or so who speak Welsh but weren't born in Wales are over 35 years old, so they were in school well before Welsh was a compulsory subject in schools. It is therefore clear that there is some pattern of adult immigrants learning Welsh in order to better integrate into their adopted communities.

The percentages for those born outside Wales but able to speak Welsh are 20.4% in Gwynedd, 17.6% in Ynys Môn, 15.0% in Ceredigion and 13.2% in Sir Gâr. Now of course I'd like these figures to be higher and I certainly wouldn't disagree with Cefin Campbell when he says, in this article, that we need to do more to raise awareness of the language among those who come to live in Wales. However I think these figures are fairly encouraging, especially if we bear in mind that for every person who learns Welsh to the extent that they can say they speak Welsh, there will be many more who are learning or trying to learn but have not yet got far enough to move from thinking of themselves as being a "Welsh learner" to thinking of themselves as being a "Welsh speaker".

The willingness appears to be there, so I'd suggest that the problem isn't so much about raising awareness or getting an initial taste of the language, but in the way we go about teaching Welsh to adults who have expressed that willingness to learn. There is a very high drop out rate from adult Welsh courses, as shown in this graph from a paper by Heini Gruffudd and Steve Morris:

     Decrease in the number of learners by age and learning level


And part of the reason for this high drop out rate is that the intensity of the courses is very gentle compared with that in other countries in a similar situation. The pace of learning is so slow that people drop out because they don't feel they're getting anywhere. The most typical model in Wales is about 2 hours of teaching a week; in Euskadi 73% of those learning Euskara study for more than 6 hours a week, and 65% of them for more than 10 hours a week. So we could, and should, be doing much more to improve the way we teach Welsh to adults.


Stepping back and looking at the big picture, I don't think teaching Welsh to adult immigrants is the most important factor in the growth of Welsh. School-age education will always be more important because it's easier to teach puppies new tricks than it is to teach them to old dogs. But the scale of immigration into Wales is so large that we urgently need to put more resources into teaching Welsh to adults as well.

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Carl Morris said...

Excellent analysis.

I think we underestimate the importance of teaching Welsh to adults. It's the adult population that is making Wales now. Every day these people answer telephones, produce culture, decide policies, have children, make educational decisions for said children, etc.

Ambiorix said...

The reason I dropped out was because the number of hours I was studying was not very much so in the end I just gave up!

Owen said...

I think it's worth pointing out that a signficant chunk of those born outside Wales are "Welsh" in a sense that they'll probably have two Welsh parents. This could be for practical reasons, for example the closest maternity hospital to large swathes of Powys is in Shrewsbury. Likewise, some babies born to Welsh parents in north Wales might well have been born in Chester or Liverpool - especially Alder Hey - for whatever reason.

It's also worth pointing out that based on the census statistics, the driver in the change of non Welsh-born residents - up to 88% of the increase - is likely to have been EU expansion. Some of them might come from nations that are bilingual, even trilingual. So the fact Welsh exists wouldn't have been a shock to them.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Agreed, Owen. In our family 6 fluent Welsh speakers were born in other countries. They learned Welsh from their Welsh-speaking parents.

Anonymous said...

Canologol iawn fod canran mor uchel iawn o bobol a anwyd yng Nghymru yn siarad Cymraeg. Eto i gyd, beth wyt ti'n meddwl ydy'r rhesymau pan nad ydy hwn yn 95%+ yng Ngwynedd, o weld bod pob un ysgol gynradd ac uwchradd (ag eithrio Ysgol Friars ym Mangor) yn ysgol Gymraeg.

Ai y to hyn o gyffuniau Bangor/Llanfairfechan na chafwyd addysg Gymraeg ac yn byw mewn ardal weddol Saesneg ei hiaith sydd yn dwad a'r ganran yma i lawr?

Ai mewnlifiad Gymry Seisnig o du allan i Wynedd (e.e Caerdydd etc) sydd wedi dwad a'r canran i lawr?

Anonymous said...

Lovely to see such a high percentage of Welsh-born people being able to speak Welsh. Nevertheless, what do you think are the reasons that this percentage is not 95%+ in Gwynedd, seeing as though that every single primary and secondary school in Gwynedd (excluding Ysgol Friars) is Welsh-medium?

Could it be that the percentage is being decreased by the older generation of the more English-speaking areas of Gwynedd, such as Bangor, that did not go through Welsh-medium education themselves and did not learn it naturally in the community?

Alternatively, could it be a migration of Non-Welsh speaking Welsh from other Welsh counties that have settled in Gwynedd?

Anonymous said...

Great post. I definitely think we should do more to help immigrants to Wales learn Welsh - and explain why it is desirable to do so. Of course that also applies to people from Wales originally.

This isn't just because it helps the learner - often conversations between Welsh speakers switch to English because of one non- Welsh speaker in the group, so it has a wider impact.

Sadly the education system in Wales is failing children as most are leaving school unable to communicate in Welsh. Many adults then see the value of the language later but face a tougher challenge of (re) learning to language. All school children should be 100% fluent by 16.

MH said...

Thanks for the comments, and sorry it's taken me so long to respond. I'll pick up on a few of the points.

Owen and Emlyn make good points about the Welshness of those born outside Wales, and it goes without saying that a person doesn't need to have been born in Wales to be Welsh. It would have been nice there was a way to correlate the census information on national identity with place of birth. I don't think there is. But if there is, please would someone tell me where it is.

The number of children born outside Wales to parents living in Wales might well explain why the Powys figure for Welsh speakers born outside Wales looks a point or two higher than it otherwise would. I doubt whether it makes all that much difference to the national figures, though.


To James, I think a bit of both factors you mention are at play. However I think the second is probably more significant than the first. Namely that there are a lot of people from other parts of Wales living in Gwynedd. These are mostly students at Bangor. I made some graphs of the numbers and percentages of the general population and Welsh speakers when the last batch of information was released. There are some marked spikes in numbers (ages 15-19 and especially 20-24) in all the counties with high populations of students relative to their size, and this produces a reverse spike in the percentages, especially in Ceredigion and Gwynedd. After this age, the students have largely moved away, and the percentages bounce back to normal.


I'm sorry that you dropped out Ambiorix though, as I said, I can understand why. If you're looking for a way to learn to speak Welsh quickly, but without the traditional book based teaching methods, please try Say Something in Welsh. Sometimes coming at things from a new angle can make all the difference.


As for Welsh in schools, Colin, we should aim at every child who grows up in Wales being competent in both Welsh and English by the time they leave school. It might take us a while to get to that point, though. I think this is mainly because we don't have enough teachers who can themselves speak Welsh, as I've said several times already, most recently here.

Shan Morgain

I found learning Welsh at the local courses for adults very uphill.This was a surprise as I'd always done quite well withe the basics of any language I tried before - French, Latin, Spanish, Russian, Chinese.

Eventually i discovered the problem. The book used in al the claases is terrible. It forced me to parrot phrases and sentences with no idea how they worked, as if I were a robot. Press button, hear sound file from my mouth.
After several months of struggle I gritted my teeth, went to websites, bought Teach Yourself, and found out what those lumps of sound meant. I learned how a verb works, and learned the verb to be by heart. It was so much easier.

Babies and children learn by mimicking, and by endlessly babbling sounds without knowing what they mean. Adults after an introductory session on saying hello my name is ... need to learn by understanding first and absorbing second.

Thank you for the honour of living in Wales as a Welsh wife and mother who came from somewhere else.

Valiant in The Vale said...

I am English living in Wales like so many English families that moved here when mining in other areas was terminated such as Kent Collieries and many others. Even before this time when the tin mines closed many 'ENGLISH' as people like yourselves take great satisfaction in putting it and the Welsh language issue is a disgraceful platform for racism against 'ENGLISH' and I do not think it the place of a majority to foot the bill for the idiocy of the 'WELSHNESS' saga. I also can recall directly the acts of terrorism as they would be termed today against English families living in Wales with their property burned or damaged beyond repair perpetrated by separatist racists!

I would welcome an ENGLISH referendum on a compulsory split from both Scotland, Wales and NI as the ENGLISH economy would thrive as THIS IS WHERE THE WEALTH IS GENERATED!

To close I myself have been counted as one the the 'WELSH SPEAKING' people because I undertook a course @WELCOME HOST' that can be completed well within an hour and most probably by a well trained ape! SO PLEASE STOP HARPING ABOUT THE FIGURES FOR WELSH SPEAKERS AS IT IS SPURIOUS!

Lastly many non Welsh speaking parents want their children to go to a WM school because of the iniquitous disparity in funding in favour of these schools over the not so well funded English medium schools.

I will concede that it could prove useful to speak Welsh if you visited Patagonia. But not so useful for business that is largely conducted in English worldwide!

MH said...

Immigrants to Wales are very welcome, VV, whether they are from England or elsewhere.

Our Welsh language policies have been decided democratically, and there is no elected party in our National Assembly that opposes them. However, if you don't like what we do here, you must either put up with it or—if you feel you can't—go back to where you came from or find a new country to live in.

As for ability to speak Welsh, the only person who would have described you as a Welsh speaker in the census is you yourself. If you lied about being able to speak Welsh on the census form, that's your problem.

In fact you seem to have a quite a problem with truthfulness, for there isn't any "iniquitous disparity in funding in favour of" Welsh-medium schools. The cost of education is primarily determined by the size of the school. Small schools cost more per pupil than large schools, and surplus places cost money. As most surplus spaces are in the EM sector, it's more likely that EM education costs more than WM education.

The figures for every school in Wales are here.

For the year 2012-13 in the Vale of Glamorgan, where you live, the average cost per pupil in the 41 English-medium primary schools was £3,555. The average cost per pupil in the 5 established WM primary schools was only £3,249. The cost per pupil in the two brand new WM schools was much higher, but this is because they have only just opened and the cost per pupil will come down as they fill up.

Anonymous said...

Ar ran pob Sais/Saesnes sydd wedi treulio mwy nag un awr yn dysgu'r Gymraeg, ymddiheurwn am sylwad ValiantInTheVale uchod. Ymddengys nad ydy VV yn sylweddoli bod addysg gyfrwng-Gymraeg yn creu oedolion dwyieithog, mwy medrusach yn dysgu rhagor o ieithoedd, sgil a werthfawrogir ym maes masnachu rhyngwladol.

O ran hiliaeth wrth-Seisnig honedig y Cymry Cymraeg: mae fy acen yn datgelu fy ngwreiddiau yn Ne-Ddwyrain Lloegr. Ond eto i gyd, ches i erioed profiad y fath hiliaeth yng Nghymru - i'r gwrthwyneb a dweud y gwir. Efallai mai gwrthod integreiddio â'r gymuned leol a bychanu'r iaith ydy tarddiad profiadau negyddol o'r fath?

On behalf of every English person who has spent more than one hour learning Welsh, I would like to apologise for ValiantInTheVale's comment above. It seems VV doesn't realise that Welsh-medium education produces bilingual adults, who are better at learning further languages, which is a skill valued in international commerce.

Regarding the alleged anti-English racism of the Cymry Cymraeg: my accent clearly reveals my roots in SE England, and yet I have never experienced this sort of racism in Wales. Perhaps it's refusing to integrate into the local community and belittling the language which is the reason for such negative experiences?

MH said...

Thanks Peter. I appreciate it, but there really is no need for an apology. People like Valiant in the Vale are in a very small minority.

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