Take Welsh seriously, colleges told

Adi Bloom

THE Welsh language is crucial to the future prosperity of the nation, colleges have been told.

"The future of Wales will be a bilingual future," said Rhodri Williams, chair of the Welsh Language Board.

He was addressing a mostly Welsh-speaking audience at the annual conference of Fforwm, the organisation representing all 24 further education colleges in Wales.

"The National Assembly has set the target of ensuring a sustainable Welsh language. In order to do this, we need to ensure that colleges serve the public in both languages."

His speech, entirely in Welsh, highlighted the vital role that FE has to play in ensuring a bilingual future. Since devolution, a large proportion of job vacancies in Wales have specified competency in Welsh. The demand, therefore, is for a fully-bilingual workforce.

Yet, said Mr Williams, Welsh-language FE remains a largely untapped resource. ELWa, the FE funding body for Wales, has allocated only three full-time staff and a budget of pound;250,000 to its Welsh-language unit.

He says Welsh colleges are a long way from giving Welsh equal status to English. "How many of you have put Welsh-language dictionary software on your computers?" he asked the audience of college principals. How many of you have Welsh-language spell-checkers? We need to make sure Welsh-language provision is there, so we're not left behind."

But the big challenge is to persuade people that Welsh is as valid a medium as English. He called on delegates to play their part in this.

"Some of us here, who at least partly earn their money through Welsh, have a duty to use the Welsh language on public occasions."

In a society where Welsh is an accepted medium for National Assembly debate, and simultaneous translators are readily available, he claimed the language should not be excluded from the public arena.

Together with up-to-date Welsh-language technology, he said, virtual teaching and resource-pooling can all be used to provide bilingual training for small audiences throughout the country.

Drawing a parallel with Spain's Basque region, he highlighted the advances that could be made through financial investment. The Basque region works with an annual minimum budget of pound;30 million, compared with the Welsh Language Board's pound;7m. "It shows how serious the Basques consider this issue," he said. "They've already invested seriously in this, and it's about time we did the same thing."

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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