Compromise en route to bilingualism

8th August 2008 at 01:00

Demand for Welsh-medium education in south-east Wales has risen among non Welsh-speaking parents. But it seems their desire to learn the language of heaven themselves has not (see front page). And therein lies the paradox.

The Assembly government and the Welsh media have sold the virtues of WM schools well. Good academic results and the positive learning effects of a bilingual education have made them popular - even in Cardiff, where just 11 per cent speak Welsh.

But the unavoidable consequence has been the watering down of the language as parents put off the day when they enrol for that Welsh class.

If children who are learning to speak Welsh in schools don't utter a word of it beyond the school gates, what are the hopes for their fluency? But you can't force parents to learn Welsh.

Meanwhile, many WM schools in south-east Wales struggle to find a Welsh- speaking parent to sit on the governing body. Ion Thomas, head of Welsh at Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Pontypool, puts it eloquently: "Our Welsh schools have attracted clientele that haven't got a fire in their belly about the Welsh language."

Common sense dictates that we either have more children from English- speaking homes in our WM schools now or not. If we want the next generation to have some command of the language, then this is the only way.

It must also be remembered that not every Welsh-born person is a Welsh speaker, and not all agree with the government's vision of a truly bilingual Wales. Many heads from English-medium schools in south-east Wales contacted by TES Cymru in recent years have been furious about the public money being pumped into the Welsh language when they say they cannot afford basic resources.

The celebrations of Welsh language and culture at the Eisteddfod maes in Cardiff this week have been truly delightful, But as so much is said about the Welsh language and its future by impassioned speakers, it seems that the only way forward towards bilingualism has to be based on compromise.

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