Hardly a week goes by without an article appearing online or in print denigrating the Welsh language. The billions spent on bilingual road signs, which are a danger to monoglots who have to navigate past “Araf” before arriving at the “Slow” in English, should be spent on the NHS.
Children in Wales should learn useful languages such as Mandarin, Spanish or French they protest. Welsh has no use beyond the corridors of power in the Welsh Assembly or S4C, and its requirement for some jobs places the 85% (their statistics not mine) who cannot speak the language at a massive disadvantage. Although this reasoning alone would suggest an instant benefit from learning the language.
The above are often cited as reasons why the Welsh language should not be promoted in Wales or receive any financial backing, and as for the argument that learning welsh is done at the detriment leaning “modern languages”, I am yet to meet anyone who studied a foreign language to GCSE level who managed to reach a point of proficiency beyond being able to purchase a train ticket or order a McDonalds.
Tomorrow, Tuesday the 11th of July 2017, will hopefully go down as a landmark in the history of Wales and the Welsh language. The Welsh government under the guidance of the Alun Davies the minister of lifelong learning and the Welsh language are publishing their long awaited strategy for the development of the Welsh language which will, it is hoped, create the right circumstances for the language to grow to a point where by the year 2050 there will be 1,000,000 speaking the language.
So what is the point of Welsh? Welsh is just like any other language, it is a means of communication, it’s how I communicate with my children and how my parents communicated with me. But #DespiteBeingTaughtInWelsh (please check out the hashtag on twitter) I’m also able to communicate fully in English. I’m fully bilingual, I’m able to switch between English and Welsh at will, later today I’ll be creating a Welsh language version of this piece, not a direct translation, but a version in Welsh.
Being bilingual is in itself a skill, one that is becoming increasingly useful as the emerging digital economy continues to grow. Increased use of digital technologies could add $1.36 trillion to global economic output in 2020. With internationalisation comes localisation, English may be the dominant global digital language but the desire to use digital platforms and access digital content in native languages continues to grow. British culture is predominantly monoglot, whereas the world is a multilingual place, 56% of the global population identify themselves as being able to speak another language as well as their mother tongue. The ability to offer your digital product in other languages as well as English makes huge commercial sense, the first step in internationalising that product is to adapt it from its original language into another language, this requires individuals who are equally proficient in the original language and another language.
I can spot in an instant when something has been put through Google translate or has been adapted badly from English in to Welsh and vice versa. Being able to understand those nuances are key, a simple mistake at this initial stage can have massive repercussions further down the line.
So where in the UK do we have sufficient numbers who are fully bilingual in English and A.N. Other language? Yes you’ve guessed it, here in little old Wales.
A language seen by some as being archaic and moribund could actually turn out to be the economic USP that that sees the growth of a brand new digital industry here in Cymru (that’s Wales in case you didn’t know). Why set up in Brighton or Manchester when you could be living and working here AND having an economic advantage over your competitors the other side of Offas Dyke.
I’m constantly amazed by my bilingual abilities, I love being able to speak Welsh. It’s an important part of me, it’s an important part of our shared culture in Wales and Britain. It has opened doors to new worlds for me both physically and mentally.
Hopefully when the new strategy is launched tomorrow its economic potential will form a major part of it. After all if the language can act as an economic driver contributing hard cash to the Welsh economy the old arguments of how much is spent on bilingual road signs will become an irrelevance, people will be queuing up to send their children to Welsh medium schools to receive the benefits of a bilingual education, preparing them for a world of work where speaking Welsh will bring prosperity to all who live in Wales.
In a post Brexit Britain the Welsh language could be the bridge to the international digital economy, with Wales becoming the centre for internationalisation in the UK. Wouldn’t it be great to see centres of excellence located around Wales that encourage the development of multilingual technologies, centres that combine Welsh language culture with work and business opportunities?
Only time will tell, but I for one am excited for the future of the language and its contribution to the economy of Wales…..
Huw Marshall is a digital strategist, content creator and technology entrepreneur, he is the former head of digital with the Welsh public service broadcaster S4C. You can contact him via www.marshall.wales or follow him on twitter @huwmar