Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Welsh Knot - and the last train home

There's an interesting programme on BBC Wales tonight called The Welsh Knot, in which veteran broadcaster David Williams looks at Welsh-medium schools and the use of Welsh by their pupils.
In trailing the programme, it seems much is made of the use of English by those pupils outside the classroom. I hope the programme has more substance than that because that was also the case when I attended a Welsh-medium school (Ysgol Maes Garmon in Mold) back in the 1970s.
Welsh back then was definitely not a cool language to speak and then, as now, the overwhelming cultural influences (whether music, TV or elsewhere) were Anglo-American. We were lucky because we caught "y tren ola adre" (the last train home), to quote Steve Eaves. The last train for us was the Welsh music scene, which meant regular trips to the Dixieland in Rhyl and Corwen Pavilion for some epic nights with Geraint Jarman and Edward H. We mixed with kids who spoke Welsh outside school (this was a major culture shock), we lived, loved and got drunk... and realised you could do it all in Welsh.
It was the way Welsh was made a normal language for those of us who never grew up in an area where most people spoke Welsh. Kids today growing up in Wrecsam or Mold or Valleys towns don't have even that limited outlet as the Welsh music scene isn't what it was.
There isn't an easy answer to this but it's clear that Welsh-medium education in isolation is not enough. The Welsh-speaking heartlands are under threat and, while there is heartening growth further east, the next generation also needs to see that the Welsh language is for more than the classroom. Good work is being done by Mentrau Iaith and volunteers and hopefully the Eisteddfod will provide a brief insight into that alternate world. But far more needs to be done in terms of popularising the language so that new generations don't miss the last train home.

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