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Welsh & Irish Languages: Still Relevant in Society Today?

The United Kingdom is a mixed bag of history, language and culture. Whilst English is the predominant language spoken throughout, there is a considerable wealth of different languages spoken that are both native to the land and part of our multicultural landscape. Many variations of Celtic languages are here and on our doorstep… but does anyone actually use them?

The Beauty of a Lyrical Language

Is it Ffasiynol (‘cool’ in Welsh) or Fionnuar (‘trendy’ in Irish) to speak the historical, spiritual language of your country? Even ‘modern’ adjectives like ‘trendy’ and ‘cool’ sound somehow better in Welsh and Irish, respectively, but are they used in the queue at the supermarket or to gossip at the bus stop?  Or is it outdated and something perpetuated only by grandparents in wistful nostalgia?

Welsh and Irish are both beautiful, lyrical Celtic languages that are soothing on the ear and hard work on the tongue. For a non-native, at least. Many heads have been turned by an alluring, lilting Irish word, and even Tolkien was mesmerised by the tone of Welsh, using it as a base for some of his Elvish dialects as well as Middle-Earth place names.

But beautiful timbre and enchanting melody aside, are these languages still relevant today?

Exposure to Welsh and Irish

Both Welsh and Irish are recognised languages in the EU, and are taught in schools in Ireland and Wales. Campaigns are ongoing to promote Irish language speaking, and in Wales it is compulsory that signs are printed in both English and Welsh.

There are TV and radio stations, press publications, and library services completely in Welsh and Irish, and an overwhelming sense of national pride in the heritage of local languages. Parents in Wales are actively seeking Welsh language education for their children in the hopes of raising them bilingual, whether they speak Welsh themselves or not.

 Census Statistics

According to the 2011 census, 19% of the population in Wales can speak Welsh, whilst 41.4% of the Irish speak Irish. This sounds like a high number, but take into consideration that it’s a survey of who ‘has the ability to’, not who physically does speak, and it becomes clear that Irish speaking is still a minority and generally found along the west coast. The same is true for Wales, with most of its speakers being in more remote and coastal areas.

Now, statistics are all good and well, but language is a living, evolving thing, not something that can (or should) be tied up in arithmetic. The questions remains: do people actually use these languages?

Maps indicate concentrated areas if Irish speakers in Ireland (left) and Welsh speakers in Wales (right)

Use of Welsh and Irish in Everyday Life

The English language has a Celtic legacy, with some words assimilated into our daily vocabulary without a thought for their origins. Examples are words like banjaxed (broken) and kaibosh (‘to put the kaibosh on it’ – to end something). Even Welsh words like popty-ping (microwave) are known, if not widely used, thanks to shows like The Valleys.

Does this constitute actual language use?

The short answer is, obviously, yes. In individual words and expressions, colloquiums, and idioms, these ‘loan words’ are a vital thread in the tapestry that is English. Slang from all corners of the globe finds its way on to our lips, and it is no exception from Ireland and Wales. Who hasn’t used the word tool to describe someone of less than average intelligence, or found someone or something shaming?

Too Cool for (Outside of) School?

But does it mean it is acceptable – fashionable even – to speak in native Welsh or Irish, or is it considered laughable and embarrassing to do so? Do Irish and Welsh children persevere with their respective languages in school and then abandon them the second they are beyond the school gates? Is local language use a bit too ‘twee’ for today’s society?

Members of the public from different generations with different levels of ability in spoken Irish. People not only show a range of abilities but also a range of interest.

The speak flits back and forth between English and Welsh seamlessly, seemingly very comfortable in being fluent in both languages. However this longer video shows the differing opinions of Welsh teenagers who are both for and against using the language, despite being proud of their roots. It seems clear that whilst the younger generations of Wales and Ireland recognise the importance of Welsh and Irish, opinion is divided on whether native language use is ‘cool’ or not.

For as many young Irish and Welsh people there are blushing and avoiding eye contact when speaking these languages, there are an equal number of others celebrating their languages and even offering up a few common phrase ‘lessons’ for their YouTube videos. Perhaps then the question shouldn’t be ‘is it cool to speak your native language’, but rather ‘is there a place for your native language in society today’?

Speaking a Second Language

Of course there is. Heritage aside, in a world where being bilingual is seen as an asset, speaking English plus another language is key to success; why can these ‘other’ languages not be Welsh or Irish? They are just as important, and hey, you can even hear Let It Go in Irish Gaelic, which is surely a sign that the language is relevant!

In summary, whether native Welsh and Irish are languages that have homes in cities or rural areas is up to the people who speak the languages themselves. It is too sweeping a statement to say either way whether these languages are ‘relevant’ in today’s society. Being aware that these colourful languages are here and on our doorstep is nothing but a positive; there is room for all! Whether it is to order a pint or to attempt to get someone’s attention with a love song is entirely down to personal choice.

Over To You

As previously stated, having an additional language to your mother tongue listed on your CV can be the difference between interview selection and rejection. Taking the time to learn a second language shows a wealth of transferable skills: discipline, self-motivation and adaptability for a start. And not only is a second language a plus when looking for a job, it is also a good conversation subject, a fun hobby, and a great way to mingle with new people. Contact us to see what courses are available, and get started on learning that second language today.