The Changing Face of Wales - Welsh Speakers

Welsh Speakers

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Isle of Anglesey

Merthyr Tydfil


Neath Port Talbot




Rhondda Cynon Taf



Vale of Glamorgan


Information from the 2001 Census is on the left, 2011 Census on the right.
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Percentage of people who can speak Welsh
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5 up to 10
10 up to 15
15 up to 20
20 up to 30
30 up to 50
50 up to 70
70 up to 100

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Welsh speakers leaving rural Wales for towns and cities, census finds

WELSH speakers are leaving some of the language’s rural heartlands and heading for towns and cities, Census figures have revealed.

And there are particular fears for the future of the language in parts of West Wales – one of its major strongholds.

The latest Census statistics released yesterday give a more detailed insight into where the number of Welsh speakers are growing and falling.

The figures suggest more rural areas of Mid, West and North Wales are losing Welsh speakers as they head south, particularly towards Monmouthshire, which is seeing growth in a number of wards.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg chair Robin Farrar said: “These results are obviously a matter of great concern, especially the situation in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion where no communities with over 70% Welsh speakers remain.

“Communities of that type are absolutely essential for the language – the international evidence is completely clear. The language and its communities face a crisis, and the government needs new policies to ensure that the language and its communities thrives. The Welsh Government needs to recognise they have failed in their aim of halting the decline in the number of communities where 70% speak Welsh.

“The state of Welsh language communities is the elephant in Carwyn Jones’ room – what is he doing about it? Over a thousand people have attended our rallies over recent weeks – is he answerable to those people?

“In our ‘Maniffesto Byw’, we outline several completely practical steps the Welsh Government could and should take to change the situation and strengthen the language. We’re looking forward to meeting the First Minister next week to discuss those ideas; it’s essential he recognises the crisis facing the language.”

Overall, the number of wards where 70% or more of the population speak Welsh has fallen from 59 in 2001 to 49 in 2011.

In the Welsh Government’s language strategy, there was a target by 2011 for “the decline in the number of communities where Welsh is spoken by over 70% of the population [to be] arrested”.

There are some wards that are seeing a growth in Welsh speakers, particularly in Monmouthshire, Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf. However, overall 177 wards saw growth and 704 saw a decline.

Meri Huws, the Welsh Language Commissioner, who has launched an observatory to draw together information and research, said the results underlined the challenge to act.

Opposition parties called for a review of Welsh language policies.

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for North Wales, said: “While the figures for some areas indicate an increase in the use of Welsh, I am concerned that traditional Welsh-speaking heartlands are losing their Welsh speakers.

“The Welsh Labour Government can take little comfort in the rise in demand for Welsh-medium education if those children have lost their language skills within five years of leaving school.

“We need to create a situation where young people are given the opportunity to use the Welsh language in their workplace and in their everyday lives.”

He called on the Welsh Government to engage with the Welsh Language Commissioner’s observatory and to look at recommendations from Estyn on how to improve Welsh language teaching.

The map below shows the percentage change in the number of Welsh speakers in wards in Wales between 2001 and 2011. The darker the blue, the bigger the fall, the darker the red the bigger the growth.

Suzy Davies, Shadow Minister for the Welsh Language, said the figures called into question the Government’s language strategy, but said she wanted to see them get the policy right, rather than start a political fight.

She said: “A future strategy to support and nurture the Welsh language must recognise that a generation of young people have studied Welsh in school, but don’t use their skills outside the classroom and don’t see themselves as Welsh speakers.

“These figures must act as a driver to promote the advantages and benefits of learning and speaking Welsh, including those in the employment market.”

To coincide with the detailed information about Welsh speakers, Plaid Cymru is today launching a year-long consultation on the future of the Welsh language.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “What the Census figures showed us is that despite positive actions and good intentions, the Welsh language continues to lose strength.

“We want the Welsh Government to take initial steps to tackle this problem now, such as by implementing the existing standards from the Welsh language measure, by strengthening our mentrau iaith to ensure effectiveness in their work, and to reform public sector procurement regulations to apply Welsh language clauses.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it recognises the need to do more to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language.

She said: “Our Welsh Language Strategy identifies the key areas that we need to focus on, to help ensure the language’s sustainability.

“The Census figures will be used to inform current and future work on the Welsh language and we look forward to working with those who have an interest in the language, to secure its future.”

Related stories:
Census results for Wales show fall in number of Welsh speakers
Data: Census 2011 - first release of details on Welsh speaking, religion, ethnicity etc.