was originally published on this site
Before I moved to Wales, back in 2014, I was once told that on no account should I, or other incomers to Wales, waste their time learning Welsh, because even if we were to meet Welsh-Speakers, it would be useless since ‘everyone can speak English.’
That everyone speaks English is of course true, but it was no deterrence to me I, and when Welsh Duolinguo came out about two years later, I started at it the very next day, and haven’t looked back.
My view, of course, was contrary to the one I had encountered back in 2014 – I believe that when in Rome you should do as the Romans.
But let’s take that argument, for one moment, that which says that Welsh is useless because everyone speaks English. Well, what it’s saying seems to be this:
‘Thank you, Welsh-Speakers, for learning our language, English. We are very grateful for that, and so your reward from us is that we’re not going to bother to learn a word of your language when we choose to come and live amongst you and if it makes the future of your language, culture and very identity less safe, then so be it. If it makes you feel like you’re the foreigner in your own country, then so be it.’
Not much of a reward is it? Unfortunately though, this attitude is all too common – and what is the result of this?
Well, in many of the Welsh-Speaking communities that are still left, you have shops and restaurants where English-speaking incomer staff haven’t learnt a word of Welsh, meaning that the locals have to use their second language in order to survive in their own country, as if the locals were the foreigners, and not the incomers themselves!
In London, my local baker happened to be Romanian, but that did not mean that I had to speak Romanian if I wanted to buy something from her!
But, of course, the much bigger result of English-Speaking incomers not being assimilated by the locals in the Fro Gymraeg has been the disappearance of most of the Fro Gymraeg altogether!
Not only has the non-assimilation of incomers led to the collapse of the Welsh Language, it has also, quite understandably, resulted in segregation, parallel communities, and social tensions.
The 1989 A Study of Language Contact And Social Networks in Ynys Môn, by Delyth Morris, proved exactly this, which looked specifically at the village of Bryngwran, on Anglesey. If there’s one corner of the British Isles where multiculturalism has failed, it’s with the non-assimilation of English-speaking incomers in the Fro Gymraeg.
All this is not a reward – it’s a punishment – punishment for speaking somebody else’s language so well.
And Welsh-speakers did not suffer this fate when they were still majority monoglot. Indeed, when you had English-speaking incomers moving to majority Welsh monoglot communities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, like Bethesda in 1911, the newcomers duly learned Welsh and were assimilated without any problems.
But, of course, in the 21st
century, it’s not just the Welsh who speak good English.
It’s the Germans, the Dutch, the Scandinavians, the South Koreans – you get the picture. Now, this in itself is no bad thing, and I myself am an English teacher here in China.
But what is outrageous is that, like the Welsh, these countries are increasingly being punished for being good at English, as English-speakers who go and live in those countries feel increasingly tempted to take advantage of the locals’ prowess in English and not bother learning the local language.
Again, this was not something that happened in these countries before the locals learned good English, and thus in cities like Berlin, Amsterdam and Reykjavik, like in the Fro Gymraeg, the locals are being punished, being made to feel like foreigners on their own home turf, merely because they are good at somebody else’s language – they are being punished for being well educated.
That is something that I find plain wrong, and is why I felt compelled to learn Welsh when in Wales, and Chinese before I came to China, and why I have always felt compelled to learn the local language wherever I plan to move to.
I also thus feel that there needs to be a fundamental change in attitude among English-Speakers who move abroad. That was something I felt in 2014, and its something I feel even more now.
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