Tuesday, 13 March 2018

No, it is not the Welsh Language that's holding Wales back.

It seems that it is quite fashionable in some corners to argue that the Welsh Language is holding Wales back.  Go to any article on Wales’s Pisa Rankings, for example, and you will see hordes of Jacques Protiques lookalikes saying that it’s all the Welsh Language’s fault. 

I was once in a car journey with someone when they argued that the Welsh Language was discouraging businesses from investing in Wales, and last month, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan argued that it was good that the Irish Language Revival had been a failure:

“Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.”

Now, sure, if you only compared Wales to other parts of the United Kingdom, nearly everywhere else being monolingually English-speaking, you might think that the Welsh Language was to blame for Wales’s poor economy and low PISA rankings. 

But compare Wales to the rest of the world, and you will see that that's nonsense. 

The richest country in the world by GDP per Capita, in 2017, was Luxembourg.  Luxembourg has three official languages, French, German and Luxembourgish, with, a fourth language, English also widely spoken. 

After Luxembourg, number two for GDP per Capita is Switzerland with its four official languages. Of the top ten countries by GDP Per Capita, four have at least two official languages, and many of the remainder, such as Denmark, have widespread multilingualism.   Within Spain, the richest region is the Basque country, which counts both Basque and Castillian Spanish as its official languages.

So to the lady who made that comment in that car journey, I say this.  Are businesses shying away from Switzerland and Luxembourg because of their multiple official languages? Quite the opposite – those are countries that companies chose to move to.

Moving on to education, the picture is the same.  According to the 2015 PISA rankings, the top five countries and dependencies for reading ability were Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland and Ireland.  What do they all have in common? They each have more than two official languages.

So when people say that the Welsh Language is to blame for Wales’s poor education system and depressed economy, now you know whether or not to take them seriously

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