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What’s the best way to encourage people to use Welsh?

Llun/Photo credit: Comisynydd y Gymraeg

How can we encourage people to speak Welsh when out and about? People who speak both Welsh and English have to choose which language to speak in any given situation, and many things can influence this decision. For example, Welsh speakers might habitually start conversations in English instead of Welsh due to a lack of confidence, or because they worry that others may not understand them. Understanding how people can be encouraged to use their Welsh could support the Welsh Government in its aim to double the daily use of Welsh by 2050.

A lecturer at Bangor University conducted research to see what cues work best to encourage people to begin conversations in Welsh when visiting shops, offices, and other public places where they access services.

“Visual cues can encourage bilingual people to select one language over another, and we wanted to see whether the Iaith Gwaith logo is an effective prompt to use Welsh,” explained psychology lecturer Dr Awel Vaughan-Evans.

Welsh speakers are familiar with the Iaith Gwaith logo, which notes that you can speak Welsh when speaking with someone in a shop or service. The logo was introduced by the former Welsh Language Board in 2005. Around 50,000 of the ‘Iaith Gwaith’ (working Welsh) lanyards, badges, and posters, all of which contain an orange speech bubble to indicate that the individual can speak Welsh, have been distributed annually since that date. The Welsh Language Commissioner is now responsible for this Scheme, and for the distribution of work language products.

Awel explains further: “We wanted to test which of these resources was most effective in encouraging people to begin a conversation in Welsh. Forty-eight people took part in the study, the majority being first-language Welsh speakers.

We found that more people indicated that they would speak Welsh to a person when presented with an image that contained the Iaith Gwaith logo than when presented with an image that did not contain the Iaith Gwaith logo. The logo was effective when presented as both a poster and a lanyard, however, the lanyard on its own was the most effective single prompt.”

As well as simply finding the best way to encourage Welsh speakers to select and use Welsh first, the research has added to psychologists’ understanding of the types of cues which influence bilingual people’s use of language.

Awel added, “It was interesting to find that non-linguistic cues can be used to impact what language a person might choose to speak, though we need to bear in mind that we undertook the study here at Bangor University, a bilingual university in Gwynedd, where 76% of the population speaks both Welsh and English fluently. It would be interesting to replicate the study in an area where the prevalence of Welsh–English bilinguals is substantially lower.”

Gwenith Price, Deputy Welsh Language Commissioner said, “The Iaith Gwaith badge, which recently celebrated its 15th birthday, has now gained its footing in Wales. It is an important scheme, which enables employees, who can offer a Welsh language service to the public, to clearly show that they can speak the language by wearing a lanyard or a badge. Welsh learners also use the badge to actively practice and speak the language. 

‘It is good to understand more, from this independent research, about the way the badge can encourage people to use the language in various situations. I am pleased to see that people are more likely to choose Welsh as a language to speak when the badge is present. In hospitals, shops, supermarkets, businesses and within organisations of all kinds, people need to feel comfortable and confident when using the language so that we can increase the number of people who can speak, and are keen to use the language in their everyday life”.