In areas where Welsh is not the main community language, adult Welsh language learners can struggle due to insufficient opportunities to practice and feel a part of a Welsh-language social network.
To overcome these challenges and boost the number of Welsh speakers and the proficiency of Welsh learners in Wales, researchers from Swansea University led by Steve Morris set out to explore the efficacy of Canolfannau Cymraeg (Welsh Language Centres) and other factors involved in improving learning outcomes. Canolfannau Cymraeg are multipurpose centres where classes for learners are combined with social activities for Welsh speakers in the community as well as various other facilities e.g., shops, cafés or bars.
The research aimed to:
- ascertain the opportunities that are available to maintain social networks in Welsh; and whether these opportunities are greater or equal if learners study in a Canolfan Gymraeg;
- ascertain and to recommend strategies that could be implemented in order to extend and expand the Welsh medium social networks of these new Welsh speakers;
- ascertain whether patterns or strategies exist in other language communities that could be adapted to the efforts to integrate adults who have learnt Welsh.
Our research was the first to investigate the impact of Canolfannau Cymraeg on social networks of new speakers of Welsh and their potential as drivers for reversing language shift in comparatively non-Welsh speaking areas of Wales.
In 2009, Steve Morris from Swansea University was successful in winning a £35,000 research grant from the Welsh Government to look at social networks of adults learning Welsh and in particular, how these learners could increase their contact with the language in areas of Wales where Welsh is not the main language of the community.
Working with his colleague Heini Gruffudd, they contacted about a third of all adult learners of Welsh on advanced level courses in 2009 – 2010 to investigate whether learning in a Canolfan Gymraeg has an effect on the potential social networks available to adults. They did this by comparing the social networks available to adults who had studied in a Canolfan Gymraeg and those who had not had the opportunity.
Internationally, this work has been discussed within the context of the COST European New Speakers network in which both Steve Morris and Dr Gwennan Higham are actively involved.
Our research has played a critical role in influencing Welsh government policy to promote the use of
Welsh, boost the number of Welsh speakers and the proficiency of Welsh learners in Wales, by creating ten new Canolfannau Cymraeg through financial support of £2,250,000 (see the 2014 policy statement ‘Bwrw Ymlaen’).
The new Canolfannau Cymraeg provide invaluable opportunities for learners in their communities to couple their integrative motivations with opportunities to use the language and join Welsh-language social networks which otherwise are not easily accessible. Groups benefit from being able to extend the domains where they use Welsh and by having space to expand and consolidate their social networks in the language.
Swansea University’s Academi Hywel Teifi has opened a Canolfan Gymraeg in Pontardawe called Tŷ’r Gwrhyd. Together with Tŷ Tawe, the Canolfan Gymraeg in Swansea, these centres offer students the chance to take part in a wide programme of social activities through the medium of Welsh and also to undertake work experience in a variety of areas.
Reports submitted to the Welsh Government by the newly-established centres demonstrate that in addition to adult new speakers of Welsh, beneficiaries include families, children and young people across Wales. The creation of the centres has also led to the promotion and strengthening of the language within their wider communities.
Language pressure groups including Dyfodol i’r Iaith [A Future for the Language] have also recognised the significance of this relationship between language and community, committing in their manifesto to “the creation of a Welsh Centres network across Wales”, as the centres represent “focal points for Welsh-speaking life in their areas.
Canolfannau Cymraeg have considerable economic impact in their local areas. To give one example, the 2015 Evaluation of the Economic and Cultural Impact of Canolfan Soar report demonstrated that this centre in Merthyr Tydfil was worth approximately £608,000 to the local economy over one year, based on “the direct, indirect and subsequent rounds of expenditure induced by the activities by the Centre."