The new Welsh Language Strategy Cymraeg 2050: a million Welsh speakers was published recently and contains an ambitious target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Measuring how we might meet this target has provided an interesting challenge for statisticians in Welsh Government, and we’ve been working with policy teams to consider how their policy aims might translate to achieving this aspiration, and how many Welsh speakers we might have based on recent demographic trends.
So, how do we estimate future numbers of Welsh speakers?
To start with we revisited the demographic projections of Welsh speakers produced by the Welsh Language Board in 2012. Using the same approach, we modelled trends based on how the language is passed on within a household (language transmission) and a cohort model of Welsh language prevalence. We did this using data from the 2011 Census, mid-year population estimates and the national population projections produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This allowed us to project how many Welsh speakers there might be if current trends continued until 2050. This work estimated that by 2050 there would be around 666,000 Welsh speakers in Wales – 334,000 short of the aspiration.
Using this model as a basis we then considered various scenarios of how you might move from 666,000 to a million in 2050. We were able to model differences in the numbers of adults learning Welsh, different transmission rates within a household, the impact of different Welsh-medium education provision, and the impact of seeing more children retaining the language after leaving school.
This allowed us to set a ‘trajectory’ for reaching a million based on the ambitions of the strategy, that is to: increase Welsh-medium education; aim for 70 per cent of school leavers to be speaking Welsh; and aspirations around the number of adults acquiring the language annually. This trajectory was included in the strategy and provides a picture of the path to a million that will be reviewed continuously. Alongside this work, we modelled the number of teachers that might be needed to achieve aspirations around Welsh-medium education and used the trajectory to set targets on Welsh language use.
We’ve published a more detailed technical note about this process on our website.
Just to be clear this is only one possible trajectory. There are a range of factors, be they demographic, social or the impact of policy that could well influence the journey to a million. As stated in the strategy, modelling demographic change in the future is complex; modelling the impact of policy changes on specific characteristics of the population is even harder.
What else are we doing to support this work?
Of course, using the Census as a basis relies on having a consistent time series in the future. We are working closely with the ONS on their future plans of the Census and one priority for us is to ensure that there is a robust set of data available on the Welsh language that continues the historical time series. We’re also aware that surveys such as the National Survey for Wales and the Annual Population Survey provide different, usually higher, estimates of the proportion of Welsh speakers. Particularly in recent years we have seen an increase in the percentage of people who speak a little Welsh. To help us understand how people differ in their responses to the Census and surveys we are undertaking some innovative work with the Administrative Data Research Centre-Wales and the ONS to research more into these differences.
As stated above projecting the future is not easy. We will continuously review the trajectory and demographic projections and provide regular updates. We will also share the findings of the work looking at the Census and surveys when it is complete. If you are interested in any of this work please contact WelshLanguageData@gov.wales.
Post by Glyn Jones and Martin Parry, Welsh Government