Being a bilingual family in Wales

Wales’s Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (National Eisteddfod) is an annual week-long Welsh language cultural festival that takes place at the start of August. Last year, we went to the event as a family for the first time when our son was three and a half months old. As this year’s Eisteddfod is a bit far to comfortably visit in a day trip, this week I’ll be looking back on last year’s event.

I started learning Welsh in 2007, the year I moved to Wales to begin a job as lecturer in French at Bangor University. After I’d been learning Welsh for just under two years, I went to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol for the first time when it was in Bala in 2009. I wasn’t sure what it would be like being at a Welsh language event while I was a relative beginner with the language and I was a bit nervous. My nerves weren’t exactly helped when I accidentally knocked over a display stand holding leaflets in the reception area, but I was kindly given help to put the stand together again by a friendly clown who said that it was the stand’s fault.


The Eisteddfod’s main pavilion

Although I wasn’t able to fully understand everything going on around me at my first Eisteddfod, especially when I went into the main pavilion to see one of the big ceremonies at which a literary prize was being presented, it was great being there. There was a lot of live music and I ended up bumping into quite a few people I knew.

By the time the Eisteddfod was back in North Wales in 2011, my Welsh had improved. During my trip to the 2011 Eisteddfod Genedlaethol in Wrexham I recorded several interviews for a Welsh language football podcast that I was running at the time. I also managed to understand more of what was going on and went to a few talks.

Last year, when the Eisteddfod was in Denbigh, I visited it with my wife and son. Despite being under four months old, our son seemed to quite enjoy the event even though he thought that some people were clapping too loudly for his liking at some events. He managed to sit through a clog dancing performance but just didn’t like the noise of the applause at the end of it, so we had to leave the tent in which the dance competitions were taking place.

2013-08-07 13.02.55Thankfully, our son was more at home in the large tent of the organisation Twf. Twf’s slogan is ‘two languages from day one’ and they are an organisation who provide support and resources for parents who want to use Welsh with their kids. So far, they have provided us with several free CDs of Welsh nursery rhymes and we’ve been able to attend several of their events in our local area. They also ran a parent and baby Welsh course that my wife was able to attend with our son during his first few months. As a result, she learned a lot of useful phrases to use when talking to babies.

At last year’s Eisteddfod, I was able to attend and understand events where experts were discussing topics like the music industry in Wales and how the Welsh language is being affected by the rise of e-publishing. Although the main language of the Eisteddfod is very much Welsh, it is always visited by quite a lot of people who do not speak Welsh. On several visits, I have seen tourists from a range of different countries. Translation headsets are also available for many of the events that take place in the main pavilion.

Personalized signage for a performer named Allan who is renowned for arriving late. Apparently some think that this is just an exit sign as 'allan' is Welsh for 'out'.

Personalized signage for a performer named Allan who is renowned for arriving late. Apparently some think that this is just an exit sign as ‘allan’ is Welsh for ‘out’.

The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol is a focal point for Welsh language culture and I hope that it’s an event that our son will come to enjoy as he grows up. I hope that he will become confident in both Welsh and English and realise the benefits that come from speaking more than one language and also the range of cultural events that take place in Welsh. There is a national Welsh language television channel and radio station here in Wales and there are many Welsh language plays and music festivals that take place in our local area.

Attending the Eisteddfod has provided me with plenty of reasons to keep on learning Welsh and learning about Welsh culture. Over the last few years I have done several live radio interviews in Welsh. It is also a language that I use almost daily at work, and I have now given several lectures and conference papers in Welsh.

I often think about the crucial issue of language exposure when it comes to bringing up our son bilingually. I speak to him exclusively in Welsh and my wife generally speaks to him in English. As my wife spends more time with him at the moment, I do wonder how this will affect his confidence in Welsh. I’m hoping that the Welsh language events in our area that take place in local libraries and community centres will help to bridge the gap and that we’ll be able to enjoy plenty more trips to the Eisteddfod in years to come.


Are you bringing up your kids bilingually? How important do you think it is to speak different languages? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

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