Welsh becomes fastest growing language in UK after rise in number of learners during pandemic

Lockdown has been an opportunity to find a new hobby or to learn a new skill for many.

There has also been a rise in the number of people learning Welsh during the pandemic with ‘Duolingo’, the world’s most popular language app, revealing in its 2020 language report that Welsh is now the fastest growing language in the UK.

It saw a 44% increase in 2020 with Welsh beating Hindi, Japanese, French and Turkish.

ITV Wales' Sharp End presenter Rob Osborne spoke to two women about their decision to learn the language during the pandemic.

Jayne Brewer is a mum of two living in Swansea. 

She said, “I decided to learn Welsh because I’m really keen for our children to go to Welsh language education and I know how good learning another language is going to be for their cognitive skills and hopefully for mine.

Jayne is keen to send her children to a Welsh medium school

“So I’ve started learning again and hopefully that will also help me to help them with schooling, with homework and also to communicate better with the parents and teachers in the school.

“I also have recognised how useful it would be in work and I really think that I would’ve benefitted as well as some of the clients I work with if I would be able to communicate a bit better in Welsh.”

She started learning Welsh two years ago, and is using the Duolingo app daily.

“I absolutely love it. I’m a little bit addicted”, she said.

“There’s a really clear method in terms of the structure and how it flows from greetings and some basics such as months of the year, numbers, where you work and what you like to eat for breakfast. So lots of really practical starting points and practical themes. 

“There’s quite a lot of repetition which is really good for learners.”

Jayne started learning Welsh two years ago and has daily lessons on Duolingo

Becca Hinton also decided to learn Welsh during the pandemic. She lives with her partner in Efail Isaf in Rhondda Cynon Taf. 

She said, “I moved to a small village in South Wales called Efail Isaf back at the beginning of last year. Then I fell in love with the village.

“It’s got a higher than normal rate of Welsh speakers. I found it quite interesting because I’d never really been around that many Welsh speakers.

“Then I ended up taking a bit of a career break from my job because with Covid and everything that was happening, I just wanted to do a bit of self-reflection and figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So I took some time to focus on important things to me and one of those was to learn Welsh again.”

Becca took time during the pandemic to focus on important things in her life and one of those was to learn Welsh

Becca "wanted to immerse" herself in the language and decided to take part in an intensive course through the National Centre for Learning Welsh, joining classes three mornings a week.

“It’s a small group, there’s four of us on the course. The students are from all over the place. One is in Swansea, one is up in Derbyshire and one is down in Poole in Dorset. Because it’s online and all virtual, people can join from wherever they are so that’s great as well”, she said.

She said that the journey has "been amazing" and she definitely wants to keep going. She is hoping that learning Welsh will lead to different job opportunities in the future.

Becca wanted to 'immerse' herself in the language and take part in an intensive course through the National Centre for Learning Welsh

Becca said,  “Why not use it? It’s a local language, it’s local to the UK and it’s inclusive.”

Jayne added, “I think it’s really important to protect our beautiful language. It’s definitely something that we’re trying to encourage so that we’re protecting it as well as trying to use it a lot more.

“I think that the targets that we have in terms of generating or encouraging more learners is a great aspiration for us at the moment. I really hope that people will agree that it’s not dead.”

Duolingo and the National Centre for Learning Welsh have collaborated with the Welsh Government to support its target of reaching one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

1.62 million people are now learning Welsh on Duolingo, with an increase of 100,000 since October 2020.

Its rise in popularity has continued in 2021 meaning that Welsh is now the 6th most popular language to learn in the UK, overtaking Chinese, Russian and Portuguese.

Welsh is the 6th most popular language to learn in the UK

Welsh learners are also ranked third in the world for being the the "most dedicated and hardest working learners."

Eluned Morgan, Welsh Language Minister said, “We’ve set a goal of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, around a third of Wales’ current population, and in recent years we’ve seen a surge in demand for Welsh in early years and school-age learning.

“To reach our target, it’s important to also grow the language among adults and apps such as Duolingo are a great way to get a taste for learning Welsh in a fun way which fits around people’s busy lives.

Figures also show there is someone learning Welsh in every country on earth including Antarctica.

Based on Duolingo’s 2020 language report, only 40% of the learners live in the UK with 21% living in the US and 3% in Canada. 

The primary motivation for new Welsh learners in 2020 was school followed by family and culture.

Catch up with Sharp End here.