Census 2021 revealed: How popular is the Welsh language in Wales?

The Welsh Government want one million Welsh speakers by 2050 Credit: PA

Figures have been published on the number of people living in Wales who are able to speak, read or write in the Welsh language.

Using 2021 Census data, where a question about the language was included for the first time since 1891, people were able to assess their ability when it comes to Welsh language skills.

Wales has a population of just over three million people.

The Welsh Government set itself an ambitious target in 2017 of reaching one million Welsh speakers by 2050 - which is a third of the population.

At the time, the then First Minister Carwyn Jones said, "This is certainly a challenging ambition, but a challenge we believe is worthwhile and necessary if we are to secure the vitality of the language for future generations.

"The Welsh language is one of the treasures of Wales. It is part of what defines us as people and as a nation."

The data shows less young people are learning the language

Mr Jones said that in order for the target to be met the language needed to be an "integral element of all aspects of everyday life."

"If we want to achieve this, the whole nation has to be part of the journey – fluent Welsh speakers, Welsh speakers who are reluctant to use the language, new speakers who have learned the language, and also those who do not consider themselves to be Welsh speakers. Everyone has a part to play, and we want everyone to contribute to realising our ambition."

During First Minister's Questions on Tuesday (December 6), Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price proposed welsh-medium education for all children in Wales to help meet the 2050 target.

"As with climate change, goodwill is not the same as delivering against targets, so wouldn’t the most positive response to today’s news be to ensure that the Welsh education Bill that is proposed, which would provide Welsh-medium education for all children in Wales, has a clear and adequate timetable?", he asked Mark Drakeford.

In response, the First Minister explained that this would "alienate" people: "Compulsory education for everybody to the medium of Welsh is not the answer to the Welsh language in Wales.

"It will alienate people who are sympathetic to the Welsh language, it will set the language backwards, not forwards. now you are perfectly entitled to make that your policy if you like, but I’m clear with you as clear as I can. It will not be the policy of the Welsh Government."

  • What does the Census data tell us about the number of Welsh speakers currently?

In 2021, an estimated 538,000 residents in Wales aged three years and over reported being able to speak Welsh which shows a fall in the last ten years.

In 2011, 562,000 people reported being able to speak Welsh.

According to the ONS, there has been a significant decrease in children and young people being able to speak the language - particularly between the ages of three and fifteen.

  • Where in Wales has seen a fall in the Welsh language?

In the last ten years, all local authorities except four reported a decrease in the number of people able to speak Welsh.

The only areas which saw an increase were Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil.

Wales' education minister described the figures as "disappointing".

Jeremy Miles MS said, "Today’s census figures are of course disappointing and not what we wanted to see. 

"Census 2021 shows us one snapshot of what’s happened over the last ten years. We’ll look at those results in detail alongside all the other statistics and research that’s available to us.

"I’ve often said that Welsh isn’t just something I speak, it’s something I feel, and I feel more and more people feel that the language belongs to them. The key is changing those feelings into language use."

  • What are the reasons for this?

The ONS said more people have moved into the country than left in the last ten years.

"There were more people who were born outside Wales living here in 2021 than in 2011. We know from previous censuses that people born outside Wales are much less likely to report being able to speak Welsh than people born in Wales."

  • "The language belongs to us all"

Despite the fall in figures, Wales' recent World Cup campaign in Qatar saw a spotlight placed on the language thanks to the release of the official tournament anthem, Yma O Hyd.

Dafydd Iwan's Welsh language song became synonymous with Wales' World Cup campaign Credit: PA

Singer songwriter Dafydd Iwan told ITV News, the language has "helped bring people together" according to Dafydd Iwan, the man behind Wales' official World Cup anthem Yma o Hyd.

Despite the song first being released in the 1980s; in recent years, it has become synonymous with the success of the national side, with thousands of supporters singing it at every game.

"Language can divide," Dafydd Iwan explained in an interview. But we've always said that the language belongs to us all.

"I think this has helped to bring people together and a lot of non-Welsh speakers have told me 'it's so great to be a part of this'."

He continued: "Let's hope that it'll continue and the spirit will get through to the team and - who knows?"

Mr Iwan went on to explain why Yma o Hyd seems to have struck a chord with so many people decades since its release - even among those who can't speak the language.

He said: "This kind of song is pertinent to most nations, most people and I hope there is a little bit of that in it as well. It's not just us. It's us and everybody else.

"Everybody likes to celebrate the fact that they can overcome difficulties and perhaps that's a part of the appeal of the song."