A critical analysis of the role of community sport in encouraging the use of the Welsh language among young people beyond the school gate
The Welsh language has been subject to much political attention in Wales. The Welsh Government’s vision for reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050, means numbers would need to double in just over 30 years. In addition to growth driven by formal education policy, the Welsh Language Commissioner believed that sport could play a key role in achieving this ambitious target. Sport could provide a context where children, many of whom would only use Welsh in school, could interact, play and socialise in Welsh. This research provides a critical analysis of whether sport in the community, e.g. local swimming and gymnastics clubs, can be a vehicle for promoting the use of Welsh among young people beyond the school gate. A case study approach was adopted in order to obtain the perspectives of young people and community sport providers. Qualitative research methods were used for data collection including a sustained period of participant observation, follow-up interviews and focus groups. The research also focused on gaining a broader understanding of the policy landscape regarding community sport and the Welsh language. Policy informer interviews were undertaken with individuals working at the local, regional and national levels. These interviews looked to understand the research question in a wider context and provide a critical analysis of the challenges and opportunities associated with the development of a minority language. Some of the key findings related to: the importance of the local language context of the case study area; the behaviours and attitudes of young people towards the language (both within and beyond the school gate); the availability of qualified Welsh speaking coaches and volunteers to promote the Welsh language; and the perceptions of significant others which can lead (intentionally and unintentionally) to the marginalisation of minority language speakers. There were also a number of wider policy challenges identified and these included: the impact of Brexit; partnership working; resources; and communication. A key conclusion was that community sport can offer opportunities for the development of the Welsh language and that linguistic capital is an important feature of community cohesion and identity. For this to be achieved, however, some challenges need to be overcome including tackling negative attitudes and behaviours of young people and community sport deliverers. Some opportunities were also identified which merit further exploration including partnership working, the development of educational resources, the need to raise awareness of Welsh in Further and Higher Education, and to promote speaking Welsh in professional and personal development.