Nant Gwrtheyrn’s Chairman, Huw Jones, joined a deputation from Wales on a three day visit to the Basque Country in order to study the system of teaching Basque as a second language which is in operation in that country.
The population of the Basque Country is similar to that of Wales, but the numbers of those who say they are able to speak the language has risen substantially and Wales wants to know what are the reasons for this.
The Welsh representatives included the Chief Executive of the National Welsh Language Learning Centre, Efa Gruffudd Jones, officials from the Welsh Government and a representative of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. The visit was arranged by Meirion Prys Jones, former Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board. Meirion has been instrumental also in helping Nant Gwrtheyrn to design the successful Iaith Gwaith/ Language for Work Programme. Over the three days they visited two language learning centres, one of them a residential centre like Nant Gwrtheyrn, two universities and the headquarters of HABE, the body responsible for co-ordinating and funding language learning for adults across the country.
Huw Jones said: “This was a worthwhile visit. The Basques insist that almost everyone who holds a public sector job shall have passed a high-level exam in the Basque language and this creates considerable demand for courses. People in general seem to have a desire to learn or improve their language skills. The government and local authorities provide generous financial support for the courses and for those following them. About 70% of the country’s school students receive their education through the medium of Basque. The universities offer a very wide range of courses of all kinds through the medium of the language. In many ways, they have overtaken Wales, after starting from a similar linguistic point in the 70s. But, as in Wales, they also wish to see more emphasis placed on ensuring that people use the language after learning it. This November, for example, there will be an eleven-day period where everyone across the country will be urged to start conversations in Basque, to show that they are willing to speak it or that they can understand it well enough to follow conversations without the language being changed for their benefit. It will be an interesting experiment. We can learn a lot from this country where for very many years under Franco, the Basque language had to all intents and purposes been banished from the public arena.”