Despite being a fluent Welsh speaker, my confidence in using it in work varies. Despite replying to consultations on behalf of Participation Cymru over the last 2 years, it was only last month that I responded in Welsh for the first time. I speak Welsh everyday, but I don’t encounter the language that’s used in consultations on a day to day basis.
When I was invited to do a presentation at Comms Cymru’s Beyond the Gap symposium on the Welsh language and social media, I was immediately keen – I’ve really enjoyed using social media as part of my role, which has helped to break down the conventional boundaries of an information service which broadcasts information. Social media has enabled me to share ideas, learn from others and network with organisations around the world.
As a Welsh speaker, I’m also keen to be given the opportunity to live my life in Welsh wherever possible. To enable this to happen, organisations need to offer me the chance to engage in the language of my choice. I’m fortunate that I live in Cardiff, where Cardiff Council have a great Welsh Twitter account, that enables me to do just that.
Unfortunately not everyone in Wales has that opportunity. Of the 257 people that completed the Welsh language section of the All Wales public services internet and social media survey, only a third (33%) of respondents said their organisation had Welsh language or bilingual social media streams, whereas 28% were unsure and 39% said they did not.
Interestingly there was mixed feelings about having bilingual streams or separate streams in English and Welsh, both in the survey and at the event, with some people feeling that bilingual streams normalised the use of Welsh, whereas others said they liked to have the option so they could engage in the language of their choice.
The results of the survey showed that one of the most commonly perceived barriers is that organisations do not have enough Welsh speaking staff to run an effective service, with the speed of response being a particular concern when using social media platforms where immediacy is key.
Respondents also felt that it was difficult to get people to engage in Welsh, and it was difficult to make a business case for extra investment in the area when usage is low. However some respondents said that they felt that the reason less Welsh speakers engaged with social media was because Welsh language content was not written in a style they would speak and that messages are simply translated versions of English messages.
I’m currently re-writing my recommendations for the report following the Minister’s decision on Welsh Language Standards, but my recommendations in draft form include that Welsh language social media is mainstreamed into organisations’ work as a communication tool, as opposed to being an add-on, and also that engagement work meets principle 5 of the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales, which calls for information to be ‘jargon free, appropriate and understandable’. The guidance notes state that ‘information is available in Welsh and English as well as other ethnic minority languages’, and it’s vital that we engage in ways that people want to use, and also that we engage on people’s own terms by using clear language that everyone can understand. Social media is an ideal tool to help us do this, as its informal nature means we can use clear language to better communicate with people, whatever their choice of language.