Although the Welsh enjoy official status in Wales, the number of speakers of the language is declining in its country of origin, but in faraway Patagonia, it is being preserved. Patagonia is located in Argentina and in this sparsely populated region, the Welsh language is thriving and taught to young children and adults by Welsh language teachers.
Each year, from late July until early August, Wales and Argentina celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the first Welsh settlers in Patagonia. This year marks the 150th year of the arrival of 153 Welsh settlers in the region. The language is now spoken in several communities in the province of Chubut, like Trelew, Gaiman, Trevelin and Esquel. In these communities are Welsh teahouses, choirs and chapels and where the annual “eisteddfodau” is held. What’s more significant is that there are over 5,000 people who are fluent in Welsh. The numbers are increasing, considering that there are now some 50,000 Patagonians whose ancestry could be traced back to the Welsh settlers.
Promotion and development of the language
The British Council runs a Wales project in Patagonia, which is tasked to develop and promote the Welsh language. The WLP or the Welsh Language Project, which is funded by the Wales-Argentina Society and the Welsh government has been running since 1997. The program sends three teachers a year from March until December to teach the language to students in the nursery level up to adult learners through cultural activities and formal lessons.
The language learners today have reached 1,174. There are already two bilingual Welsh-Spanish primary schools registered with the government and a third school is being planned to open in 2016. It is not only children with Welsh ancestry who are taking classes in the language. Many Argentine parents have started to send their children to the Welsh-Spanish schools because they appreciate the intellectual advantage speaking two or more languages will have on their children.
Additional project funding
First Minister Carwyn Jones, who visited the Chubut Province for the annual celebration said that he is thinking of adding more funds into the Welsh language project. The current annual budget that the Wales government provides amounts to £65,000.
Gareth Kiff, the WLP chairman and academic monitor in the region said that it was only when the third generation of settlers came that Welsh stopped being the first language of the Welsh settlers in the province.
Still, the language suffered from political restrictions as well. In the 1930s, speakers were only allowed to use the language at home and in church. In the 1970s and the 1980s, people of Welsh ancestry were banned from giving Welsh names to their children.
But the restrictions have been relaxed now and the Welsh language is enjoying a resurgence in a place that is 13,000 km or 8,000 miles from Wales.