Tag: Welsh Language

Guest Blog – Opening up committees is a step forward for stronger democracy in Wales

Dr Andy Williamson, October 2016

It’s great to see the fifth National Assembly starting off with a strong intention to increase public participation. The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has already started, committee chair Bethan Jenkins asking the public to help shape what they talk about through a range of innovative and original channels.

This is the stamp of a modern legislature, one that is invested in strong democracy and the best interests of the people that it serves.

Senedd chamber

Open, transparent and accessible legislatures are the way of the future and we can see this happening around the world:

  • in Westminster the Petitions Committee is drawing in new audiences to watch what their parliament is doing and to get involved in debates;
  • in Brazil and Chile legislation is shared online with the public, who can comment, amend and vote on those changes before they are referred back to members;
  • legislatures as diverse as Georgia, Paraguay and France are implementing strategies to increase public involvement in what they do and to ensure that is transparent and accessible;
  • Scotland, Italy and the Czech Republic are examples of parliaments who are providing real-time, open access to their data, whilst the Dutch and New Zealand parliaments provide online, fully searchable archives of their parliamentary record; and
  • Serbia and Peru are amongst the legislatures around the world actively partnering with civil society organisations, finding new ways to open up, reach out, listen and to share.

This is disruptive practice and even positive disruption brings challenges. Members can feel that increased participation encroaches on, some say threatens, their role in a representative democracy. In reality, experience shows us, it does the opposite. And we have to put innovations like this in context; members still make the decisions, they still decide on the majority of committee business. But in the age of social media and constant news, it quickly becomes obvious that being more engaged and better connected significantly benefits members who want to feel the pulse of their communities. The world over, our representatives have to accept doing their job not only in the full gaze of increased public scrutiny but with greater public involvement. This is a good thing; democracy is not about a vote every five years but having a voice every day.

The world has changed, forcing us to reshape the work of legislatures as more and more varied channels of public participation and interaction open up. To understand why this matters we first have to accept the benefits of greater public engagement, and those benefits are many. There are logistical challenges too, knowing which tools to use and not trying to own or control them (or the discussion). We have to develop a willingness to go where the people are, to use the tools they use, to choose what’s best for the job at hand.

A more informed and engaged public makes for a stronger democracy.

Creating new ways to give people a voice and get more involved in what their representatives are doing starts to break down the barriers of mistrust that have calcified across too many of our public institutions. It’s not a panacea, there is no silver bullet and people are slow to trust, quick to push their own agendas, to express frustration when they don’t get their own way. We can’t expect a system that has been distrusted, has often been perceived as closed and controlling, to change overnight and nor should we expect public attitudes to shift immediately either, that would be naive. This is an ongoing process, we need to be cautious and tolerant but equally to press ahead with the confidence of knowing that being more open is better for all of us in the long run.

Opening up committees can feel hard because it is hard. But it is both the right thing to do and necessary. It’s a reflection on the ongoing societal shift in our attitudes and approach to democracy, which will be easier to embrace if we can talk openly and honestly about what it means, for elected representatives, staff and the public.

Opening up committees is about inclusion. It’s about stronger representation, making democracy more participatory and how this benefits members and the public. Open democracy leads to better legislation, legislation that is thoughtful and appropriate, that is based on a wider set of views, immersed in the experiences of real people. Legislation that better reflects who we are. The world is complex and finding new, reliable ways of solving problems will be easier when we can effectively harness that significant reservoir of talent, knowledge and ideas that has lain untapped for far too long. To get there, we need more education, more information and more partners to promote greater political maturity and effective engagement.

We need more people, different voices, to be heard and heard more often. Inviting people into committees, asking them to help shape the agenda and giving them more space to be heard are positive steps forward. This trajectory towards more effective engagement is what modern democracy is all about.

Dr Andy Williamson is the Founder of Democratise and a Governor of The Democratic Society. He recently wrote the World e-Parliament Report 2016 and is co-author of ‘From Arrogance to Intimacy – A Handbook for Active Democracies’.

Culture, Welsh Language and Communications – Engagement firsts at the National Assembly for Wales

For the first time, the Assembly has established a Committee with specific responsibility for communications, culture, the arts, the historic environment, broadcasting and the media.

These issues are the things that enrich our lives, that fashion and explain our narrative as a nation, that are the soul of our unique culture and heritage, and help define what it is to be Welsh.

The new Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is a group of eight Assembly Members from across Wales, who represent the five political parties which make up the Assembly. Over the summer, the Committee provided a variety of opportunities for people to get in touch and tell us what they thought the Committee should prioritise.

Committee Members

Back in July, the Assembly used Facebook Live for the very first time. Over 2,700 people watched Chair of the Committee, Bethan Jenkins AM talk about her hopes for the Committee. We had lots of ideas through the Facebook Live feed, on Twitter, and by e-mail.

The Committee also held an event at the Eisteddfod where people in attendance put forward their ideas and prioritise. One of those suggestions was that the Committee should look at Welsh Language usage among young people, considering the announcement the First Minister and the Minister for Life Long Learning and Welsh Language made about the aim of growing the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.

With a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to get in touch, this is what you told us were your priorities…

Welsh language

  • How the WG aim to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050, including Welsh language usage among young people
  • Welsh language in secondary education, including a proposal to get rid of the concept of second language education and replace it with one continuum of Welsh learning
  • Encouraging people to carry on using the Welsh language after they leave school
  • Bilingual support for deaf and hard of hearing people

Culture

  • Funding for and access to music education
  • A strategy to develop the music industry in Wales
  • Fees and terms for the visual and applied arts
  • Access to and funding of the arts at a grassroots and local level
  • How Wales supports its traditional and unique cultural arts
  • Progression of Expert Review into Local Museums report
  • The Wales brand

Heritage

  • Preserving local heritage in Wales
  • Cultural and historical education in Wales

Communications

  • What can the Welsh Government do to tackle the democratic deficit in Wales
  • The state of local journalism in Wales
  • Welsh media representation on a UK level
  • Funding for the Welsh media
  • The implications of the BBC Charter on S4C
  • Citizen participation and access to political information

The Committee took these suggestions into consideration whilst planning the big issues they wanted to tackle over the next 5 years. There was a lot of common ground between the suggestions the Committee received and some of the Committees priorities, including:

  • how the ambition of achieving a million Welsh speakers can be achieved
  • concern at the continuing decline of local media and local news journalism
  • lack of portrayal of Wales on UK broadcast networks
  • the role of Radio in Wales
  • the remit, funding and accountability of S4C

We have grouped the remaining ideas together, and want the public to decide which issue you think the Committee should investigate in the next couple of months, once the Committee has completed its work on the Welsh language strategy. This is the first time an Assembly Committee will have given the public the ability to so directly decide what its focus should be.

Get involved by completing and sharing this survey.

This is not to say that we will ignore all but the most popular issue. All of these responses will help us decide our priorities further down the line, and we intend to follow-up all of these areas, be that through a formal inquiry, by asking questions to Ministers or by seeking plenary debates.
The Committee is committed to engaging the range of individuals, groups, businesses and organisations in its work, and hope that by providing opportunities to directly affect the Committees work that it effectively represents the interest of Wales and its people.
More about the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

“Listening to the interpreters showcase their talent was amazing. What a skill!”

Ffion at a translators desk

Ffion Pritchard joined the Assembly’s Translation and Reporting Service for the day last week after winning the Urdd translation competition. Here she talks about her experience behind the scenes and how the Assembly champions bilingualism.

I travelled by train to Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 12 July, a fine summer’s day, to spend the day on work experience with the Assembly’s Translation Unit—my reward for winning the Urdd translation competition.

A busy day had been planned for me. As part of the day, I met Mair, the head of the translation unit, and Mari Lisa, the competition adjudicator, and learnt about the business unit, transcribing the Record of Proceedings, translating legislation and the art of simultaneous interpretation. Thank you to Geth, Jodi, Llinos and Cai for all their help. I’m sure that the information they provided will be a great help to me in the future.

As well as meeting with, and working alongside, the translators and editors in the Translation Unit, I also attended meetings with two important people in the Senedd. In the morning, I had the opportunity to meet and have my photograph taken with the Presiding Officer; in the afternoon, Alun Davies, Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, gave up his time to shake my hand and have a chat. Given that they are very busy people, I really appreciated this opportunity!

Ffion and the Presiding Officer, Elin Jones AM

Gruff’s introduction to machine translation was greatly beneficial. It is good to see major companies such as Microsoft investing in technology that benefits the Welsh translation industry. Used properly, this technology increases translators’ productivity and gives non-Welsh speakers the opportunity to understand the language. Of course, machine translation will never be an improvement on real-life translators, but it is good to know that there are resources available to support our work.

Ffion and Gruff

As someone who takes an interest in politics as well as translating, it was great to see First Minister’s Questions in the Chamber. It was nice to feel part of the political process and hear the Welsh language being spoken by Ministers. Listening to the interpreters showcase their talent was amazing. What a skill!

I would like to thank the Urdd, Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru (the association of Welsh translators and interpreters) and the Assembly for arranging the day. A heartfelt thanks goes to Iona and Sarah for being such wonderful guides! I would urge those of you who are between 19 and 25 years old and who have an interest in translation to enter the Urdd competition next year. If you are successful, I promise that spending the day with the Assembly’s translation unit will be an invaluable experience!

Assembly People: Anna, Welsh Language Tutor

Shwmae! I’m Anna, and I was appointed Welsh Language Tutor for Assembly Commission staff in November 2014.

I offer one to one mentoring sessions, formal lessons and more informal learning activities to learners on all levels, from beginners to those who are more advanced.

In this new post, it has been a pleasure to meet so many members of Assembly Commission staff who are enthusiastic about learning to speak Welsh. It is a joy to hear those learners using Welsh freely around the offices at Tŷ Hywel and in the Senedd.

One of the highlights for me so far was being greeted spontaneously in Welsh in song by Assembly officials as I entered the building one miserable January morning. During the previous day, I had held a session on greeting and guiding in Welsh with them. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it was the inspiration for this video in which they star:

 

Another highlight has been teaching the canteen staff to serve in Welsh. It is a thrill for me to hear them use the phrases they have learnt at work, and I always look forward to my sessions with the team as they always bring so much fun with them.

Senedd cafe
Assembly canteen staff each holding up a card to complete the phrase: ‘Schmae! Dyn ni’n dysgu gweini yn Gymraeg.’

Here are some handy phrases that they have learnt that may be useful to us all to get us through the day at work:

coffi gwyn                      white coffee

coffi du                          black coffee

coffi gwyn bach              small white coffee

coffi du bach                  small black coffee

coffi gwyn mawr             large white coffee

coffi du mawr                 large black coffee

Ga i helpu?                     May I help?

Dyna chi                         There you are

Diolch                            Thank you

Croeso                           You’re welcome

Pysgod a Sglods             Fish and Chips

Brechdan                        Sandwich

Bara brown                     Brown bread

Bara gwyn                       White bread

One thing that has struck me since I started in this post in November is how difficult it can be for learners to have an opportunity to speak Welsh outside the classroom. Therefore, I’d like to use the space that I have left to call on all Welsh speakers to give our learners a chance – turning to English can undermine their confidence that they can communicate in Welsh. So, Welsh speakers and Welsh learners, give it a go!

Pob lwc!

Watch Anna teaching Dewi the Dragon some key Welsh phrases in this short video: