Welsh lessons for migrants and refugees 'neglected'

By Tomos Lewis & Rhys Williams
BBC News

image captionA Welsh class for female refugees and migrants was started in Newport in response to demand

The Welsh language is "neglected" and considered "too much hassle" to teach to migrants and refugees settling in Wales, according to an academic.

Dr Gwennan Higham said most show a "willingness and an interest" to learn both Welsh and English, but that the current focus was on English only.

Refugees are entitled to all Welsh Government-funded English language programmes but not necessarily Welsh.

Welsh should be integrated into English lessons, the Welsh Government said.

Xiao Xia Chen and her family moved to Wales from China. She attends a Welsh class for female refugees and migrants run by the Red Cross and Learn Welsh Newport.

image captionXiao Xia Chen says she wants to learn Welsh so she can converse with her son who is taught at school

But she said the lessons were only arranged because the women specifically asked if they could learn Welsh.

Ms Chen said she wanted to learn so she could have a conversation with her son, who is taught Welsh at school.

"It's very important to learn Welsh, because in Wales, the language is very nice and we don't want to lose it," she said. "To be honest I prefer my kids to learn more languages."

Dr Higham, a lecturer in Welsh at Swansea University, said that despite this interest, refugees and migrants were not often given the opportunity.

image captionEnglish and Welsh lessons should be offered "on an equal level", says Dr Gwennan Higham

"So far, English is the only language that's marketed or targeted to immigrants but I'd say that to some extent, Welsh is neglected and downgraded to immigrants," said Dr Higham.

"Welsh can offer a lot to immigrants but they don't know about it and don't get the opportunity to learn the language."

Dr Higham called for both languages to be offered "on an equal level".

The National Centre for Learning Welsh said it was working hard to increase the number of refugees learning the language.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government added: "Refugees are entitled to access all Welsh Government-funded English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programmes, and the UK government, via local authorities, funds learning specifically for refugees through a number of tailored schemes which run across Wales.

"ESOL providers are encouraged to help learners understand and integrate Welsh into their classes where possible and learners themselves are encouraged to join the Welsh for Adults programme."

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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