S4C and Cymraeg 2050

by Suw on August 13, 2017

The Welsh Government recently released a strategy, Cymraeg 2050, to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.  The strategy focuses predominantly on children’s education, which is sensible and obvious, and on Welsh speakers in Wales, which is also sensible and obvious. But there are two groups that could do with a little bit more love and attention, and S4C is in the perfect position to do that.

The first group are adult learners or near-fluent speakers who, for whatever reason, aren’t in formal Welsh language education and/or who don’t have easy access to Welsh speakers to practice with, but who need a little extra help reaching fluency.

As it happens, I fall into that group. I started learning Welsh about 20 years ago, and I ought to be fluent by now, but a lack of regular access to the Welsh language, whether regular lessons or people to talk to, has really hampered my progress. I’m now stuck in this kind of linguistic no mans land, where I know too much Welsh for things like Duolingo or Memrise to be enjoyable, but not enough to be able to easily understand the spoken language. I’m a bit better with the written language, but again, not quite good enough to be able to just sit and read a book.

Welsh TV is an essential tool for developing comprehension skills, expanding vocabulary and refining understanding of grammar. For my money, there’s nothing better than watching a documentary on S4C with subtitles to help me marry words and sounds together, and to help me learn more words and improve my grammar. Like all learners, I need regular interaction with the language to help me cement what I learn, and TV is by far the easiest and most interesting way to achieve that.

Rightly, S4C’s subtitles focus on assisting the hearing impaired, which is what they were invented to do and it’s a massively important role. Subtitles for the hearing impaired are written to be easily and swiftly read, and to give the gist of what is said rather than a verbatim transcript, and are far too valuable to mess with.

But subtitles are also an important and valuable tool for intermediate learners, and with a little extra work new types of subtitles for learners could be much more effective. In an ideal world, I would like a selection of subtitle options for learners, in addition to subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Learner subtitles should include:

  • English subtitles, as close to a direction translation as possible, to help learners understand what’s happening and marry Welsh sounds with English meanings.
  • Dual language English/Welsh subtitles, with both languages on screen at once. It’s a bit hard going to read both at once and you really do have to focus, but it helps to improve understanding.
  • Welsh language learner’s subtitles, which would be Welsh language with English prompts for difficult words.
  • Welsh-only subtitles, which should be as close to verbatim as possible.

I quite like watching Welsh-language documentaries multiple times, not only because S4C really does make some fabulous ones, but also because I can positively feel my understanding of Welsh improving as I do so.

The problem is that firstly, the most useful subtitle options, the dual language subtitles and the learner’s subtitles, don’t exist. Sometimes there aren’t even any Welsh subtitles, just English ones*. That seems like an omission that should be at the top of the list of things that S4C could do to support the Welsh language.

Now, I know that the argument against providing these services is that they cost money, but that’s a given for the recommendations of the Cymraeg 2050 report. It’s going to cost money to do this stuff, but if the government wants 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, they are going to have to reach down the back of the sofa and come up with some cash to spend. That said, subtitling is cheap compared to the cost of making the program in the first place, with online freelance subtitlers charging less than £1000 per hour of video.

The second problem is finding the time to watch and rewatch the same program before it falls off S4c’s catch-up service**. That wouldn’t be an issue if I could buy S4C’s shows, but, despite the fact that it’s 2017, it’s still impossible to buy Welsh TV on iTunes or any other digital service. I know that S4C would, at this point, bang on about rights, but good grief, it’s 2017! Rights issues should have been solved by now, and S4C should be selling shows online to anyone who wants to buy them regardless of where they live***.

Which brings me to the second group of Welsh learners/near-fluent speakers that could do with a little respect and support: Those who do not live in Wales. Welsh learners don’t just live in Wales, they also live across the rest of the UK and, indeed, around the world. You might think that those people are irrelevant to the future of the Welsh language in Wales, but that’s very 20th century thinking.

The world is united by the web, and anyone from anywhere can contribute to the health of a language and culture. Indeed, in many cases it is the internet that is saving languages and cultures. No matter where you or I live, we can use the Welsh language in our everyday life, we can create new cultural artefacts in the Welsh language. Were I fluent enough, I would for sure be providing various Ada Lovelace Day materials in Welsh. I would blog in Welsh. I would write books in Welsh. That would be contributing to Welsh language life, even though I’m not in Wales (and even though I’m not Welsh).

If the Welsh Government wants 1 million Welsh speakers, it has to not just teach them Welsh, it needs to give them a reason to use their Welsh, and that’s not just about the Eisteddfod and cynghanedd and calling up the local council in Welsh, it’s about just doing whatever you fancy in Welsh. Science. Chatting to your mates. The latest tech reviews. Music. Reading about women in STEM. Writing comics. Talking to people in a totally different country.

There’s a whole blog post to write about the position of digital in the Cymraeg 2050 strategy, but that’s for another day. The point is that if you want 1 million Welsh people in Wales to use Welsh, help Welsh people outside of Wales to do so too, because often, those people outside of Wales are related to or friends with those people inside Wales and they use the internet to keep in touch. In Welsh.

The web helps the Welsh diaspora and Welsh learners retain and expand their language, and S4C should be a fundamental part of that process.


* I am not familiar enough with Welsh language service provision for the hearing impaired to make a judgement on how well S4C does, but logic dictates that more Welsh language subtitles would be a good thing, assuming other provisions remain the same.

** It would also be super helpful if S4C Digidol’s subtitles didn’t routinely stop working when I’m watching online, and if they’d actually work in all browsers. For some reason, S4C’s video player is incompatible with Chrome on my Macs. And in Safari, the subtitles tend to crap out halfway through, so I keep having to reload the page.

*** And whilst I’m at it, S4C needs to do whatever it is required to get rid of geoblocking. Yes, yes, rights, yes, yes. Please explain to me which large secondary Welsh-language market are they holding their rights over for? If I need to buy access to S4C, I will, I’m absolutely happy to pay my way, but the current geoblocking without the option to pay for access is ridiculous. Ultimately, though, if S4C is about supporting the Welsh language and Welsh culture in a web-enabled age, geoblocking makes no sense at all, because they should be supporting Welsh learners and speakers wherever in the world they are. The language is far more important than geographical boundaries.

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I prick my ears up every time I hear words like “open” and “translation” and “project” used together in a sentence in case it’s something that might be interesting to the Welsh language community. So when I saw that TED, the insanely expensive Technology, Entertainment, Design conference, was providing English language transcripts of its often amazing talks, I thought that was a great opportunity for the Welsh community to create the Welsh language subtitles.

It might seem a bit stupid for people who basically all speak English to translate an English transcription into Welsh so that other people who basically all speak English could listen to it in English and watch it in Welsh. In fact, such a thing would be a great boon to learners as it would allow us to hear in English but read in Welsh and start to join up the dots inbetween. (The next step on from that would be to have more material in Welsh with English subtitles.) Personally, I would like to see much more bilingual stuff online because it helps learners develop not just their vocab but also their sense of grammar, mutation and idiom.

Many of the TED lectures are both short – about 20 minutes – and fascinating. Great material for translation because they’re interesting in their own right and just the sort of thing that people love to watch. I believe you learn much more when you’re engaged, so such a resource would be very valuable.

But the Open Translation Project turns out not to be very open at all. Once you’ve registered, you have to request a transcript to translate, which will supposedly be sent to you within 1 – 2 business days. You can’t just download one that you fancy and get on with it, it has to be sent to you by someone from TED. And you have just 30 days to complete it – what happens if you don’t is not specified. I have so far seen no sign or mention of any online translation or collaborative working tools, so it looks like if you want to work with others you have to figure that out yourself. (I haven’t been accepted into the programme yet, so maybe that’s just stuff I am unable to see.)

Beyond that, as a new member of the translation project, I just received this email:

Dear Suw,

Thanks so much for registering to be a TED translator and requesting your first talk. We’re eager to get you started! But we have a few questions for you first. As you know, TED doesn’t require translators to have formal language or translation skills. We do however, ask that you be fluently bilingual. It’s so important that your language skills gives you the ability to faithfully translate the words of speakers, capturing not only the vocabulary, but also the tone, style and personality. TED speakers are at the edge of their fields, and therefore the edge of language. Being current, as well as fluent, is key.

So the following questions are for you, as much as us. They provide us a way to gauge your experience, knowledge and fluidity with both English and the language into which you’re translating. We require these answers for translators in languages that are new to TED, and for which we have neither in-house knowledge nor a stable of volunteer translators.

1) What language do you want to translate into?

2) Is this your native language? If not, how and where did you learn it?

4) How often do you speak this language? Do you use it professionally, personally, or both?

5) How often do you read in this language? Do you read news? Novels? Personal correspondence?

6) How often do you write in this language?

7) If English is not your first language, how and where did you learn it? How often do you speak, write and/or read English?

8.) Do you have other colleagues, family or friends who can assist you on the translation of tricky or culturally-specific words and phrases?

9) What is your profession?

10) Why do you want to translate for TED?

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and for volunteering for the TED Open Translation Project!

The TED Team

That doesn’t seem very open to me. That seems very much like I’m going to be judged on my ability to speak and write Welsh, and that my acceptance into the project is going to depend on my capabilities rather than, say, my ability to gather a kick-ass team of Welsh speakers to collaboratively – and openly – translate. Furthermore, what does my profession have to do with my ability to translate? What does my motivation matter? And what happens if the TED Team don’t like my answers? Do I get summarily booted out?

I feel rather insulted by these questions, not just because they are intrusive, but because they see the translation process through an outdated and judgemental lense. As a learner of 10 years, I’m not too bad at Welsh, although I write it better than I speak it. I probably could not create a perfect translation of any but the simplest texts. But what I can do is create a flawed translation that others, whether more experienced learners or native speakers, can then polish up. This idea that making a start so that others can help finish up is a well established way of working collaboratively, and it can produce great results. It’s what Wikipedia relies upon, it’s what Pledgebank encourages. By showing the community that I have committed to an action, I’m more likely to find people willing to help me finish it.

TED’s approach to translation has been disappointing to say the least. They have used the word ‘open’ as a buzzword, a way to put a gloss on what is an old-school project that is snobbish, closed, and controlling. I know that someone is bound to leave a comment saying “but that is the only way to get high quality translations”, but that’s just not true. Communities of passionate people are capable of great things, and there are many passionate Welsh speakers online who could come together to do flawless work.

Question is, will TED let us?

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Clwb Malu Cachu back up

by Suw on December 2, 2004

Due to some sort of spooky hosting weirdness, all top level pages on CMC were somehow mysteriously deleted. I've put them all back now, but if you find a page that's still missing, please email me directly.
Meantime, please buy a t-shirt. At only £7.50 they're cheap as chips and incomprehensible to the majority of the world's population. But hey, that makes them fun, right?
Ac yn y Gymraeg: Mae CMC yn ôl. Prynwch crysau-t. Paid â bod yn ddrwg. Carwch eich mam. Defnyddiwch yr iaith efo pobl sy ddim yn deallt. A phaid â anghofio ymolchi tu ôl i'ch clustiau.

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Small village changes its name

by Suw on July 21, 2004

A small village in Wales has changed its name from Llanfynydd to Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole in protest against a wind farm which is planned for a nearby hill. They need to be careful – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch got its full name when a tailor from Menai decided that they needed more tourists. Perhaps Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole will stick.
(Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole means “quiet beautiful village, a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades” and beats Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,
or “the church of St Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave”, in length by 8 characters.)
Thanks to ASBradbury for the tip.

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Whilst everyone else is arguing about whether it?s brown or blue that?s the new black, I have a snippet of information that should inform all of your upcoming shopping choices. It?s not brown. Or blue. Or any other colour. This year, Welsh is the new black.

Wanna look cool? Wanna stand out from the crowd? Wanna give cute guys/girls a decent excuse to stare at your tits/pecs?

Then you need to go and buy one of my t-shirts right away – they?re just a snip at £12.50.

Wear Welsh. It?s the only answer.

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Ha ha ha!! Fame at last!

by Suw on May 1, 2003

I've just had a bit of an influx of emails after PopBitch included the CMC swearing in Welsh cheat sheet in its weekly email. If you get it, scroll right down to the very, very bottom to find:

Still bored?
Learn how to swear in Welsh:

Fame! Fame at last! Ffycin ffantastig! Ah, I feel like all these years of effort and slogging away over a hot dictionary are finally paying off.
Hmm… spose I better subscribe to PopBitch now really, hadn't I?

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