This post was going to be a comment on a post on the National Left blog but has grown too long.
The background is that on Tuesday the Welsh Language Board issued a report that claimed that the number of Fluent Welsh speakers was declining by about 3,000 per year despite the fact that the 2001 and probably the 2011 census results have / will show an overall increase in the numbers of Welsh speakers. If rumours are correct the 2011 census will show that Welsh is now spoken by slightly more than was the case forty years ago in 1971.
The Welsh Language Board claims that the census increases might give false optimism for the fate of the language because heads of households might think that because their offspring do Welsh in school that they are more capable in the language than is practically true, so the census results are very subjective.
The problem with the WLB's report is that it is also based on self reporting and is probably as subjective as the Census results. Many first language Welsh speakers feel that their Welsh isn't good enough, despite the fact that they use the language naturally and properly on a daily basis, so they don't declare themselves as fluent.
A few years ago I was in a pub in Llanrwst where two women were complaining to me about an advert for a job in a local retirement home being advertised as one where an ability to speak Welsh is essential. They thought that this unfairly discriminated against them because they were prohibited from applying for the job. The complaint was made in very down to earth colloquial Welsh. When I asked them what the problem was they both replied that our Welsh isn't good enough! They didn't perceive themselves as matching the WLB's fluency threshold, despite being native Welsh speakers!
For us to be able to measure how the language is fairing and in order to enhance its use we need a much more objective way of measuring language skills than either the Census or the WLB's surveys!
I live in a village where the 2001 Census claims that about 35% of the villagers speak Welsh.
I can make a case that puts this as a gross underestimation. I suspect that around 90% of my neighbours understand and use Welsh terms such as "croeso", "bore da", "iechyd da", "paned", "Ysgol", "Ysbyty" etc daily. They know how to spell Betws y Coed, and live in streets called Ffordd---, Rhes---, Bryn---, Maes--- know how to pronounce them properly and know their meaning – I think that such people should be encouraged to consider themselves as Welsh Speakers, as owners of the language and stakeholders in its future.
I could also make the case that the 35% is a gross over exaggeration. I very much doubt that 35% of the villagers actually converse in Welsh on a daily basis, feel comfortable speaking Welsh or would prefer to speak Welsh rather than English.
We can't have an objective assessment that covers everybody in Wales, but a generic Welsh in the Workplace qualification which ranges from the greeting knowledge that 90% have at level one to the specialist proofreading knowledge that perhaps 1% have at level 7, that tells the people of Wales when the Welsh that they know is good enough and encourages them to improve on it might be a step in the right direction.