• Pandemic has caused a fall in the number of Welsh leaners
• Online lessons have attracted learners from as far afield as Uruguay and Germany
• Online social events have seen learners from Wales and Patagonia practising their Welsh together
The latest report on the Welsh Language Project in Chubut, Patagonia shows the effect the pandemic has had on the language in the region.
As a result of school closures during the pandemic, the number of children studying Welsh at nursery, primary and secondary levels has decreased, as has the number of adult learners. The overall number of learners has fallen from 1411 in 2019 to 623 in 2020.
There is some good news - the move to online classes and social events for adults has attracted Welsh learners from outside the Chubut region. Learners have joined Welsh classes from across Argentina and from as far away as Uruguay, Mexico and Germany.
People from Wales have also been able to join social events and practice their Welsh with Welsh learners in Patagonia.
The Welsh Language Project was established in 1997 to promote and develop the Welsh language in Patagonia. More than 150 years ago the area was settled by Welsh speakers and the language is spoken in the area to this day.
Each year three language development officers from Wales spend ten months working in Patagonia, alongside Welsh teachers working in the schools. They develop the language in Welsh-speaking communities through classes for young people and adults.
Classes are taught in three bilingual primary schools and Spanish-medium primary and secondary schools and through informal social activities.
In February 2020, the language development officers travelled to Patagonia to begin their 10-month teaching placements. When it became clear that the Covid-19 situation was serious many of the Welsh teachers in Patagonia returned to the UK.
The schools were closed on government advice and all face-to-face lessons for adults were stopped. All Welsh classes including adult courses and school lessons, children’s groups and social activities moved online.
Head of Education at British Council Wales, Dr Walter Arial Brooks, said: “Moving lessons to an online format was a challenge for tutors and learners, since the internet infrastructure in the Chubut area is underdeveloped.
“Many learners live outside the main towns and have to rely on mobile phone data to connect to the internet.
“Unfortunately, due to other limitations, including a lack of ICT skills, a lack of appropriate hardware and childcare implications, many learners were lost when lessons were moved online.
“However, it is very positive to see a number of new learners from areas outside Chubut learning online with Welsh learners in Patagonia.”
The chance to practice Welsh socially is an important part of learning the language. Online Paned a Sgwrs (cuppa and chat) mornings were arranged, as well as beer and wine evenings and quizzes, word games and Noson Lawen (music and entertainment).
Teacher Sally Ann Nicholls said: “All of Menter Patagonia’s activities were digital in 2020, but this enabled people from Wales to attend the social evenings and take part in the activities as well. The unfortunate situation caused by the pandemic has strengthened the relationship between Welsh speakers in both countries.”