This post originally featured on the former Language of Football blog in Summer 2012
It is heartening to hear that the Wales national team manager, Chris Coleman, is taking Welsh language lessons, in an effort to better engage with native speakers at the Welsh FA and across the nation. In addition to Coleman’s efforts, first team coach Jarmo Matikainen is also taking classes.
Coleman’s decision comes at a time of increasing pressure to involve the Welsh language at a greater level across the public domain. Currently, all public sector organisations in Wales have to agree upon transparent information regarding their level of bilingual services available. Recent consultations from the Welsh language commissioner, Meri Huws, focus on improving the geographical reach of bilingual services across Wales and imposing their consistency.
The manager is perhaps more keenly aware to announce himself in this manner as further means in which to move on from the events regarding Gary Speed’s death last November and his subsequent appointment in the January of this year. It is an uncanny situation for an individual to endear oneself to their nation; the Welsh language is a powerful nationalistic symbol and will remain increasingly important in future should Wales ever wish to echo Scotland’s proposed devolution. Coleman is in an atypical position as manager of a bilingual nation whereupon the practical benefits of using both languages in his work on the pitch mirror that of his emblematic responsibilities on behalf of the Welsh people.
Matikainen is already familiar with the conventions of bilingualism in his home country of Finland, where Swedish is a ‘national language’ spoken by around 6% of the population
, alongside Finnish itself. To this point there haven’t been similar efforts from Giovanni Trappatoni or Roy Hodgson to learn Gaelic and Cornish respectively.