Language Is the Vital Link in Our Culture; in the Final Part of a Series of Features Marking the Heritage Lottery Fund's 15th Anniversary, Meirion Prys Jones Outlines the Importance of Keeping Welsh Alive, While Sirajul Islam Describes How a Grant from the Organisation Has Helped Him Learn the Language of His Adopted Home

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Byline: Meirion Prys

ALANGUAGE is more than a means of communicating with people. A language is part of our inheritance and heritage as a nation; it's part of who we are as people.

The Welsh language helps defines us; it forms and shapes our landscape and runs through our culture.

It gives us a unique perspective, a bond that cannot be translated simply through words.

There are 6,000 different languages spoken in the world today. In years to come, it's expected that the figure will decrease to just 300.

The Welsh language, which is one of the oldest European languages, and is still spoken today, is expected to rank firmly among the surviving languages.

There are strong reasons to show why there's room for such optimism.

There are around 600,000 Welsh language speakers living in Wales today.

In 1991, there were 10,000 Welsh language speakers living in Cardiff, and in just 10 years, this number trebled to 30,000 in the Welsh capital.

The Assembly Government's commitment to supporting the language, through its policy document, Iaith Pawb ("everyone's language"), has set a clear target to increase the percentage of Welsh speakers by 5% between 2001 and 2011.

Securing a future for the Welsh language is all about choice and giving young people, as the future custodians of the language, every opportunity to use it.

This is why we dedicate time and energy, mainly through our project Twf - which means growth - to engage with this key group.

We run programmes to encourage young couples and single parents to make Welsh the language of choice in the home. Specific sports clubs and initiatives are organised for after school and social clubs.

We have created links with schools and other educational establishments to increase opportunities for Welsh speakers and learners to meet.

We fund Welsh language movements including 21 Mentrau Iaith across Wales.

These are locallybased agencies, which seek to raise awareness of the Welsh language through a variety of community and wider access projects. Welsh is an energetic language and the work of movements like Menter Iaith Caerdydd - which received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to promote the Welsh language - and individuals who live and speak Welsh, have helped keep it alive today.

Each year, we sponsor the Welsh youth festival, the Urdd Eisteddfod, and again this summer we provided funding for the National Eisteddfod in Bala.

There are those who can speak Welsh, who choose not to use it in their everyday lives.

Then, there are inspirational people who chose to learn the language and use it as passionately as their mother tongue.

I was moved by the story of Meggan Lloyd Prys, originally from Ohio, who was crowned Welsh Language Learner of the Year Award, at this year's National Eisteddfod.

The 29-year-old has learnt the language to complete fluency in two years.

She is a part of the Welsh language community in her new hometown of Rhiwlas, near Bangor.

Meggan, like Sirajul's story, shows that it is through learning a language that we really integrate into a community, fully appreciate a culture and truly understand other people.

Meirion Prys Jones is chief executive of the Welsh Language Board From Bangladesh to learn 'the language of heaven' Sirajul Islam's journey from Bangladesh to Wales, where he has since spent almost 50 years of his working life, has led him on a path to self-discovery, fulfilment and great personal success. …