YouthSpark Star

Cerith Rhys Jones

A language program is helping this Welsh university student preserve his mother tongue.

“Rhof iti fy mywyd”: Cerith Jones and the Lost Language

The country of Wales (Cymru), home to about 3 million people, shares much of its history with the rest of the United Kingdom but also maintains a distinct cultural identity. Wales has its own holidays, customs, literature, music, dance, even a FIFA team. The cuisine is unique, many Welsh families have a passed-down recipe for Welsh cakes and cawl (meat stew), and the traditional Eisteddfodau—Welsh festivals of literature, music and performance—have flourished since the 12th century.


But perhaps most inherent to the Welsh culture is the language. It’s one of the oldest languages in Europe and much of Wales’ cultural activity is associated with it. Welsh was spoken by a majority until the end of the 19th century. Since then, there has been a consistent decline and Welsh is now spoken by just 19 percent of the population.

One of the more fervent of those 19 percent is Cerith Rhys Jones. A student at Cardiff University (Prifysgol Caerdydd), one of Wales’ oldest and largest educational institutions, he is doing everything he can to keep the language alive. Cerith grew up speaking Welsh and a strong part of his identity and sense of self are rooted in the language. In addition to his double major of Welsh and Politics, Cerith served as the 2013/14 Welsh Students’ Officer at Cardiff University Students’ Union, advocating for the estimated 10,000 Welsh-domiciled students and estimated 3,000 Welsh speakers on campus.


Dr. Jeremy Evas and Cerith Rhys Jones are working to promote the Welsh language on the Cardiff University campus in Wales.

Dr. Jeremy Evas and Cerith Rhys Jones are working to promote the Welsh language on the Cardiff University campus in Wales.

“Welsh is my first language, so it’s very close to my heart,” Cerith says. “But in order for other Welsh speakers to feel confident in using the language, it must be normalized. It has long been seen as a language for the home, or the classroom, instead of also as a workplace or a social language.”

One way to strengthen the language of this modern Celtic nation, Cerith says, is to bridge the gap between language and technology. Welsh-speaking students have historically used English when reading, writing, and using IT, because Welsh options have been inefficient or unavailable.

That is changing with the help of the Microsoft Local Language Program, which provides the Language Interface Pack (LIP) for Windows, SharePoint, and Office, in Welsh. This enables students to use the popular software in Welsh as well as Microsoft Translator. Using these tools, Cerith is showing students how to integrate Welsh into their studies. And experts say the language is making a comeback.


As Welsh Students Officer, it is Cerith’s job to advocate for nearly 3,000 Welsh speakers on campus.

As Welsh Students Officer, it is Cerith’s job to advocate for nearly 3,000 Welsh speakers on campus.

“The program has made a substantial contribution in enabling students to use the language where they normally wouldn’t,” says Dr. Jeremy Evas, a lecturer in the School of Welsh at Cardiff who worked with Microsoft over the last decade to bring the program to Wales. “People are now using Welsh technology at home, in school, and at work.”

The Local Language Program (LLP) is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, the company’s global initiative to empower young people to create a better future through education, employment and entrepreneurship. By making software available in 108 languages globally, LLP is helping strengthen the presence of minority languages in the digital domain. By showing students that they can create Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, as well as send email and use spellcheck in Welsh, Cerith has been successful in boosting Welsh speakers’ use of the language on campus.

“To have a company as big and influential as Microsoft making tech available in my language really makes a difference,” Cerith says. “I’m really, really impressed by the standard of Welsh language used in the Microsoft interfaces. It’s easy to read, and it’s changing the mindset very much for the positive.”


Cerith uses BingTranslator to translate documents from English to Welsh.

Cerith uses BingTranslator to translate documents from English to Welsh.

“Cerith grew up in the old mining village of Cwmgors, which sits on the border between industrial South Wales and rural West Wales. It’s a quiet area with lots of mountains and fields, and a place where he was surrounded by people who speak Welsh. Each time he visits, he is reminded of the beauty of the language and the importance of his work to maintain it.

He attended a Welsh-language primary school but his mandatory language classes ended at 16. Cerith elected to continue studying through the medium of Welsh and then major in Welsh at Cardiff. Since then, he has become a champion both at University, where he creates networks for Welsh speakers, and in his political activism lobbying to strengthen the rights of Welsh speakers and pushing for a more Wales-focused media.

He’s gone so far as to have his devotion inked on his leg. He has a tattoo that reads “Rhof iti fy mywyd” or “I give you my life,” a line from one of his favorite songs “O Gymru” an anthem to Wales.

Cerith is spending the summer between his home in Cwmgors and his grandparents’ home in Bridgend before returning to Cardiff in the fall to continue his studies. After graduation, he hopes to find a job that combines his love of Welsh and his passion for politics. He plans to continue his journey pushing future generations to embrace Welsh in the modern context necessary to keep it alive.

My belief is that if one has something to contribute to one’s nation, then one is obliged to make that contribution,” Cerith says.


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