Bilingualism in Wales – is it just for show?

There have been a fair number of stories in recent years about the English and Welsh on road signs not quite matching up.

The latest one is at a Tesco with the arrow for “Exit” pointing right, and “Allanfa” (Welsh for exit) pointing left.

In the same town, the local council requested a translation by email for a sign which read in English: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only”. They then received an automated reply, which they assumed was the translation into Welsh, and put it on the sign. Unfortunately the sign actually read in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”


There’s no harm in giving motorists something to chuckle about, but when it comes to translating instructions for pedestrians on crossing the road, it’s best not to give conflicting information by telling English speakers to look left and Welsh speakers to look right in Central Cardiff.

So far, we’ve seen mistranslations which are at least comprehensible, but translation into gibberish just takes the biscuit, even if that’s what Welsh may look like to the non native eye. A sign that in English reads “pupils’ and staff entrance” at a school in Wrexham included a word for staff meaning “wooden stave”.

Finally, one of my favourites, was a sign telling cyclists in Cardiff to dismount in English, but that they had problems with an inflamed bladder in Welsh.


We’re all human. We all make mistakes. However, it does call into question the competence of council staff but perhaps more importantly the worthiness of bilingualism in official domains. These mistranslations could have easily been dispelled with a simple proofreading. Yet, councils seem to just be throwing thousands of pounds at bilingualism, without a second thought on how well it is spent, to satisfy the Welsh Language Board who as you can imagine isn’t too pleased about these continuous errors. They even offer free translations on their website to businesses to help promote their use of the language and attract Welsh-speaking customers.

Let’s see the renaissance of cymraegophonous culture (yes, I did invent that word) done properly. Otherwise it undermines the translation industry, it undermines native Welsh speakers and it undermines multiculturalism.