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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 09:08 GMT
Threat to Welsh teaching in Europe
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Welsh has been dropped by Berlin University
Lack of funding is seriously jeopardising Welsh courses at European universities, lecturers in charge of teaching the language have said.

Dr Sabine Heinz is now teaching her last group of Welsh students at the University of Berlin.

Welsh was officially dropped by the university two years ago, with only existing students of the subject allowed to continue their course, according to Eurolang, the European Union news service about minority languages.

"Over 100 students have studied Welsh with me here in Berlin," says Dr Heinz, whose publications include an anthology of literature translated into German from four Celtic languages.

Although Wales has R S Thomas and Dylan Thomas, its authors aren't generally as well known

Dr Sabine Heinz
"The problem is not lack of interest. People are interested in Celtic cultures, including Welsh.'"

Dr Heinz said she believed that Wales was largely ignored abroad because it was not an independent country.

"Irish is more popular. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Celtic Studies departments in Germany have tended to concentrate on Irish Gaelic," she said.

"Ireland is the only independent Celtic country. That makes it far easier for them to market themselves. Germans view Ireland as an unspoilt country; a place to escape to.

"And people are familiar with authors such as James Joyce, Seamus Heaney and Jonathan Swift. Although Wales has R S Thomas and Dylan Thomas, its authors aren't generally as well known.

"The Scots - who have a far greater degree of autonomy than the Welsh - are also more successful at marketing themselves. Wales is suffering because of its status."

Although the Welsh have faced criticism in the past for their failure to sell their country, Heinz does not believe that they are entirely to blame.

"The British Council don't do much to promote Wales," she said.

The British Council is accused of not promoting Welsh well abroad
Together with a friend who works for the Welsh Tourist Board, Dr Heinz has been pressing them for help in organising a Welsh night in Berlin, with music and poetry readings, but to no avail.

"The relevant officers haven't been willing to help us, or even meet us. To a large extent, the British Council is denying Wales."

Dr Heinz is not the only academic to criticise the British Council.

The Welsh Language Board has recently written to the Council expressing concern following complaints from a Welsh tutor at the University of Lublin in Poland that his department faced difficulties because of the Council's decision to terminate funding for Welsh tuition.

Rosier future

Their spokesperson told Eurolang that they were still waiting for the British Council's response.

However, the British Counsil rejects the criticism, saying that in his recent evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, the First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, had endorsed the council's work.

"I think the British Council Wales office here is very effective and very enthusiastic and achieves a tremendous amount for its size... I think it is a very successful promoter of Welsh culture abroad," he said.

In some cases the future of Welsh as an academic choice seems rosier - as some universities cease to offer such courses, the language's popularity increases in others.

Dr Heinz has been for the past year and a half travelling from Berlin to Vienna where she has established classes in Celtic studies.

Sixty students have enrolled for the courses, which include contemporary Welsh, Breton and an introduction to Welsh literature as well as early Gaelic, ancient history and archaeology.

"It's tremendously popular," she said.

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