Where being bilingual helps keep villages alive

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The Independent Online
When Isabel Jordan joined the Brecon Beacons National Park as community development officer a year ago, she spoke no Welsh.

Today her command of the language enables her to cope happily as she visits villagers in an area where Welsh is the usual means of communication.

The park's management encourages staff to learn the language and to attend evening classes and intensive weekend instruction. Mrs Jordan said: "The time spent learning Welsh is invaluable."

Her job entails liaising with communities, spread around 519 square miles of mid-Wales, to improve their quality of life. Only 30,000 people live in the park - 8,000 in Brecon, the "capital" of the Beacons.

Community groups, including Women's Institutes, young farmers' clubs and parent-teacher associations, as well as 50 statutory community councils, call on Mrs Jordan's expertise. "We help to refurbish village halls, raise funds for community events and help to get environment projects up and running," Mrs Jordan said. "The object is to keep communities alive and help them grow."

The tradition in rural Wales is for English to be used when villagers deal with "authorities". However, negotiations often proceed more smoothly in Welsh. This proved to be the case in Myddfai, a village at the foot of the Black Mountain, when Mrs Jordan, 33, took part in a tricky community council meeting. "It was a challenge to my Welsh, but the outcome was successful and it boosted my confidence," she said.

The daughter of a diplomat - her father Kenneth East was British Ambassador to Iceland - her move to Wales brought the opportunity and challenge of becoming bilingual. Learning Welsh has, she said, proved a "plus at work and play".