‘I would encourage anyone to start learning Welsh’ says James Hook after ‘intensive’ course with Nigel Owens
Former Welsh fly-half James Hook has said that he would “encourage anyone to start learning Welsh” after an “intense” few days in the company of referee Nigel Owens.
Wales’ fourth-highest all-time points scorer had been taking part in S4C’s Iaith ar Daith (‘Language on Tour’) alongside wildlife expert Steve Backshall and actors Joanna Scanlan and Mark Lewis Jones.
James Hook said that the seeds of his desire to learn Welsh may have been sown on Wales’ summer tour to Argentina in 2004.
“The locals in Patagonia came up to me assuming I could speak Welsh,” remembers Hook. “I could only apologise and say ‘Sorry, I can’t speak Welsh’.
“They were quite bemused and must have wondered why someone from Wales didn’t speak Welsh. It was a little bit embarrassing, but at same time I grew up in a place that wasn’t a hotbed of Welsh language.”
For James Hook, the challenge began on the farm of Welsh international rugby union referee Nigel Owens, who retired in December after a 17-year career clocking up a world record number of international matches.
“On the first day we went to Nigel’s farm in the Gwendraeth Valley where I got involved with mucking the cows out and all sorts, while Nigel taught me different phrases and words,” he said.
From there the duo took to Pembrokeshire, staying in a cottage in Lydstep. “We went down to the beach in Tenby and picked seaweed for a brewery that uses it in their products.
“It was all explained to me in Welsh, as was the history of Tenby that was told to me by one of the locals. Nigel was there to help me with things I couldn’t understand.
“I wasn’t sat in a classroom. It was total immersion for four days, meeting various people who would speak Welsh to me.”
He said that while learning Welsh, different accents in different areas could pose a challenge.
“The farmers in St Clears had really strong accents, to the point that even the Welsh-speaking crew struggled to understand them,” says Hook.
“We had a great time visiting a nice family there who had won a lot of competitions at the Royal Welsh showing sheep. Me and Nigel had a go at it ourselves, with one of the children judging the winner.”
The second series of S4C’s ‘Iaith ar Daith’ will be broadcast from March.