Support our Nation today - please donate here

O’r Ffindir i’r Fenni: Päivi, the Finnish Welsh learner from Abergavenny

25 May 2024 8 minute read
Päivi Smith on one of her regular routes around Y Fenni and Y Bannau

Stephen Price

Päivi Smith moved to Wales from Finland via Dorset, and when not exploring the beautiful landscapes of Y Bannau, she’s busy learning Welsh at home or at a local class to ‘feel the soul of the nation’.

Speaking to Nation.Cymru, she shared her language learning journey to date, and a surprising love of our weather systems. What could be more Welsh than that!

Päivi’s story

I met my English husband in Sibelius Academy in Helsinki where we both studied music, Mike played the viola and I played the piano and the viola.

Mike had initially come to Finland to teach English after getting a Chemistry degree from Leeds University.

By the time we met Mike’s Finnish was excellent, and that was the language we used at home for many years. Eventually English took over but we still use both. Our children were brought up as bilingual.

We were married in Finland and 6 months later moved to Manchester where Mike played in the Hallé Orchestra.

A few years later our itchy feet took us to Bergen in Norway where our 4th child was born. Then back to Manchester, from there to Finland and finally settled – so I thought – in Dorset.

Mike played then in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and I taught the piano and violin and accompanied exams.

On the move…

Our 5th child was born with Down’s syndrome and I also looked after my mother-in-law who had dementia. So life was busy and interesting. We did move twice within Dorset and ended up in Sixpenny Handley where we lived for 14 years.

I was quite happy to settle there permanently but 3 years ago we were on a move again. This time to Abergavenny.

Our children and grandchildren are in Finland, Norway, London and Wales. All far from Dorset.

After retiring we wanted to live closer to our children. Finland, Norway and London were out of a question and so we started looking in Wales where our youngest son lives with his Welsh wife and 2 children.

In the past we had had holidays and several camping trips to Wales and really liked it, so to leave Dorset and move yet again was OK.

Päivi on Pen y Fal (The Sugrarloaf)

When I first moved to Wales, I used Duolingo first to try and learn to pronounce the Welsh names and signs but got hooked and wanted to learn more!

At the time of moving all the lesson were online only and that was not for me, so I carried on with Duolingo. I had used it before to keep up my Norwegian and did some other languages also for fun.

Welsh totally took over when in the Autumn 2022 I started face to face classes in Llanelli Hill, or should I say Rhiw Llanelli! 

I think as a newcomer it is important to learn at least some of the language to be able to understand and feel the soul of the nation.

At my age (74) I still hope to do as well as I can, but I thoroughly enjoy learning it and doing my best to keep up with all the younger students in the class.

I really want to learn as much as possible and I study at least something every single day. 

Päivi reading Lingo

I didn’t like languages at school but love doing Welsh!

It is interesting, I like the sound of it, and it helps to have a good teacher and a great group of people to study with.

When I moved to England there was no choice but to learn English since that was what people spoke. It is definitely the best way to learn when you have to speak it.

In Wales everyone speaks English, so one has to be very proactive to have opportunities to use the language. 

I joined a Welsh group that meets in a cafe once a week and another in Melville centre once a month.


At the moment I find it frustrating at times since all the others are far more advanced than I am.

Often after thinking how to say what I want to say, the conversation has moved onto something else! But I’ll persevere and one day…I should really try and get out of the perfect mode.

I don’t like making mistakes so often stay quiet. Not the way to learn! It is important not to be afraid of being laughed at when saying something totally stupid using wrong words.

There are some good programs on S4C. I just don’t seem to have the time to watch all that many. Too many Youtube Welsh learning videos to be watched for the course!

A good study aid I also use is ‘Say Something in Welsh’.


Another important thing – at least for me – is to learn something of the history of the country.

I enjoy especially reading about the local history, and then going to see the places myself. There is so much to see and experience in this area.

Going down a mine (Big Pit) was an experience and an eye opener. I love visiting castles and there are plenty of them in Wales!

I play the piano daily, to both my own enjoyment and trying to keep it at some sort of standard. I play the piano/  organ in a church we attend.

I listen and play classical music and don’t much enjoy popular music. So I haven’t got any favourite bands! 

I like reading, especially historical novels and non fiction too, usually nature or local history related. Now going through also some Welsh folk tales and mythology, in English unfortunately, since my Welsh is not good enough.

I subscribe to ‘Lingo Newydd’ which is a Welsh language magazine for learners, and enjoy reading it. Lingo has different sections for different abilities and at the moment

I read the easier ones but also dip into the harder parts too. I rather enjoyed some easy children’s books too. The Welsh course recommends Amdani books, which are good for a learning point of view, but I cannot say that I enjoy them that much. 


I love walking in the nature, on the mountains, by the rivers and waterfalls and along the canal and I always carry a small camera with me.  The better camera with all the attachments and a tripod (all heavy, hence not suited for my walks any more) only comes out if I go specifically just to take photos.

Clydach Gorge with its many waterfalls is one of my favourite places to explore apart from the mountains and hills around Abergavenny

I like astronomy and clouds and I am a member of Cloud Appreciation Society ( which amuses some of my friends!)


A few years ago I did a DNA test. I didn’t think there would be any surprises, I am just mostly Finnish I thought (and yes about 80% I am), but I was excited to find out that I am 6.5% Welsh/Irish/ Scottish! 

I have found people very polite and friendly in Wales.  People are patriotic and proud of their country and their culture and that is great.

Wonderful Welsh weather

In Wales there are interesting folk customs like Mari Lwyd which I took part in January. I also enjoyed a Plygain service. This year I want to go to Eisteddford and looking forward to that. 

Rugby seems to be a big thing in Wales but I am afraid that is something I am not interested in watching, sorry!

People said before we moved: Doesn’t it always rain in Wales! Not in Abergavenny anyway and I happen to like rainy days too. I don’t think there is such a thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!

Click here to find out more about SaySomethingInWelsh.

Click here for more info on DuoLingo.

Click here for information on local Wales-based Welsh classes or London classes (Not exhaustive so please check social media and search engines for what’s on in your area)

Click here to find out more about Lingo Newydd.

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 days ago

Tosi hyvä!

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.