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The Italian learning Welsh and loving Welsh music in Torino

20 Jan 2024 11 minute read
Gisella Albertini. Image: Massimo Scocca

Stephen Price

Gisella Albertini is an Italian from Torino, living in Torino. She’s also a huge fan of Wales, and one of the three million plus people learning Welsh across the world – all thanks to a love of Welsh band, Datblygu.

As part of a focus on Welsh learners from across the world, we’re beginning with Gisella, who works as a documentary maker.

And get a pen handy, because she’s got some Welsh music tips that we could all benefit from, not to mention more than a few insightful takes on our own relationship with the Welsh language here in Wales.

Visit to Wales

Gisella has no familial connection with Wales, and her first visit to Wales came about in 2019, six months after beginning to learn the language, to interview Datblygu for a documentary film she was making at the time.

Through using SaySomethinginWelsh and her dedication to learning Datblygu’s lyrics, she was able to have simple conversations even back then.

Since that point, her language proficiency has improved to a confident level. Here she tells us more about her journey.

“I remember listening to a record by Datblygu some time in 2018 and thought they were so cool and that the language sounded so amazing that I absolutely wanted to speak like that and to be able to understand what they said in their songs.

“When I came to Wales for the documentary, everybody was so welcoming and supportive of my attempts, and I was already able to communicate basic things, whereas with English, despite being fluent, I’m not too familiar with British accents and often still have trouble getting understood or understanding natives!

“This experience was a huge boost to my enthusiasm, so I carried on.”

Welsh public transport

When lockdown occurred, Gisella had to put plans to visit Wales on hold, but it did nothing to stop her language learning which she continued passionately at every opportunity.

Her experience of public transport in Wales echoes that of our own, unfortunately.

“I also came back a few times, and despite a two year pause because of lockdown I’ve spent about 6-7 weeks in Wales altogether. Half of which was spent on trains and buses or waiting at the stations and stops (sorry I had to say it, but the public transport is not very well organised in Wales compared to back home).

“I would also like to acknowledge the unbelievable kindness and help I was offered by locals who gave me lifts and drove me around, allowing me to see and do things I couldn’t have seen and done otherwise. They often saved me from being stuck in the middle of nowhere, too!

“But despite those setbacks, I really loved it and have made new friends, and none of that would have happened if I hadn’t started learning Welsh and heard Datblygu. I’m very grateful for all of that!

Learning journey

“I’ve found the experience of learning Welsh extremely enjoyable and surprisingly much easier than I expected.

“It’s all the more surprising considering that I started from scratch and have so far completely failed at learning German (despite being the first language of several relatives and ancestors).

“My methods aren’t always the most orthodox – I started by simply trying to learn to sing along songs by Datblygu and some of my other favourite Welsh bands, as well as using a few translations I had found on Discogs.”

Emyr Glyn Williams

“I then decided to write to Emyr Glyn Williams of my favourite label, Ankst, to ask if he had any written lyrics and that’s when my learning really took off: he sent me a booklet with most of Datblygu’s lyrics and translations which became my very first Welsh language manual.

“I was very sad to hear of his passing. Such a big loss, he was a truly great and passionate and kind person. He did so much for the music scene and his important body of work will be with us forever.”

“Later on, I found Duolingo and SaySomethinginWelsh and online forums, and particularly gained from Facebook groups where you can ask questions and connect to lots of other learners and speakers.

“I also joined online chat groups and a few online lessons, plus I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching S4C
programmes – the quality of the dramas, and especially the documentaries, are world leading.

“As you can tell from my band T-shirt, I listened to a lot of Datblygu, but also immersed myself in other Welsh bands and BBC Radio Cymru (Rhys Mwyn in particular helped introduce me to so many new artists), read articles online and a few books (starting with those for learners, and moving on to more complex ones later, and then grammar books by Gareth King).”

Gisella Albertini

Friendship & adventure

“One of the creators of the Duolingo course, Richard Morse, did/does free online lessons I had tried during lockdown, and enjoyed them, so I joined his dysgu.cymraeg class in october 2021, and came to Wales to sit the Uwch exam in June 2023, and I’m very pleased to say that I passed it.

“This year I’m in dysgu.cymraeg Gloywi weekly classes (with Coleg Gwent and Aberystwyth providers) and still finding it all very interesting and enjoying it a lot!

“As a side note: the exam was a bit of a challenge inspired by a fellow learner from Australia now living in the Netherlands, called Jennifer Bailey who I met in a Duolingo online class. We decided to try it and both went to CrossKeys last June for a bit of adventure.

“For us, it was a bit odd to see that there were only 6 people attempting the exam and three of us came from outside Wales!”

Advice

“Learning a language takes effort, but it doesn’t need to be boring and painful. Focus on the things you enjoy best.

“And although it may feel intimidating, just start using it as soon as possible – like in
chat groups for learners, just using a few words in Welsh in shops and cafes or meeting people. It makes you learn 100 times faster, and that’s what will make the language live and grow.”

As exciting as it might be for us in Wales to hear about Gisella’s learning journey, the one downside to learning Welsh abroad is the assumption that it’s hard to use it daily with ease. This, Gisella says, needn’t be a factor in deciding the merit of learning Welsh.

“Of course I can’t use it around Torino, as if I lived in Wales. Quite surprisingly, there happens to be even one first language speaker over here, but it’s not often easy to meet for a chat among all other
everyday tasks.

“However nowadays it’s not a valid excuse not to learn Welsh because so much of our socialising, our interactions with each other, take place online.

“There are plenty of chat groups and lessons available online – available to any of us without even leaving the home, and anywhere in the world!

“I try to join an evening chat group at least a couple of times a month, and plan at least a couple of weeks in Wales a year – to practice and visit friends and places I read about online. It would be great to be able to do more!”

Welsh music

“I’m a big fan of music in general, and really enjoy discovering new stuff but I’m also very picky.

“A series of coincidences brought me to hear Datblygu, and they’re just my kind of band. I just loved them right away.

Datblygu

“From there, I started searching for other bands somehow related and found Anhrefn, Llwybr Llaethog, Malcolm Neon, Ail Symudiad, Pop Negatif Wastad, Welsh Tourist Bored, Llygod Ffyrnig, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Bob Delyn a’r Ebillion – just to name a few.

“I also realised that the Superfurries, that I had known since the 90s, were actually from Wales and had even sung in Welsh and done a Datblygu cover!”

“I could go on forever, but among newer bands, I’ll restrict it to a few I’ve seen and enjoyed live: Cate LeBon, Adwaith, HMS Morris, Mari Mathias, Climbing Trees, Cerys Hafana, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Hap a Damwain, Ceitidh Mac (who lives in England but comes from the Cardigan area) and Ffos Goch.

Using Welsh

“I wish people from Wales would stop thinking that around the world people would not appreciate bands singing in Welsh because they don’t understand the language.

“Most of us non-first language English speakers around the world grew up listening to music in English (and in other languages) without understanding anything at all of the lyrics. And we don’t
care, because if the band is good, it’s good, that’s what matters.

“Or, as I’ve shown, it can be an inspiration to learn the language, see?”

Cymraeg

“Around the web, I often come across comments from people complaining about a sort of imposition of the Welsh language on children at school and adults who live in Wales.

“One side of my family comes originally from Alto-Adige in the North East of Italy. It has been a fully Italian-German bilingual region for more than a century.

“All children learn both languages in school, all public services must be in both languages, all road signs and names are in two languages  – sometimes even three, as there’s also a minority language  called “Ladino” in the area – and everybody living there and tourists deal with it just fine!

“I know that some might object that both Italian and German are spoken by more people around the world, so they’re considered ‘more useful’ than Welsh which I’d disagree with, but the point is that once you get things going nobody even thinks about it, it’s normal – that’s how it goes!”

“When I say that I’m learning Welsh, right after “why would you do that?” most people go: “Oh you should go to the Eisteddfod then!”

“To me, it sounds a bit like implying that it’s not really a language for everyday life. “Great you want to speak it, go to the Welsh language reservation, where you can find people like you!”

“I mean it’s fine that there’s a festival dedicated only to the language and people like it. But I’ve been to very interesting bilingual festivals (a very interesting independent book festival in Aberaeron and an Irish-Welsh production music festival in Cardigan called Lleisiau Eraill with bands singing in Welsh and English and Irish too).

“And I’ve been able to find speakers pretty much everywhere, and use the language in real life. Why don’t Welsh people just “live” the language more like this instead of keeping it in a separate compartment?”

From learner to speaker

“When I talk to first language or very fluent Welsh speakers, one thing I find quite funny is a sort of surprise – not only because I have learned it, but also because I spoke what they defined “proper Welsh” as opposed to “learners Welsh”.

“When I asked what they meant, the said that children and people who learn in school and courses often don’t really speak it a lot outside the class.

“They may well be fluent but often speak as if they were reading a book, and in the worst cases like an old book – certainly not the way people who learn from within a the family or how friends really speak.”

Dal ati!

“Learners I’ve met are often very worried about making mistakes, or not being good enough to use the language in the wild, or with their children going to Welsh school; so they wait and wait.”

“But it would be so much better for their learning process, and for the language, to just use even a few words mixed in English every time they get the chance. And just go from there.

“Every time people in the shop, in the street, kids, adults, everybody… every time they hear you use it, they get a bit closer to the feeling that that’s the way people speak there – that it’s not a dead or useless language.

“It could eventually even change their way of thinking and give them the confidence to do the same!”

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)


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Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
25 days ago

It’s greatly to her credit that she passed the Lefel Uwch exam in June, with no formal teaching and with few conversation opportunities. Da iawn hi. Her Welsh must be reasonably good by now.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
25 days ago

You often find those outside Wales value our language more than we do is a sad indictment of us as a people. And when you see those with no family connection to Wales other than a love of our literature & history, who take the time and effort to learn Cymraeg, is not only an inspiration but should be a wake up call that our language & culture isn’t throwaway or something to be replaced with another foreign tongue but part of who we are a Britain’s native people and should be cherished & celebrated.

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
24 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Yes I agree. It’s amazing how many Welsh people are hostile to the Welsh language.

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