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SaySomethinginWelsh founder calls for DuoLingo to continue with fresh Welsh content

09 Dec 2023 5 minute read
SaySomethingInWelsh and Duolingo

Stephen Price

The creator of a popular Welsh language app has joined calls for DuoLingo to reverse its decision to pause updates to its Welsh language course.

Aran Jones, the founder of SaySomethinginWelsh started his language learning platform as a labour of love almost 15 years ago.

His goal was simple – to reverse the language shift that has taken place in Wales and to make it digital friendly with personal tutor involvement.

Learners come from across Wales and, indeed, the globe – with significant interest in England, the US and Germany.

One winner: Cymraeg

Aran has big plans for the future, and is hopeful that advancing the technology for English learning can help to generate income that will then help to promote and develop Welsh language technology further.

Like DuoLingo, SaySomethinginWelsh is extremely popular with Welsh learners, with many learners enjoying the different approach from each platform and using both simultaneously, while others have a preference for one over the other. Ultimately, the winner is the Welsh language.

According to its makers, SaySomethinginWelsh triggers real neurological change. There’s no need to write anything down, and it involves actually speaking (two complaints from language learners of the past).

Nina, a teacher from Monmouthshire, is a regular user of DuoLingo (top 3%!) and SaySomethingInWelsh. She also has in-person classes at a local community centre which are subsidised because of her teaching role.

She shared: “My son started at Ysgol Gymraeg y Fenni in April of last year and I felt that it would be amazing if we could learn together, albeit in different ways.”

“I expected my ability to take in new vocabulary to be harder in my 40s but I’m finding the variation of the three channels helps as they all offer something different but they all offer a chance for immersion in one form or another. I also have S4C on most evenings which I feel brings a lot of my learning home and gives me a connection to other Welsh communities.

“With Duolingo, I personally find it helps me learn vocabulary and sentence structure brilliantly, and there’s loads of help and pointers available as you work through each section.”

“Say Something in Welsh is almost-suspiciously clever! You listen to the sentence in English then repeat in Welsh, with options to learn with a south Walian or north Walian focus. I’ve found it encouraging and I’m surprised by my progress. I really enjoy the lessons (when my son gives me a moment) and the advice from the teacher in the breaks is really insightful and motivating.”

Aran’s teaching methods have famously taught people like Carol Vorderman, Ruth Jones, Jeremy Vine, Scott Quinnell, Colin Jackson, Chris Coleman, Joanna Scanlan, Jessica Hynes, James Hook, Adam Jones and Joe Ledley to learn Welsh.

Speaking about DuoLingo, Aran said: “We know the amount of effort and time and energy that it takes to make a language learning app, and volunteers will have certainly made a massive contribution to promoting the language.”

“We think they deserve far better than Duolingo’s current intention to cease further production and hope very much that the Welsh Government will succeed in persuading Duo to reverse the decision. If Duo start to deprioritise Welsh on the platform as a result of this, that will inevitably lead to fewer learners.”

Passion

Besides Welsh, SaySomethingin currently offers courses in Spanish, Cornish, Manx and Dutch which are in their early stages at the moment, but the restless developers have their eyes on taking things to a much larger scale in the future.

Aran said: “If we have an extra 15 or so new languages available by this time next year, it’ll mean we’re on the verge of being able to produce hundreds, and finally give the support we’ve always wanted to our sister Celtic languages. Can you hear how tightly these fingers are crossed?!”

When asked about future plans as the platform nears its 15th birthday, Aran said: “We have three main goals that are driving us at the moment; solving for large scale production; showing that B2 (effective conversational usage) is possible in schools for all students for languages that aren’t the medium of instruction; and reinvesting income from larger languages to help promote Welsh more widely.”

He added: “We see no reason why Welsh shouldn’t have a global network of millions of active, successful learners/new speakers (particularly as we add more interface languages to our Welsh course).”

“We have tasters available to learn Welsh through Arabic, Dari and Pashto, and if we’ve solved for large scale production, we’ll be adding a lot more in the next couple of years.”

Aran’s passion for the Welsh language, our sister Celtic languages, in fact all languages is infectious, and it’s this that has driven him to create an app that has had real, lasting impacts for learners.

DuoLingo has now offered to meet with Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, and has assured learners that the Welsh course is not going anywhere, so for now things are looking much more promising, but we in Wales know all too well the importance of maintaining public pressure.

With news that 3 million people have used DuoLingo to learn Welsh, and with over 675,000 disappointed active users (not to mention widespread media coverage), the company must certainly be giving pause for thought.

For the sake of Welsh learners, and indeed the Welsh language itself, we echo Aran’s call to DuoLingo to do the right thing and take their finger off the pause button.

And da iawn to everyone behind the scenes, along with users of either platform. Dal ati

Click here for more info on DuoLingo.

Click here to find out more about SaySomethingInWelsh. 

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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Erisian
Erisian
6 months ago

When I started using Duolingo, the website, (rather than the app) had additional notes, including grammar, for those who wanted them. I can’t speak about the iPhone version, but the android app lacked these. Also, but just as importantly, there used to be a “Discuss” button on each ‘page’ which took you to a forum page specificaly about that topic. This was invaluable and its removal the worst idea (for the learners) DuoLingo ever had. I’m not even sure it saved DuoLingo any money, as the forum was supported by the course creators and other learners. I’m sure the Welsh… Read more »

Lord Custard
Lord Custard
6 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

Absolutely agree. Duo should have kept the notes, and also the option of north or south Welsh. If the Welsh government are serious about Cymraeg then they need to invest in more than just courses at colleges. Not everyone has the time to visit college and the online courses such as SSIW and Duo are invaluable.

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