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Scottish woman, who has never had a formal language lesson, wins Welsh Learner of the Year

09 Aug 2023 3 minute read
Welsh Learner of the Year Alison Cairns

A woman who hails originally from Scotland and has never had a formal Welsh language lesson, has been named Welsh Learner of the Year at the National Eisteddfod.

Alison Cairns, who lists her hobbies as kickboxing and shearing sheep, was honoured in a special ceremony on Wednesday on the Pafiliwn Mawr stage, following what the adjudicators said was “an excellent competition”.

In all 29 individuals were interviewed this year, with learners from Wales and beyond nominated. The other three on the shortlist were Roland Davies from Llanidloes, Manuela Niemetscheck from Bethesda and Tom Trevarthen from Aberystwyth.

Alison Cairns originally comes from Perthshire in Scotland but now lives on a farm near Llannerch-y-medd on Anglesey with her partner Sion and their seven children.

“When I met Sion one of the first jokes was that if I wanted to stay with him, I had to speak Welsh!

Alison said she started learning Welsh by listening to BBC Radio Cymru, watching S4C and reading her daughter’s books. She said reading Welsh books for the children was important.

She is an experienced shearer who has won a number of awards over the years.

“When I went to New Zealand to shear I took the Dewi y Ddraig workbooks with me.

“Unfortunately I broke my hand shearing in New Zealand so when Sion was going out in the day to shear I read the workbooks and taught myself.”

She now uses Welsh confidently every day, without ever having had a formal Welsh lesson.


Alison added that the local agricultural community had been extremely supportive as she learned the Welsh language.

“The farmers on Anglesey have been amazing with me, they have helped me so much speaking Welsh,” she said.

Alison and Sion are planning to get married this autumn and Welsh is the language of the family.

She works in the care sector in the community and realises how important using Welsh can be when dealing with patients.

“Being able to talk to people in their mother tongue is crucial: “Definitely that is very important to me.
“When I worked with old people before, you see they relax more with the carer who can speak their first language,” she said.

Alison received the Dysgwr y Flwyddyn Trophy and £300, donated by Pwllheli Town Council. The other three finalists received £100, again donated by Pwllheli Town Council.

The finalists also received a year’s subscription to the magazine, Golwg, and gifts from Merched y Wawr.

The competition celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and a special reception was held for former winners in Maes D.

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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
11 months ago

She’s an inspiration. Da Iawn Alison Cairns. Caru Cymru , mae Cymru’n dy garu di. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 👋

Richard Morse
Richard Morse
11 months ago

Obviously congratulation to the winner. It takes immense perseverance and hard work to assimilate successfully to a local community who speak a different language. So many fail to do this. It is also a tribute to the continued strength of Welsh in this particular community. However there is an unusual aspect to this result. The person who won the competition heavily promoted by the organisation whose primary focus on learning Welsh is formal lessons leading to exams ..has never been to a formal lesson. Which begs the question of the effectiveness of the National Centre’s teaching strategy if none of… Read more »

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