A very Welsh new year resolution
In November 2022, I stood in awe at the base of Elizabeth Tower as Big Ben boomed and protesters hurled insults and howled out demands on Parliament Square.
Bizarrely, it was during this trip to England’s capital that I decided I would learn Welsh as my 2023 New Year resolution.
I’d been invited to London after being shortlisted for an award along with a fellow journalist I’d met at university.
Early that morning, I strode through Cardiff as the last of Autumn’s leaves fell and I paused to take a snap of the enormous bucket hat proudly perched in The Hayes.
I boarded a train at Cardiff Central clutching a large coffee and watched as the land rapidly moved from rolling green hills to flat farmland.
My university pal and travel partner Alaw hunched over her laptop translating English to Welsh throughout the entire journey whilst chatting away about her shiny new job role with her lilting and musical Pembrokeshire accent.
In the four years I’d grown to know her, I had noted that Alaw is a young woman who’s every fibre oozes Welsh culture and identity. In the tiny Welsh village where she was raised, she and her family speak Welsh as a first language.
Whilst at university gaining our journalism degrees, Alaw used every opportunity to make sure her stories were bathed in Welsh light with many of her radio pieces recorded in Welsh and a spotlight shone on Welsh speaking guests.
Unwavering and undiluted passion
The radio documentary she had produced for her final university project highlighted the Welsh Government’s current target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.
Miraculously, Alaw had even found an asylum seeker who had taught himself to speak Welsh and was passing the pleasure down to his own children.
Alaw’s unwavering and undiluted passion for Wales and its native language was reflected in her radio documentary and led it to be shortlisted for a prize recognised by one of the UK’s largest journalism accreditation bodies.
My own shortlisting for an award was for a website I had designed showcasing Welsh news stories.
But, I had always felt that my target audience was somewhat short changed by the fact none of my writing was in the Welsh language.
A far cry from the green valleys of Wales
This trip to London was both exciting and scary for both of us. Our usual work as journos hunting for stories in the safety of Wales’s green valleys was a far cry from loud and busy London.
At Paddington Station we hurried along the crowded streets having no idea where we were.
Alaw typed ‘Westminster’ into the ever-reliable Google Earth and showed me the trail it had tracked through a city heaving with people.
I saw that Alaw’s phone was set to the Welsh language and smiled when she hinted it could be a good way for me to learn the language myself.
Escalators herded us down deep under the streets of London where tube trains rattled by on tracks sparking with electricity.
We were on our way to meet two other Welsh journalists who had promised to show us around Parliament Square.
As we passed through the depths of Westminster tube station, I thought about what it must have been like for the people of War time London huddled down here whilst the ground shook above them.
We climbed the steps up to daylight and at the top, twenty or so hands lifted smart phones to the sky as Big Ben’s newly restored face loomed over the city.
The longest spoken language of Britain
One of the journalist’s we were meeting was attending the awards ceremony at the Financial Times building with us later that night.
The other was a Welsh journalist who had been spending a year or so to report from London and had kindly agreed to spend his afternoon showing two newly qualified hacks around the square.
It was here, beneath a statue of Winston Churchill that two of our group chatted to each other in the language at the very heart of Welsh identity as early Christmas gifts wrapped in colourful paper were cheerfully handed out.
The conversation between the two, exchanged in the longest spoken language of Britain, amongst black cabs racing by and sirens screaming spoke to my heart and I yearned to be able to join in.
Alaw starting chatting to me in English as the other two continued their catch up in Welsh, the language held as a heart on their sleeve for all to hear on a square teaming with people.
I would have given anything to be able to gleefully join in the conversation and not be the only one from a group of Welsh journalists standing in Westminster who couldn’t speak Welsh.
In that moment, I knew exactly what my New Year Resolution would be.
Not only had the fluency helped progress the careers of the colleagues around me, but the language held deep roots in their identity and was integral to the heritage of the people of Wales.
I wanted to experience the same strong sense of patriotism and identity and be confident enough to pass it down to my own daughter who herself had already learned enough to ask – “beth am swper” when she felt Mam was overdoing it in the office.
It’s a heartbeat, a feeling
For myself living in the South Wales Valleys, I have always felt a strong belonging to Wales as one of her people.
Living and belonging here is about so many things.
It’s about pinning a daffodil to my daughter’s school shirt every first of March which coincidentally is also my husband’s birthday – a privilege he has boasted about no end over the last ten years we’ve been together.
It’s about lashing butter on bara brith and fondly remembering the years when I proudly held a season ticket for the sorely missed home of Cardiff City Football Club – Ninian Park.
It’s about sharing Welsh cakes at past university newsday meetings whilst a lecturer frantically tried to get one of the class onto the press list to ask a question at a Welsh Government briefing.
It’s saying Nadolig Llawen at Christmas.
It’s a feeling, a heartbeat and above all else, a privilege.
So as I boldly elbow my way into 2023, I’ll be doing it with Duolingo in hand and the hope that Alaw won’t mind the occasional clumsy voice note in Welsh as I make the journey to becoming one of Wales’s Welsh speakers.
Dymuna bob lwc I fi!
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How many self professed and proud Welsh are going to start learning the language instead of lazing about in front of the TV and making excuses for not learning it? They think singing Yma o Hyd is doing their bit for the language where in fact they are doing nothing but helping to bring it to its death. Shame on those people.
Moronic comment, just meant to divide and rule!!!!
Pob lwc i ti, Emily a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i holl ddarllenwyr nation.cymru
I’m moving back to Wales early summer 2023 and I’m determined to speak Welsh I’ve been at duolingo for a short period but I will definitely be taking Welsh lessons when I return to Wales,, good luck Emily 👍
This is a lovely and inspiring article.
Da iawn Emily Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.
Dwi’n dod o Swydd Efrog yn wreiddiol , but nevertheless understand (and in large measure feel, as a ‘naturalised’ Welsh citizen) the sentiments expressed here. I made rapid progress a few years ago with SaySomethinginWelsh – which I’d strongly recommend – then circumstances (OK, along with a lack of self-discipline) held me back. Inspired by this article I resolve to make 2023 the year I get back on track. Blwyddyn Newydd dda a pob lwc!
Da iawn chi. Great to see an ever-larger number of Sais learning the language. I know several.
A fi! Dw i’n dod o Tref farchnad yn Essex a dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg ar DuoLingo. Hopefully I will move to Cymru this year, dw i’n caru Cymru a Cymraeg.