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Opinion

Reach out and help someone else to keep the Welsh language alive

02 May 2023 6 minute read
Learning Welsh

Hayden Williams

Last month, I had a weird experience when I attended, via Zoom, a Siarad Sadwrn session for Welsh learners using the dysgucymraeg.cymru courses.

Apart from the tutor, I was the only Welsh Welsh learner there: the other seven learners were from England. The tutor was the only person physically located in Cymru.

This should alert us to something. The English, and people from other countries, have been learning Welsh in growing numbers, for all sorts of reasons: commendable cultural sensitivity, or curiosity, or as an intellectual pursuit through the Covid lockdowns.

Or, perhaps to enhance their visitor experiences. Last week, the Guardian reported Welsh heritage sites were experiencing high growth in visitor numbers due to people outside Wales developing an interest in Welsh history, also during the Covid pandemic.

This reminded me of a Nation.Cymru article last summer, with Zip World director Sean Taylor saying how much international and English visitors love the use of the Welsh language.

“We get school groups from England,” he said, “and by the time they leave they can say ‘bore da’, ‘prynhawn da’, and ‘croeso’. They love it, they embrace it.”

How about us?

Novelty

Outside interest is good for the language. The more learners we have, the better the chances yr hen iath will survive into the future — though God forbid the language should ever become a mere commodity for the tourism industry.

But I wonder, mightn’t this phenomenon end up proving beneficial in another, strange sort of way?

Mightn’t it also be the long-awaited spur we need to turn more Welsh learners into actual Welsh speakers?

Because, at the end of the day, it’s only a novelty for most of these foreign learners. For us, it’s ours, it’s in us, it’s only been absent from our tongues for three or five generations at most; or maybe it’s always been there, but it’s only the rooms of our homes that haven’t heard Welsh in a while. Like us, it’s still here. It’s ours to reclaim.

Myself, after about a quarter century of stopping and starting, I finally realised the torments of not being able to speak my own language were greater than the torments of dysgu Cymraeg itself. I finally committed.

Y Spardun

In the beginning, listening to spoken Welsh felt a bit like falling down a cliff face: you desperately want to grab onto something, but by the time your brain recognises a word, it’s long gone — the ‘fall’ is over, you’ve crashed yet again.

Every such experience is a little painful. Embarrassing, awkward, bruising to your sense of nationalistic pride, encouraging only to those demons who whisper you’ll never do it, you’ll never reach fluency, why bother going on with this? What’s the point?

Well, dyna’r spardun, here’s the spur: to be honest, having my use of the Welsh language corrected by a more advanced learner from England felt beyond embarrassing.

This guy, a participant of the Siarad Sadwrn Zoom session I mentioned, seemed a nice person. He was genuinely trying to help me. On a logical level, I could accept he was a more advanced and better student than me, but in my heart, I felt humiliated, jealous, and very close to anger.

Excuses

Point is, in the week following that memorable Zoom session, there wasn’t a day I didn’t study. I had Welsh in my ears at every available opportunity. I bought extra headphones so I’d always have a set in the car. And if I hadn’t already closed down my account due that annoying af owl, I probably would have gone up a level on Duolingo too.

In modern life, there are always excuses to hand, although we can no longer say with any credibility that Welsh is a dead language, or that resources for learning are too scarce, or too expensive (some free online courses are listed at the end of this article).

We get distracted, and we forget, until the familiar nagging longing returns, until something sparks inspiration again. Let’s break that cycle and make Welsh our daily norm.

Even if we live outside Wales, as so many foreign learners are showing us, we can do it: the internet has changed everything, and time-zone differences are the only real hurdle left.

‘Buddy System’

I once sailed with a second cook who was a fluent Welsh speaker from Caergybi (Holyhead). We became good friends, and he taught me a lot of Welsh. Our friendship was better than any textbook. I learned so many Welsh words in that short time.

This year, I got a Welsh language ‘buddy’ through the dysgucymraeg.cymru system. This person works a job, and has other commitments and responsibilities besides, but every week, without fail, he’s been getting up early just to help me, before he goes to work.

He’s a volunteer. He doesn’t get paid. At the start, he didn’t know me from Adam. He’s doing it because he loves our language, because he wants it to survive.

That’s the kind of commitment we need. If you already speak Welsh, please don’t waste that ability. Can you reach out and help someone else, perhaps? Can you create an opportunity?

We’re such a creative people. Previous generations worked hard, made sacrifices, and thought up strategies which not only ensured the regeneration of our own language, but which also became the internationally recognised ‘game plan’ for minority languages everywhere.

How about us? We’re part of that tradition too, and what an opportunity we have now, to build communities of learners and speakers within Wales, to forge meaningful connections between the regions of Cymru, and across the diaspora.

We can’t let them beat us at our own game, can we?

Free audio lessons, an entire course:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/catchphrase/catchphrase1/lessons1.shtm

Tons of free learn Welsh videos:

https://www.youtube.com/@DysguCymraegLearnWelsh

https://www.youtube.com/@S4CDysguCymraeg

Free written lessons:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize


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Hayden Williams
Hayden Williams
1 year ago

Obviously, I don’t agree my article’s racist. Like I say, I think it’s good for the language the more people want to learn it, no matter where they’re from. It’s not racist to lament the way things are though, is it? Or to try and encourage change? And I don’t agree Welshness depends on ancestry/ethnicity, so please don’t try and put that one on me thanks

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
1 year ago

In what way was the article anti-English?

CJPh
CJPh
1 year ago

What?

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 year ago

The BBC link for the audio course doesn’t work ?

Hayden Williams
Hayden Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

I think the last letter is missing from the link above, somehow. Try this copying and pasting one, Steve:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/catchphrase/catchphrase1/lessons1.shtml

Jon
Jon
1 year ago

Hayden, llongyfarchiadau am ddysgu’r Gymraeg. O’n i’n arfer byw yn Lloegr ac yn Sais yn wreiddiol. Bellach dwi’n byw yn Ngoledd Dwyrain Cymru ac yn helpu dysgwyr ar y cynllun siarad a’r grwp ymarfer lleol. Hir oes i’r Gymraeg!

Hayden Williams
Hayden Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

Da iawn, Jon. Pob lwc

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 year ago

Thanks !

Matt J
Matt J
1 year ago

My entire family is English, I was born in England (though I live in Scotland) and I don’t regard this article as REMOTELY anti-English in the slightest. I don’t even understand how you would come to that conclusion.

notimejeff
notimejeff
1 year ago

Same in my online course, we had a member in Pittsburgh and several in England, even one in Brittany. We all enjoy what we’re doing, never any thought of where one is from.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
1 year ago

Ers bron 2 flynedd erbyn hyn, dw i wedi bod yn un o’r Cymry Cymraeg sy’n cymryd rhan yn y cynllun Partner Siarad. Dw i wedi cael – ac yn dal i gael – hwyl mawr wrth ddod i nabod pobl diddorol a brwd iawn tros yr iaith. Mae un yn byw yn Nulyn, Iwerddon (mae ei theulu yn wreiddiol o ogledd Cymru), un arall yn byw yn Durham, Lloegr (ond yn wreiddiol o dde Sir Benfro) a’r trydydd yn fenyw ifanc sy’n byw ac yn astudio ym Mosgo, Rwsia. Mae hi’n rhugl ei Chymraeg hi er dim ond 16… Read more »

Karren
Karren
1 year ago

I live in Leipzig, Germany. You can learn Welsh along with Irish at the university here ☺️

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
1 year ago
Reply to  Karren

Da iawn 🙂

Richard Morse
Richard Morse
1 year ago

Bizarrely your article doesn’t mention the most important reason for the huge increase in Welsh learning in Wales and the rest of the world over the last seven years. The Welsh course on Duolingo which has 600,000 active learners somewhat more than the National Centre’s claimed 15,000. Also bizarrely you don’t link to the very effective ‘Say Something in Welsh’ course. The Catchphrase course is more than 20 years old.

https://www.duolingo.com/enroll/cy/en/Learn-Welsh

Jason Bowen
Jason Bowen
1 year ago

blaming welsh poverty on language revival is beyond low iq…… one of the most illogical arguments I have seen in a comments section

Jason Bowen
Jason Bowen
1 year ago

I very rarely see anyone from the majority working class in Wales ever take up a Welsh language course ….. alarm bells should be ringing.

CJPh
CJPh
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Bowen

I’ve seen many people who describe themselves as working class start learning Cymraeg, send their kids to ysgolion gymraeg, etc. I’ve seen many people who describe themselves as working class be virulent in their disdain for the language. Maybe perceived social class and our linguistic heritage don’t mix well in discussing our culture?

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Bowen

The myth that Welsh speakers are some sort of middle class elite was easily exploded; the same accusation has now begun to be levelled at adult learners. It. too. is fake news. I know a number of working class Wrexham people who over the last few years have begun learning Welsh through dysgucymraeg.cymru.

Jen
Jen
1 year ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

I am dirt poor and studying, hoping to make a better life for myself and my cat. The dysgucymraeg scheme is wonderful, its classes heavily discounted to help more people learn.

Jen
Jen
1 year ago

Dw i’n byw yn Utica, Efrog Newydd, America ac eisiau cwrdd mwy siaradwrs. Un dydd, dw i’n goebithio cwrdd partner pwy sy’n siarad Cymraeg. Ar rŵan, dim ond ffrindiau yn ocei.

onedragonontheshirt
onedragonontheshirt
9 months ago

I’m in an online Dysgu Cymraeg course (Sylfaen moving on to Canolradd) and I’m probably the least good learner in the group… I’m Welsh, too, if that matters to you. Thing is, we’re all different, and we will learn at different speeds; if I haven’t made the same progress as some of the others in my group, I take joy from the fact that I can say/read/write a whole lot more than this time 12 months ago. If at any point I started to feel “humiliated, jealous, and very close to anger” because an English person progressing faster than me… Read more »

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