Last year (sheesh, that's gone quickly!) Catrin wrote a terrific post with the history of SSiW through her and my eyes:viewtopic.php?f=6&t=3663
We're still waiting for Iestyn and Cat's version - so now might be as good a time as any for you to lobby Iestyn to move that up his 'to do' list...
In the aftermath of the IWA awards night, as Iestyn and I found ourselves telling people over and over again that this was an award for SSiW, the people, the community, not us, I realised that we've never said a great deal about WHY we built the site in the first place. I'm sure you can all figure a fair bit of it out - but it seems to me that since your passion and enthusiasm has got SSiW to the place where it's winning awards already, you deserve (and might like!?) the full 'WHY?' story... from my point of view... I hope enormously
that Iestyn will add his too...
***I'll try and keep it as short as I can!
[Warning: I'm not very good at keeping things short]
I was brought up (in a bundle of different countries) without any Welsh. My mother had spoken only Welsh until she was about six, but the family had then left for England to look for work, shortly after the Second World War. She was beaten up repeatedly at her new school for not being able to speak English, so her parents decided to use only English at home, and she lost her Welsh. My grandparents never spoke Welsh to me - well, not more than a small handful of words that were just part of English as far as I was concerned - diolch, eistedd, ffenest, cau, agor, llus, nos da.
Because we moved so much (Wales, England, Germany, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Wales) I never had a real sense of belonging anywhere. I'm not even sure why I always considered myself Welsh - my father was English, after all - it was probably just that Nain always used to give us losins (sweets) when we visited, while Granny would (optimistically and almost always unsuccessfully) hide her supply of chocolates.
But when people used to ask me why I thought I was Welsh, since I wasn't born in Wales, didn't speak Welsh, and didn't live in Wales, I never knew what to say. I can remember some cracking fights at school where three or four bigger lads would try to get me to say I was English, which was just never going to happen, bloody nose or not!
Fast forward a bit - and my parents separated, and my mother moved home to her parents just outside Aberystwyth - and shortly afterwards, I got into the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. I even bought a Linguaphone course to learn Welsh, but it was a lot too much like hard work - so with my usual laziness plus a real fear of confronting the fact that I didn't speak Welsh, I left university with no more Welsh than I'd started it, and promptly went off to work in Zimbabwe and then Dubai for the rest of my 20s.
***Starting to figure it out
I wised up, shook the sand off my feet and came home when I was 32 - new millennium and all that, and once you've seen one camel you've seen them all. I had a pay off from the school I worked in, had a broken heart that seemed much more serious at the time than it turned out to be, and was at a real loose end.
So, as you do, I did a four week intensive Wlpan course in Aberystwyth. At the end of which, I could sort of speak Welsh - so I immediately went off to stay with my brother, who lived in Essex. No, not the best way to practise my fledgling Welsh, you're right. Then to my surprise I found myself moving to Porthmadog, because something in me had decided that I really, seriously needed to get this language back.
I stopped using English then, pretty much. Carried on doing Wlpan classes, joined a choir, played lots of pool in Welsh, and then a year on from the first, did another four week intensive course in Aberystwyth - at the end of which, I really had to accept that I was a Welsh speaker, and that I didn't belong in classes any more, even if I could only understand about half of what my Welsh-speaking friends said.
***Getting a bit worked up
It was about then that I joined Cymuned, the communities and housing and language pressure group. I'd heard Seimon Glyn talk at a Sgwrs and Stori session, and I just couldn't square the very open, friendly, passionate person he seemed to be with the monstrous, English-granny-eating racist monster the press and the Labour party were making him out to be.
Far from being frothing racists, the members of Cymuned I knew were all incredibly kind and patient and willing to help - it was obvious that they really valued my efforts to learn, and it was also increasingly obvious to me that if it hadn't been for people like them over the previous fifty years or so, the language probably wouldn't have still been alive for me to come home to.
And a homecoming it was - for the first time in my life, I had a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of personal identity that wasn't based on getting into fights with the big boys.
Welsh gave me a way to come home; and then it gave me work, at Gwynedd council, and then it really pulled the stops out and gave me a wife, and then it went a bit over the top and gave me children as well. It is no overstatement to say that learning Welsh has changed my life dramatically - and I will never be able to give enough thanks to the huge number of passionate, proud Welsh speakers who made all those wonderful things possible for me - who made it possible for me to find a life that is so full to the brim of happiness and value and belonging that I still find it quite hard to believe.
Ever since I joined Cymuned, I have become more and more determined to give something back - to give a practical, valuable thanks to all the people who kept this other Wales, this Cymru, alive. My volunteering with Cymuned was and remains part of that.
But then, as you can read on the link to Catrin's post way back up there at the top, three or four years ago several factors came together - a life spent dabbling in languages, the shock of discovering that I had actually become a Welsh speaker, that it was actually possible, the work I was doing with the internet and my interest in ways of sharing online, and the overwhelming desire to give something back - and I started trying to write the lessons that would become SaySomethinginWelsh.
***Where I hope we can go next
I hoped that an mp3 course would be easier for people to stick with than a classroom course - I'd seen so many people drop out of those. I also hoped that what I thought I'd learned about language learning would help people start speaking Welsh faster than traditional courses. And I hoped that a free course would take away any excuse for people who moved to Welsh speaking communities not to learn the language.
I hoped it would make a difference; that it would contribute something to the dream of building a real, genuine, successful future for this utterly precious language.
But now, because of you, I'm having to re-assess my hopes.
Because of you, SSiW has already done
all those things.
Now I believe something bigger.
I believe that you, the SSiW community, can and will change the entire game. I believe that you will help create an entirely new dynamic for the future of the language. I believe that you will translate it into dozens of different languages so that more people than anyone would have though possible all round the world will learn Welsh. I believe that will lead to a transformation in the Welsh tourism industry. I believe that you will start and run groups and meetups and make it easy and fun for anyone who wants to become a Welsh speaker, anywhere in the world, to do just that. I believe that all the people learning Welsh through different languages will make it suddenly real and fun to speak Welsh - because huge numbers of them won't be able to speak English, so if you Skype them, you won't have the age-old temptation of slipping back into English! I believe that increasing numbers of you will move to Welsh speaking communities, and will create your own Welsh speaking communities in parts of Wales where the language hasn't been heard on the streets in a hundred years - and in parts of the world where it has never been heard on the streets.
And, above all this, I believe that you will do things to promote the language, and to make it easier and more fun to learn, that I can not even begin to imagine as I sit here typing this.
Because there are thousands of you. And because it matters to you.
Because you're on the same journey I'm on, and I know what a giddy, staggering, colourful, startling, creative and life-changing experience that journey is.
***So why is this a separate, new section?
Iestyn and I have been increasingly amazed for a long time now how many of you go to huge lengths to add your passion and your ideas to SSiW - from posters and stickers to online Eisteddfodau to tweets and Facebook posts and recording videos and translating and helping with the accounts and writing emails and making badges and writing songs and just sharing over and over again your passion and enthusiasm.
The truth is, you have built what SSiW is. Iestyn and I couldn't have got 15,000 people to try the lessons, not even with the help of the thoroughly amazing Cat and Catrin.
You did that.
Those incredible numbers are because of you
Well, I think it's time we spoke more openly and more often about that. I think it's time we celebrated the truth that the future of SSiW isn't about what Iestyn and Cat and Catrin and I think and do - it's about what you invent and share and practice and do.
Sure, we'll keep on plugging away at developing the lessons - and they'll keep on getting better because of your feedback - but the rest of it is inevitably and gloriously going to be about YOU.
Can we make sure that every Welsh learner in Wales knows about SSiW?
If you decide to make that happen, I think we can.
Can we make sure that everyone who lives in Wales knows about SSiW?
If you decide to make it happen, I think we can.
Can we make Welsh the most widely learnt minority language in the world?
If you decide to, I believe we can.
Can we make it normal and natural for everyone who moves to a Welsh speaking community to learn the language?
With your creativity, I believe we can.
Can we think of new and better and bigger aims and dreams and ambitions?
You tell me...
***Thank you - diolch yn fawr iawn
So this forum is for you.
It's a place for you to talk about what you would like to make out of SSiW.
Tell everyone your ambitions. Tell everyone your passions. Tell everyone your ideas.
Let's have some fun...