As Storm Debi threw rain, wind and freezing cold at all of us this week, The National Centre for Learning Welsh held an event that warmed all who attended.
The Norwegian Church Arts Centre, on the banks of Cardiff Bay, was the location for the official launch of a Learn Welsh resource to the skills section of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
The Centre developed the resource, covering 13 units that combine online self-study with practical tasks to introduce words, phrases and language patterns around themes such as Welsh music and culture.
To illustrate how learning the Welsh language can transform young lives, a panel of four recent learners described their learning experience and what it meant to them to enter the “Welsh Language World.”
Their open and honest descriptions of their Welsh language journey and how it has made their lives so much more rewarding were truly inspirational. As was the fact that all spoke so clearly and well in Welsh, a language none of them had spoken only two years before.
When asked about language tips for new learners, one of the panel, (with absolutely no prompting,) highlighted the importance of SaySomethingin to build confidence for spoken Welsh. He loved using the SSiW app whilst washing-up and in the bath!
SaySomethingin are happy to help any Welsh language learner wherever and whenever we can!
Llywodraeth Cymru Rhyngwladol | Welsh Government International
SaySomethingin participated in the recent trade mission to Tokyo, Japan, organised by the Welsh Government.
We wanted to investigate potential uses for the SSi English facility we plan to build for Japanese speakers in 2024.
Working closely with Welsh Government representatives that are based in the British Embassy, meetings were held with officials of Japanese Prefectures, trade associations, educational experts, and language entrepreneurs.
We are extremely excited about the possibility of helping enhance spoken English for a range of Japanese audiences, and we will be closely monitoring this in the New Year since there appears to be a genuine need for this kind of service.
One unexpected initiative that surfaced while in Japan was a sincere, if modest, wish for a Welsh-to-Japanese module as well.
This extended to an association that oversees all cultural matters for the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido who identified several connections between Ainu and Welsh history and culture, before commenting they would love to connect languages as well.
Who would have guessed that a strong desire to learn Welsh could exist so far away!?
In 2022, I had one of the more unexpected and entertaining experiences to bubble up out of working for SaySomethinginWelsh.
One of our Iaith ar Daith graduates, Joanna Scanlan (who won a best actress BAFTA for her hugely powerful work in ‘After Love’) messaged me to ask if I would help out a friend of hers who wanted to make sure that the north-east Welsh accents were right for a stage production of ‘The Corn is Green’ at the National Theatre in London.
I’ve been working hard on saying ‘no’ to projects which aren’t on the main path for building SaySomethinginWelsh – going in too many different directions at once has always been a weakness of mine – and I managed to message Joanna back to say I didn’t think I was the right person. Saying ‘no’ felt like an important step forward in my personal development.
It was only a very small step, though. Joanna is not very fond of the word ‘no’. She called me, and I discovered that my new skill only stretched as far as written messages – on a live call, my ability to say ‘no’ vanished like the morning mist.
I’m so glad Joanna didn’t accept my ‘no’! I ended up visiting the National Theatre three times during rehearsals, and getting to work with the extraordinarily talented Penny Dyer, who has done all sorts of fascinating projects, including ‘The Last Kingdom’ (which Catrin and I loved when we’d run out of ‘Vikings’) and once lying underneath a table just out of shot to coach Tom Cruise on his Russian accent. It was a steep and fascinating learning curve.
I felt full to overflowing with imposter syndrome the whole way through, but it was a glorious experience. Penny told me that the director, Dominic Cooke, was well-known for only working with friendly, positive people, and the atmosphere at rehearsals was a joy to witness. I embarrassed myself mildly by being slightly starstruck by Richard Lynch – when I explained to the others that he was a very well-known baddy in Pobol y Cwm, he said ‘I prefer to think he’s misunderstood’. Richard was a genuinely wonderful person, and ended up providing a new recording of our southern course, which has been enormously valuable. I also blotted my copybook by not knowing who Nicola Walker was, and telling her after one rehearsal that I thought she was building towards a really powerful performance. Putting that down in words makes me wince all over again.
All the actors I worked with were so friendly and positive and hard-working, by the time Catrin and I went down to watch the opening night, I was a bag of nerves, wanting them all to be absolutely perfect. When Richard nailed ‘Nos dawch’ instead of the more normal ‘nos da’ for him, I may even have given a very little fist pump quietly to myself. And the transformation from the last rehearsal I’d seen to the first night was breath-taking, all the playing with space and structure and props that I hadn’t seen before. I knew immediately that I wanted to come down for the last night as well.
David Marsland, the stage manager, was so kind that he gave us an extra couple of tickets for Catrin’s parents to come with us to the final night. Catrin’s mother Rose, who was 90, turned out to remember the film of ‘The Corn is Green’, so that became a mad-cap family trip to London, arriving out of breath just before the curtain went up. Then, thanks to David, we were able to take Catrin’s parents through to the after-show party, where her mother held court. The cast were delighted to meet their ideal target audience, a 90 year old Welsh speaker who remembered the film and had come all the way from Pwllheli to see the production – that was why they’d worked so hard on their accents – and they were all so lovely to Rose. Nicola Walker even gave Rose her leading lady flowers! When the party spilled out onto the South Bank, we could see people walking past wondering who Rose was, surrounded in her wheelchair by stars of stage and screen. It was very hard to persuade her to leave.
I told Joanna that she’d gotten me well and truly bitten by the theatre bug, although it might be a little late in life for me to change careers. At the moment, I’m doing a bit of work with Rithvik Andugula, who is pushing himself extremely hard with his Welsh for a lead rôle in ‘Branwen: y Dadeni’, and once again I can’t wait for opening night. I told Joanna that I’d loved the experience so much, it had made me want to try and write for stage – she warned me that wasn’t going to be a very fast route back to the National Theatre! I don’t know if I could actually learn to write for stage, but I do know that any bits of coaching I get to help people with theatre productions, I’m always going to love.
Oh, and several weeks after I thought all the fun was over, I got a postcard from Nicola Walker. ‘I love every second of Welsh language speaking we get to hear on the stage, it’s completely thrilling.’ Penny was right about Dominic – he only works with the loveliest people.
Some say that we shouldn’t look back, that it’s healthier to set our sights forward, embracing newness and progress. But sitting in the sun on the Eisteddfod Maes, a pint of something cold and golden in hand, in the company of learners who became speakers who became friends, and looking back over their learning journeys, is such a great pleasure.
There’s Carolyn from Oxford who now lives and works through the medium of Welsh in Aberystwyth. Mark from Coventry spent the whole week at the Eisteddfod through the medium of Welsh, and I can’t ever remember thinking of Margaret from Sir Gaerfyrddin as a non Welsh speaker.
Seeing how Welsh has transformed these individuals’ lives, is not only inspirational, but for me as a first-language Welsh speaker, it’s profoundly moving.
I was born and raised in the area of this year’s National Eisteddfod, in the county with the highest percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales – proud of the fact that I could live every day without fail through the medium of Welsh, fearful that the language which was/is such an integral part of my identity, was facing such an uphill battle.
When I was a child, I couldn’t have ever predicted that working with Welsh learners would be a part of my future. But here I am.
Working with SSiW has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and as it turns out, Welsh learners are the best kinds of people. Bearing witness to their learning journeys and the way in which they approach those journeys with such enthusiasm and gratitude, is an endless pleasure. Their determination to keep on when it feels difficult and their love for our culture is always awe-inspiring. They’re helping to keep our language alive and for this, we are endlessly grateful.
So, diolch to Stan and Therese who greeted us with the warmest smiles at the Eisteddfod, wearing their SSiW badges with pride! Diolch to Catherine Marsh whose emotional embrace will stay with me forever – roedd hi’n fendigedig cwrdd â ti. Diolch to John and Leia for the chats – always a pleasure! Diolch Hendrik for the sgwrs and the music. Diolch also to Geraint, Sara, David, Kiri, Talat, Aleighcia and so many more of you who made the journey to Pen Llŷn and the effort to come and meet us.
The SSi community is a truly inspirational gathering of people, who love the Welsh language passionately. It is an extraordinary privilege to be part of it.
I don’t think I’ve ever been on a panel at the Eisteddfod before – not that I can remember, anyway. I’ve done other things – reenacted Merched Beca smashing tollbooths (in a very fetching dress), joined dozens of marches (which are always happily short on the Maes since nowhere’s too far away), and spent far too much time looking after stalls – but never actually been on a panel.
So Wednesday last week, in the S4C pavilion, was a new, shiny experience for me (and new experiences are my favourite things, right up there with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens). And what an interesting panel it was – chaired by Sara Peacock, the head of strategy for the Welsh language at S4C, and sitting beside two of our most wonderful Iaith ar Daith learners, Aleighcia Scott and Kiri Pritchard-Mclean. We had a big screen showing clips of Iaith ar Daith behind us, and we were talking mainly about the importance of confidence in the learning journey.
We were also responding to some of the attacks that have been made on S4C recently for including a character in Pobol y Cwm who is on the journey of learning Welsh.
As a long-term language activist myself, I’ve been puzzled by these attacks. They seem to be based on the idea that English being used in Pobol y Cwm is a ‘thin end of the wedge’ scenario, rather than an effective (and naturally limited) way to include learners in the Welsh-speaking cultural community. Sara made the hugely important point that to help encourage learners, we need to help Welsh speakers understand what does and doesn’t work – and while it’s okay to model the right way to support on Iaith ar Daith, we can’t focus on the mistakes that people make when we’re dealing with real people. It would be utterly unfair.
So having a learner as a character on Pobol y Cwm lets us model the good and bad in a fictional setting where there’s no blame or embarrassment for real people. It’s exactly the right way to do it.
And it’s vital.
As people who care about the Welsh language, we have a very simple (and very stark) choice to make. We can focus on ‘purity’, on grammatical ‘correctness’, on making sure that Welsh speakers never have to suffer the horror of hearing a few words in English on television, or we can focus on friendliness, informality, enjoyment, connection, and encouraging more people to use more Welsh.
The first option only leads in one direction.
I said on the panel that it would be interesting to have one day at the Eisteddfod when every single person who made a grammatical error in their Welsh had to apologise to everyone else from the main stage, on television. It would be the quietest day in the history of the Eisteddfod. It would sound like a Zen retreat. Government ministers and chaired bards would be checking every sentence with online grammar tools before opening their mouths.
And that silence descending over the Eisteddfod like a shroud would be the sound of a language dying.
It is in speaking a language that confidence grows – and it is also, ironically enough, in speaking a language that learners acquire the neural webs that lead to them speaking more ‘normally’ or more ‘correctly’. This is how languages work. We have to start by encouraging speech, and then everything else follows.
People like Kiri and Aleighcia are every bit as passionate about the Welsh language as any language activist. They also have the crucial ability and energy to build new audiences for the language, and to encourage more people to feel connected to Welsh, to feel interested in learning. If we want the genuinely bilingual country we are absolutely capable of building, we have to welcome, to encourage and to celebrate people like Kiri and Aleighcia. They will dive in (with the extraordinary courage needed to go through a learning process on television), they will use English when their Welsh runs short, but they will keep on going, keep on learning, keep on using more and more Welsh, and they and others like them will bring the rest of Wales with them.
Iaith ar Daith is just the beginning. Archimedes said ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.’ S4C has the opportunity and the vision to normalise high-profile Welsh people becoming confident Welsh speakers, and becoming passionate advocates of the Welsh language. That will become our lever, and it will change the future of our country.
Education.SouthAsia is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and University College London that invites original and analytic pieces that make interdisciplinary contributions to the issue of education in South Asia.
Last week they ran a piece about our work in Sri Lanka, written by our very own Tom Cassidy, that focussed on our “Anyone Can Teach” initiative with the charity The Tea Leaf Trust in the country.
In 2019, four of us went to visit a company in Guangzhou in the south of China that we had been told might be interested in an English course for Mandarin speakers. We had a fascinating time, and we really liked some of the people in the company that we met – but they told us, in the most polite terms possible, that they wouldn’t be interested in working with us if our course was based on static mp3 files. ‘It would be too easy to copy them,’ they said, and then, with a wink, ‘In fact, it would make more sense for us just to copy them ourselves!’
They were interested in testing our approach, though, if we could move the method into a streaming environment that would be more difficult to copy. By the time we were sitting in Hong Kong airport for the flight home, we knew there was a serious challenge in front of us.
It’s a long old flight from Hong Kong to Caernarfon (and it’s not even direct yet!). I remember sitting on that Emirates plane and thinking about how streaming could work. It was 10 years since we’d shared our first few Welsh lessons, and those early 100s of users had become thousands and then tens of thousands.
How wise was it to change what we were doing?
But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realise something exciting. Moving into streaming wasn’t a gamble – it was a way to make enormously valuable improvements to our entire approach. I started thinking about all the reasons people didn’t carry on with SaySomethinginWelsh, and I began to see ways to solve the underlying problems in a streaming environment.
Then it dawned on me that the way we would be able to monitor progress in a streaming environment would map perfectly to the kind of data collection that allows for AI-driven improvements – and the seed of the idea for our AutoMagic Tutor had been planted.
It’s taken us 3 years to get to a working implementation, and we’ve still got work to do. As you might remember, early in 2020 we all found ourselves in a global pandemic, and then in various flavours of lockdown. It was difficult for everyone: challenging for mental health, challenging for communications, challenging for working patterns.
But we kept going.
And as of now, our AutoMagic Tutor can already allow learners to go at different speeds (which has enormous implications for how many people are successful with the method) and to choose how long they spend learning – and the basis is there for increasing personalisation and gamification over the coming years.
We’ve been test driving the AutoMagic Tutor with the National Centre for Learning Welsh, and with our Welsh government-backed schools pilot project, and with our work on the current series of the S4C show ‘Iaith ar Daith’. The results so far are genuinely exciting – I’ve seen people struggle with the static files and then achieve huge success with the AutoMagic Tutor. I’m confident it’s going to let us help tens of thousands more people to become confident Welsh speakers, and I can’t wait to see it being used in more schools.
And yes, we’re still in touch with that company in Guangzhou. We’ve been testing our approach to English with a number of projects in Sri Lanka (including some enormously worthwhile charity projects) and the results so far are very promising. We’re hoping to test an AutoMagic Tutor for English for Mandarin speakers in Shanghai before the end of this year, and the first company we spoke to are going to look at the results with a view to scaling if the trials go well.
Sometimes, persistence doesn’t just get you through the difficult times, it opens up entirely new possibilities. Entirely new ways to try and help make the world a little better, which is what we’re lucky enough to be trying to do.
The great and the good of the global EdTech sector were joined by Tom and Nick of SSi at London’s Tobacco Dock for the 10th edtechX conference towards the end of June.
What an event!
Many of the leading lights who are pushing the limits of technology to deliver a wide range of developments for all aspects of education were there.
For example, the possibilities that Artificial Intelligence,(Ai,) is opening for every aspect of education will transform the sector but, hold on, check out Organoid Intelligence (Oi,) that will take Ai to another level!
We lapped up such insights and are now thinking how to incorporate them within SSi delivery systems.
A packed agenda of speakers and panels were interspersed with networking sessions, all topped off with a gala dinner!
Tom and Nick made the most of the whole day and made some amazing contacts that will help SSi as we seek working partnerships in the future.
Way back in its infancy in 2011, SSi was nominated for an Inspire Wales Award and won the Global Wales category. For a company so young it was an overwhelming experience, but also an incredible boost to keep going despite the odds.
This month, twelve years after that glorious event, we found ourselves once more biting our nails watching a gold envelope being opened, but this time at a different awards ceremony – The Wales Business Awards.
It was an honour for SSi to not only have been nominated for a Wales Business Award but also to have been one of the finalists for the Digital Business of the Year category, listed among the brightest and the best in Wales.
Now in their 20th year, the Wales Business Awards (which celebrate ‘gold-standard businesses’ from all sectors across Wales) aim to reward the successes of businesses within the last year.
This year’s glitzy, Great Gatsby-themed awards ceremony was held at the ICC Wales in Newport on Thursday the 18th of May and was hosted by broadcaster Andrea Byrne.
Aran Jones, Catrin Jones, Dr Joanne Phoenix, Nick Prichard and Tom Cassidy represented SSi at the ceremony, taking advantage of the invaluable opportunity to network. We met with so many impassioned and hard-working individuals, who form the backbone of some of Wales’ most innovative businesses.
The evening was a spectacular success, filled with some amazing 1920s-themed outfits and music from the swing band Almost Modern Jukebox.
EatSleep Media was the very worthy winner of our category – a highly creative team of individuals who create cutting-edge digital content for a wide range of platforms. If you have the time it’s worth checking out their website!
We did walk away with a bottle of prosecco from the raffle, though, we only wish we could share it with all of you!
SSi is proud to have a long-standing relationship with Global Welsh – a superb initiative devoted to creating a global Welsh community.
Established in 2015, their aim, based on the belief that being Welsh is more than just geography, is to bring together Welsh people from around the world, and those with an affinity and love for Wales, in one online community. The objective of this community is to foster links, opportunities and connections with other global members.
Since their official launch in 2017, Global Welsh has gone from strength to strength, extending their community to all parts of the globe and strengthening their connections.
This month, SSi features in Global Welsh’s Business Spotlight Section. This great piece written by Bethan Payne focuses on our Non-Executive Director, Nick Prichard. Nick discusses with Bethan his journey to SSi, the company’s rich provenance, bespoke methodology and plans for the future.