I was brought up in the industrial valley town of Ebbw Vale in the 1960s and 1970s. The only Welsh I ever heard was on programmes like Y Dydd, Newyddion etc on BBC Wales and HTV Wales, long before S4C. Welsh was seen as a dying language then, spoken by those living in the back of beyond. It wasn’t taught in school as part of my education, although I do recall that the year following mine starting learning it.
I would always have liked to have been able to speak Welsh but there was no real opportunity at that time in that place and as I wasn’t raised with it, it just didn’t happen.
Throughout my adolescent years and early adulthood I didn’t think about it much, I was young and had plenty going on in an English-speaking world. As I matured and especially when I left Wales in the 1990s I had a hankering to know more about the language, but this was pre-internet and there was still little opportunity. Besides, by now I was married, had children and a busy job, so time was very limited. I did pay it more attention through and started learning a few words here and there when I could.
My children are grown up now and just before the pandemic, following meeting a Welsh-speaker in California of all places, I took the plunge and had a look at a few Welsh-learning options. Since then I have been going through the SSIW lessons. I’ve still not done much in terms of speaking to others but that is something that I need to step up with. Reading and writing too needs some attention and I’m sure that would move things along.
I would say that my conversational skills are still very rudimentary but my knowledge of the language is a million times better than it was before I set off on my journey to discover this wonderful language. In the early days I got frustrated if progress was slow but I have learned. My goal now is simply to learn as much as I can and see where that takes me. Fluency? A dream, probably, unless I go to live in a Welsh-speaking area. Above all, I am just happy to enjoy learning every new word and phrase as I grow into it.
I want to do my bit to keep the language alive. My mother (b 1921) could not speak English until she was 9. Her father died of TB and she went to Howells School Denbigh on something like an “orphan scholarship” where she had to speak English. My uncle, her brother, used to speak of the “Welsh knot” but I am not sure if it was applied directly to his class at that time. My Nain would speak to Mum in Welsh and she would answer in English and my brother and I were never encouraged to learn it (we lived at the time on Merseyside). She returned to live in Llangollen in the 1980s but she was a bit embarrassed to speak Welsh as she felt she sounded “old fashioned” and “posh”! She died 20 years ago and if I had my time over I would have got her to speak Welsh with me and with others. I tried to encourage our own 3 children to learn Welsh at school, but 2 lessons a week along with 2 lessons of German/French was not really going to work especially as none of the friends here in Flintshire spoke Welsh and mine is elementary at best. However, now with their own children, they are appreciating the value of Welsh and I’m doing what I can to encourage it with the next generation – my grandchildren.
My story is simple. My grandparents were Welsh speakers but my mother was punished at school for speaking welsh so they stopped talking to her in her own language. When I was growing up I could learn Latin, French and Russian but not my own language. I went on to learn to speak Swedish fluently, Spanish well and even Italian, German and French to some extent but Welsh has been in my heart.
I was born on the original VE day (8/5/45) in a coal and steel “valleys” town to a Welsh speaking Llangadog mother and an English speaking Ebbw Vale father. When I was about 2, the family moved to the North East of Scotland where I had the benefit of an Aberdonian school and university education. I spent the next 20+ years in England and came to Aberystwyth in 1990 to establish the European Office at the university. Until I retired in the early millennium, there really wasn’t time to learn Welsh.
In Aberdeen, there was little opportunity to talk Welsh (although I became proficient in the local Doric) but my brother and I spent all our idyllic childhood summers divided between Ebbw Vale and Llangadog. I still remain grateful to our childhood friends in Llangadog who generously included us in all their conversations and games without hesitation. This goes against the oft-repeated and unfair urban myths which portray Welsh people using their language to exclude people. “I walked into this shop in Ulan Bator where everyone spoke English (as I could tell from the microphones I had planted there the day before). As soon as we walked in, they all broke into Mongolian.”
My work involved using English and French but little Welsh. On retiring I started to put that right. I attended a number of formal classes at different levels and an intensive month-long summer course at the university. These courses were all excellent and well delivered but, although I have some proficiency in languages, I found they didn’t stick. I found SaySomethinginWelsh in its early days and quickly built enough confidence through its method and many bootcamps to use my Welsh most days. I often talk to my son, who works locally, in Welsh and love talking to my granddaughter who goes to a local Welsh medium school provided she is in the mood . My English wife understands an enormous amount of Welsh (perhaps too much). The biggest and most rewarding milestone for me, however, was being able to converse with my Cymraes Gymraeg mother in her mother tongue before she died. I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to SSiW for that. (People who knew her will understand my enjoyment that, even on her deathbed, she would correct me on my Welsh).
I have now reached a sort of complacent plateau far short of fluency, especially in reading and writing, but I am confident that, if and when I am ready to progress, SSiW’s resources are there to help. I will continue to encourage and support family, friends and the online community to learn Welsh and other languages not because they ought to but because languages are key to communication, mutual understanding and are, above all, great fun.
I love trying to understand and get to know different cultures and the only way to do that is through the language. My wife’s mother was from South Wales but was only taught English, as her father, a head teacher, said that you had to speak English to get anywhere. She was 100 years old when she died in 2020 and insisted that Welsh was the most difficult language to learn and virtually impossible. So that was it!
When my wife and I were looking for a house to retire to, after years of living in Church houses as Ministers, we found our ideal home in North Wales. A beautiful small village which is somewhere that we both love, having both been brought up in small villages.
On visiting my new GP in Bala (a Welsh speaking area) my doctor suggested that I learn Welsh. I can’t resist a challenge, and the prospect of proving my mother in law wrong was too good to miss. I looked around for courses, but few were convenient and required evening classes – which during winter would have been challenging for me. I discovered SSiW and took up a special offer!
It’s been brilliant: before the pandemic I was able to meet like minded learners and listen to talks in Welsh (not that I understood much then); I also engaged with my neighbours in the village who were very helpful.
At my mother in law’s 100th birthday party I spoke to her in Welsh – to prove that it isn’t impossible to learn the basics. She was surprised. The pandemic demonstrated that the SSiW process is resilient and accessible and I continued to work through the course. Instead of in person chats I chatted online.
Now I find myself reading the road signs and notices in Welsh first and then the English if I’m stumped! I love Welsh folk music and feel like I’m more inculturated in my adopted homeland. I have attended Welsh speaking Chapels and we even have an online Welsh Methodist service once a month. These days I try to think in Welsh and sometimes, though not yet often, do it without realising! I feel so much more connected with the people and my home. I feel that I owe it to the lovely, welcoming people of Wales to honour their history and their language, and I have gained so much from the experience.
I wanted to learn a language for fun. I tried out a bunch of languages and always kept coming back to Welsh. I think partly because it was the one I was most connected to – my mum is Welsh and learned some in school – but also because I just love the way it sounds and works.
There is no conventional reason for me to learn Welsh. I’m from Northern California and I have no Welsh ancestry as far as I know. HOWEVER, I’m a huge language nerd and a bit of an Anglophile… well all things British, really. Right, just looked it up, and the term that defines my life these past two months is… “Cambrophile”: a lover of Wales and Welsh culture.
I suppose I got my foot in the door early last year when I began studying Scottish Gaelic. This led my curiosity to other Celtic nations. However, it wasn’t until May of this year that I somehow became hooked on Welsh. After discovering yours and Aran’s SSiW method, I realised quickly how effective it could be. Dw i wedi bod yn mwynhau dysgu Cymraeg yn fawr iawn! (Hopefully I didn’t butcher that ) but it has been a real, genuine joy discovering the Welsh language and culture. All I listen to these days is Welsh music and I hope to attend the Eisteddfod next August! Diolch yn fawr iawn eto!!
My father and grandfather were Welsh, but neither could speak the language. This bothered my father terribly, and he had just started to learn Welsh when he sadly passed away. Now, in addition to doing it for myself, I feel I am also learning for him.
After the war, my father entered the colonial service and chose to work abroad in Hong Kong which, obviously, was a British colony. There, he met my mother who had come from Beijing. Therefore, I am half Chinese, too, though I was never taught that language either. After retiring in the mid 70s, they both came home to North Wales. Meanwhile, after graduation I chose to live and work in Japan for 30 years and so I speak Japanese. After my own retirement, I also returned to the family home in Wales. But all of this travelling and living abroad has made me feel a bit like a fish out of water. However, I would never choose to live anywhere else, and so it is to show my love, respect and commitment to this place, its people and their culture that I am now learning Welsh.
Another reason why I am continuing to learn Welsh is that the ‘SaySomethingin’ method and the course itself is absolutely brilliant. It’s both enjoyable and effective.
My maternal grandparents lived in Carmarthen. She was first-language Welsh. He was from a family of North Pembrokeshire farmers who spoke Welsh at home but English for all formal and business purposes. They brought up their three children to speak only English so that they would get on in the world. Mum picked up a bit of Welsh in the playground but was never fluent. She moved to Reading at the age of 19 to join her older sister. They were both teachers. They retained enough Welsh to use it to each other when discussing topics that were unsuitable for their children.
My paternal grandparents were from Swansea. He is shown on censuses as speaking both Welsh and English, but I doubt if he spoke Welsh again after meeting my grandmother. She was half English and very proud of her “well connected” English family. (Later research threw some doubt on this but never mind.) They moved to Reading in 1939. Dad was brought up in Swansea, but joined them in Reading after leaving the RAF. He was a teacher, and met my Mum.
I was born and brought up in Reading. We visited relations in Swansea and Carmarthen, but I don’t recall hearing Welsh spoken except on one occasion when our grandmother took us to see her neighbour Mrs Jones. They spoke Welsh to each other, but, finding that we did not understand, Mrs Jones shook her head sadly and said “No Welsh children any more. Only English children.”
My parents encouraged me to think of myself as Welsh, but I lacked an important attribute – the accent. I had some idea of going to a university in Wales, but the school talked me out of it and I ended up in England. I thought that I might join the Welsh Society, but an aggressive young woman listened to my (lack of) accent and said “Are you Welsh”? I said rather lamely that my parents were, and retreated. Feeling rejected, I decided that I would never be accepted as Welsh, but I could pass for English anywhere, so I would be English. I acquired an English husband, an English surname, English children and English in-laws. I had to bite my tongue on occasions when they complained about people in Wales speaking Welsh.
After retiring, my Dad took up family history, and he and Mum moved to Swansea, where he still had assorted cousins, none of them Welsh speakers. I helped him a bit and got a taste for it. After he died, I carried on where he left off. 7/8 ancestors from Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire/Glamorganshire. 1/8 from England via the “well connected” great grandmother. Wills, tombstones and obituaries were almost all in English, but there were just a few in Welsh. I was walking along the front at Oystermouth one day with Mum, who was suffering more and more with dementia. A young woman passed us, speaking to her small child in Welsh. Mum said in surprise, “I understood that!” Something of the language still remained. On sorting out Dad’s books, I came upon “Teach Yourself Welsh”, with copious handwritten notes on the first few pages, then nothing. Who can blame him?
When I retired I discovered the wealth of learning available online. Having reached saturation point with cell biology, genetics, maths, art history etc., I decided to try a language. Revise French? Build on my very sketchy German or Italian? Italian would help with opera. Duolingo Italian it was. After a while my attention started to stray and I looked at what else was available. Welsh? Well, it might be fun just to have a quick look out of respect for family tradition. No way was I going to start learning seriously. I was hooked. On the Duolingo forum someone mentioned SSiW. Might as well try a different approach as well.
That was 4? 5? years ago. I forget. Anyway, I am still here, and starting intensive Uwch 2 part 2 online next week. I have two shelves full of books in Welsh, of which I have read about half. A family history contact sent me a link to an obituary of a mutual cousin who died young many years ago. It was in Welsh and I only had to look up a few of the more obscure and flowery words. With a smug grin I was able to thank her and say how interesting I found it. I am still discovering how much I missed. Not just the language, but history, culture, everything that might have been my heritage. England is my home and always will be, but I now have a second personality. Why did I choose “Betterlatethan” as my forum name? Obvious.
So, I was born in England to a Welsh father and an English mother, my father stoked my interest in Welsh Rugby in that great era in the 70s. Dad never spoke Welsh because he was of that generation where Cymraeg had been eradicated from education. My dear Nan bought me a Welsh song book when I was very young and it inspired my interest in the language along with the interesting unpronounceable place names I saw on our regular visits to Wales. My love of Welsh Rugby and all things Wales has never waned and I feel a strong affinity to my Welsh heritage.
Fast forward to 2019 when I was trying to brush up on my German in preparation for a motorcycle tour of Bavaria, my daughter (who was brushing up on her French) drew my attention to Duo Lingo. She commented, ‘it’s got every language on it’. I replied, ‘I bet it hasn’t got Welsh’. Guess what? It does. There is where my real journey with this beautiful language commenced. After a few months of Duo I was looking for some more learning aids and stumbled across a YouTube Vlog by NickySydd (I think is his channelname) in which he made me aware of SSiW. I downloaded some of the Level 1 lessons and became hooked and I signed up.
After the 1st 2 levels, there was a meet up organised in Caernarfon by the lovely Nia. Although it’s a serious hike from mid Hampshire to Caernarfon and I was not at all proficient enough to conduct a real conversation I went for it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I promptly booked onto a Bootcamp and a Weekend summer school with ColegGwent only to have it all scuppered by Covid 19. The new bootcamps are eluding me as a holiday and my daughter’s wedding are happening when the September and October camps have been scheduled. Maybe I can catch one in November or next year. I recently sat the Mynediad and Sylfaen exams in Casnewydd and have signed up for Canolradd because I find immersion from lots of sources helps my learning.
One day I was sitting in my dad’s cousin’s house listening to my Dad and my cousin speaking Welsh. My Dad was a fluent welsh speaker but my mum was not so me and my brothers were brought up speaking English. My Dad loved going back to his hometown and speaking with people there. Well afterwards when I was at home I thought I will learn Welsh and hopefully hold a conversation with my dad. Unfortunately my dad fell ill shortly afterward and sadly passed away, and I never had that conversation which to this day makes me feel very sad. But I am happy to say that I do have conversations with our cousin In Newport Pembs and did so this week…
I’m German and as far as I’m aware don’t have any Welsh ancestry or relations. Years ago a friend of mine introduced me to BBC’s “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” series. I got hooked, watched the series and purchased some of the novels. I enjoyed the stories, but the idea of starting to learn Welsh didn’t even cross my mind back then. And being up to the nose in my studies certainly didn’t help. After I passed my exams I was actually at a bit of a loss – how should I pass all these free hours I suddenly had?
Well, reading books is always an option, so I read one of the “Torchwood” novels again. And there they were: A few lines of Welsh, but no translation anywhere. You didn’t have to understand the Welsh in order to follow the plot, but it was clear that it was somehow important and I was curious and frustrated at the same time. I really wanted to know what this short message in Welsh said! Online dictionaries didn’t help, so I simply decided that I’d have to learn at least enough Welsh to decipher the meaning of the message.
Having rather unsuccessfully tried to learn Japanese and Italian before, I looked for a free online course and found Duolingo. I started the course and found myself unable to stop. Please forgive me for sounding soppy, but it comes down to this: I fell in love with Welsh. It felt right to learn it. It felt like coming home. I never had this kind of experience with any other language I learnt or tried to learn before.
Although I did find SSi quite early on my search for online courses I still hesitated to sign in. I couldn’t yet tell whether I’d stick with Welsh or lose interest in it after all, despite how I felt about it. Well, as you can see, I did stick with it. It helped me through two more really tough and time-consuming years of education and after I finished those, I finally decided to join SSi.
Definitely one of the best choices of my life and my only regret at the moment is that I can’t participate in the chats on Slack as often as I’d like to and am not able to go to actual meetups or events in Wales.
Several reasons including distant Welsh heritage and a childhood spent listening to male voice choirs, which made Welsh feel both very familiar while also utterly alien (as I was familiar enough with it to know I could make neither head nor tail!). However also a linguist’s curiosity, because not many languages put the verb first. That seemed very exotic and so I thought it would be interesting. Of course now it seems utterly natural!