I’m Welsh on my mother’s side.
As a young lass I’d try to pronounce Llanfair PG and was routinely terrified by Tŷ Chwith when I switched on S4C on family trips to Gwynedd, but was told growing up that the family never really spoke Cymraeg. Unfortunately I think many of us, especially across the border, were subject to the lie that Cymraeg was practically dead in the water and there was no point unless you wanted to design novelty tea-towels for the tourist market – particularly in the 90s.
For me, the seeds were sown when my sister moved to Gogledd Cymru, had my niece (who is now nearly 11), and enrolled her in Cymraeg-medium education. Thrilled to bits for her, I started poking around on YouTube just to hear what this language sounded like. I came across a lovely video of Hywel Gwynfryn speaking Cymraeg, clear as a bell (cheers Wikitongues) and the series Learn Welsh With Will. I picked up a few numbers (un, dau, tri – not phone numbers, cheeky) and bore da, diolch, etc.
Life happened. My sister did try a few Welsh for Parents classes at the school but didn’t grok with it; so any conversations in the family were conducted purely in English and my niece was (understandably) pretty shy about using her Cymraeg in front of us. I didn’t persevere with Cymraeg at the time (I was studying BSL, which as a language has had very similar struggles to Cymraeg) but it was at the back of my head right up until lockdown when I downloaded Duolingo. By now I’d had a full brainful of people telling me ‘not to bother’. Well, not only am I a contrarian sod by nature but I’ve also always had a nice hot barrel of anger that what should be languages encouraged, passed down, and celebrated just weren’t.
Duolingo’s a gateway drug. Sure, first it’s the owl. Before you know it you’re back on YouTube for another fix, and that’s when I clocked a new clip of Aran teaching Joanna Scanlan (who I loved in The Thick Of It) how to speak Cymraeg. I signed up to the taster emails and I stuck with the whole week. During lockdown I had to shield, so it was just me and the four walls, but I just didn’t want to let the SSiW man down. There was just something about the ‘pob hwyl’ signoff and the friendly voices and Aran’s nice librarian face and the instructions to relax that made me want to continue.
(Before anyone says I’m making you all sound like a cult, I’m sure there were plenty of adults out there who felt similarly about Joe Wicks or Yoga With Adriene.)
From there I progressed to taking an official Mynediad course with DysguCymraeg, as I felt I needed live reactions/tuition to my attempts at Cymraeg, and I’m not too shabby in a class environment. I also wanted to leap on the chance of getting a Zoom course before it all went back to (Cymru-based, three hours away) classrooms. Now, I don’t think there’s any danger of Zoom going anywhere given how global learning Cymraeg has become, which makes me pretty chuffed – accessibility is super important.
I’ve nearly finished Mynediad now, which got me an account to SSiW through the scheme. Just one more day of the Cwrs Dwys, and I’ll be looking at booking my exam – and I’ve also got a place for Sylfaen in the summer. My grandmother has since told me that my grandfather did understand Welsh – and his mother and a great deal of his family were fluent. They’d hold a conversation with my grandparents in English, and then answer the phone or the door in perfect Welsh. I can’t ask Grandad about that now or his feelings about his mother tongue – sadly, he died in 2006 far too young at the age of 71. I’d insert irreverent ouija-board humour here, but I’ll finish by saying I hope he’d be proud, at least 8.