I’m from Slovenia, a little country with approximately 2 million citizens, settled in between Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia. My roots are not Welsh at all (not that I would know of) but here I am, learning, or at least trying to learn Welsh.
The decision to learn Welsh came from two major reasons: first was because my online friend said to me it’s too hard to learn it, even harder than French and he doubted I’d manage to learn anything at all. The second reason was a simple vow to the Welsh rugby team (although they don’t even know that), that I’ll learn to speak Welsh if they won the 6 Nations Grand Slam in the season 2012/2013. They won it so a promise is a promise and I had to fulfil it!
But my journey has actually begun quite before that Grand Slam was won. It was at the beginning of the Summer of 2009 when it all started, although at that time I didn’t even imagine this all would bring me so far.
I was an admin on a British teenagers forum, where we discussed gaming, LEGO, Doctor Who and rugby. At the time I knew nothing about rugby, and even less I knew that I’d learn Welsh one day exactly because of this magnificent and noble sport. But as things happened, there was a British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa going on, and being left the only admin present on the forum, at the time I had to provide topics for discussion about this tour as well. Not knowing anything about rugby, I had to learn things fast, and as there were no live streams to be found online I had to use all resources I could find to educate myself. By the time when the Lions tour was over I already knew enough about rugby to get every day more and more interested in this sport.
The majority of the boys at the forum cheered for Wales and so did I. It all brought me so far, that I tried to find every single live stream on the net to watch Welsh boys playing, or at least to listen to the commentaries on the online radios and live streams, if even in Welsh, and despite that I actually didn’t understand almost anything at all. But, this was the driving force which made me go on and on.
Knowing more and more about the Welsh language and the situation around it, and hearing that young people in particular didn’t actually care for their own mother tongue at the time, was another thing that deeply touched me. Being from Slovenia, where our own language was endangered and neglected many times in history, I know what it is all about. “I have to learn Welsh in order to follow the games and hopefully help to preserve this beautiful language. And, besides, who says that Welsh can’t be learnt! I’ll show it to those who are teasing me, I’ll learn it and speak it one day!” That’s what I’ve said to myself and the search has begun.
There was no search for rugby online streams anymore. All of a sudden there were plenty of them on the net to be found. Now the hunt for Welsh language resources I could use and learn from has begun!
The beginning was quite frustrating. In Slovenia, there was absolutely no one (at least to my knowledge) who’d speak Welsh. Even today there are practically no books or other media to learn Welsh and if I found a book in one of our libraries, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot on the lottery. I believe I never shopped online as intensely as I did at that time! One course … ah it was without audio. In another course, there was audio but all was spoken too fast to my ears … nothing really suited me. Although I’ve listened to the Welsh rugby commentaries from time to time, I wasn’t really familiar with the sound of the language, so the search for the learning resources went on and on on a daily basis. I have done all sorts of silly things, like buying Ivona Welsh voices and doing my own audio vocabulary with the help of them to be able to learn at least a bit more efficiently, but this still wasn’t what I searched for.
Later on, but still in the year 2009 I found Say Something in Welsh, which for any other person would be a lucky win at the moment they’d see the page, but not me! Seeing that Course 1 was for free at that time, it was so unbelievable to me that I went away and it took me almost 3 years to come back and look at the whole thing one more time!
Yah, you can laugh at my silliness or you can roll your eyes, whatever you wish, but that’s how it all happened. The fact that there still could be something for free these days, has driven me away. I just wasn’t able to believe it.
Despite this escape from the free course I still wanted to learn Welsh, because of the reasons I’ve mentioned earlier. I’ve eventually learnt some words and I was even so bold to send tweets in my humble Welsh to the world and get quite some response to those tweets, I was more and more eager to finally learn Welsh properly. And those poor and humble tweets in Welsh actually brought me back to SSiW. There was one man who encouraged me to take a look at the site once again. I took his advice and did that knowing that this time I’d stay here and learn.
But my learning didn’t go even a bit straightforward. It was hard because I was too much of a perfectionist and I was many times on the verge of quitting and going away again. It is all the supportive staff and the whole community of SSiW, that I have to thank that I went on with my learning. SSiW, its staff and community, have changed my life for the better!
I (FINALLY would say Aran) stopped being too much of a perfectionist and started to recognize my achievements. I’ve learned to be more supportive and kind to other learners (which was not always the case before).
Learning with SSiW gave me so much more than just learning the language. I’ve got the opportunity to visit Wales and take part in one of those magnificent Bootcamps SSiW provided, where I’ve got plenty of opportunities to use my newly learnt language and have fun at the same time, encountering other learners there from all over the world. I’ve gained friends who I’d never met if I hadn’t been here and I’ve had the privilege of Welsh being spoken in my own beloved country Slovenia, while I was visited by two of my friends, also learners with SSiW, and have met with one more while he was visiting our country with his family and friends.
But there was more. I’ve briefly met Simon Brooks and exchanged some words with him, exactly because of SSiW. I met Siôn Jobbins while visiting Eisteddfod in 2016 after the Bootcamp. I found out that I am not the only one in Slovenia who learns and speaks Welsh. There are at least 4 of us, being Slovene and speaking Welsh. I’ve participated in some things S4C and BBC Radio Cymru provided for learners to participate in. I’ve tweeted and interacted boldly in Welsh with many famous and non-famous people, and I’ve had numerous conversations through Skype with other fellow SSiW learners.
I’ve also done the impossible, something that I never could dream of before: I’ve written and recorded my own rap in Welsh which was brought out to the audience at the SSiW 10th Birthday party as a gift from me to this magnificent Welsh learning site and all the staff and community behind it! I know tall this would never have been possible without the support and help of all these magnificent people! Thank you to each and every one of you who took the time to help and support me and to walk at least a part of my learning path with me.