Or to put it another way, yn saesneg, for non-Welsh speakers (and, presumably, Welsh-speakers horrified by my grammar in the previous sentence) I’ve been coaxed into doing a workshop as “a blogger” along with m’librarian colleague. Now, regular readers here a Little Storping will not be fooled, having noticed that nothing short of a new episode of Doctor Who airing will result in my putting finger to keyboard, and things are even worse over on my work-ey blog where after knocking out four posts I’ve awarded myself a holiday of a little over 19 months (so far).
Clearly, it is imperative for my credibility that I hurl an assortment of words at both of these blogs, before letting them stagnate again after the session on 14th November.
The Lovely Librarian (who writes proper interesting and useful blog posts) helpfully suggested I start with this, a post about dysgu Cymraeg (learnin’ Welsh)
I believe that it will inevitably be shown that expecting this post to be diddoral iawn was hopelessly optimistic, but here we go…
Why am I learning Welsh?
And I was put off because I discovered how difficult it is (more on that…) And there’s further discouragement in a sentiment you hear all the time (and inevitably think some of the time) which is “do you really need to learn Welsh, doesn’t everyone speak English?”
My inspiration came from a colleague who had started work at the University just before me, @elliwiw. We were new in our department together. She’s such a passionate advocate for Wales and the language, it’s her job but it’s also her personality. I went to an event she’d organised. There I heard young Welsh speakers talk about what a comfort it was, having moved away from their home community, to be able to use their first language; especially at times of vulnerability and stress. I realised that some students, despite being Welsh speakers first, only knew the English vocabulary in their specialism. For those studying medicine, going on to become doctors, how can they bring comfort or break bad news to their Welsh-speaking patients at their most vulnerable in their own language if they work and think work in English?
But why am I learning Welsh? I’m certainly not in those situations myself… There are two real reasons: a practical one and an aspirational one. It’s useful to be able to speak it a bit of Welsh – I’m certainly not going to have the skills to do translations, but I might be able to spot errors, and maybe (one day) hold telephone conversations. But I’d also like to feel that when I’m with Welsh friends, I can join in with their discussion, in their language, and that I’ll be able to participate in the literature, culture and thinking that the Welsh language produces.
Of course, I’m no where near any of that yet. This year I finished Mynediad (Entry) and began Sylfaen (Foundation). And I’m hopeless at memorising vocab…
What’s So Difficult About Welsh?
First of all, what’s not difficult. In common with most English speakers, I had certain misconceptions, here are a couple:
- Welsh is unpronounceable: completely wrong – once you’ve learned the alphabet, it’s easy, because everything is said exactly as it’s written. Learning the alphabet isn’t easy – it’s got more letters than the English alphabet, even though it doesn’t have all the English ones (no k, v, x, z…) But the famous nonsense of English – fish pronounced the same as ghoti – just doesn’t hold in Welsh. You spell it as you hear it, you say it as it’s written. Simples.
- There are too few vowels: again, just wrong. There are actually two more in Welsh than in English (a clue: one of them is w).
So what is difficult? You probably know the Welsh word for Wales, if only from the name of the Welsh Nationalist party: Plaid Cymru. Look at the sign in the photo at the top of this post, welcoming you to Wales. Like all signs now in Wales, it’s bilingual. Compare the English and the Welsh: welcome – croeso – to – i – Wales – Gymru. What? Why’s Cymru spelt with a G in place of a C?
Treigladau. Evil, evil, mutations.
There are three sets of mutations; if words start with certain letters they are converted to different letters by these mutations. The changes are different for each of these mutations. But that’s not the worst of it – the worst of it is the rules which govern which mutation is used when are unending. I’m still learning them now, after a year and a half, and you can’t always just ignore it. Last week we learned a case where the gender of the person you are referring to is determined by the mutation you use. Get it wrong and you’ll be saying “his” car instead of “her” car (I’m so going to be doing that).
And if the mutations weren’t enough, how many different ways do you suppose there are of saying “yes” and “no” in Welsh? Don’t ask me; again, a new one last month. I think that’s 11 so far… each one appropriate to a different context.
What’s Good About Learning Welsh?
I’m no natural linguist. I abandoned French after GCSE. But I’m despite the difficulties I’m enjoying the challenges of learning a language that is so different to both English and any other language that I’ve encountered. Despite all the apparently inexplicable anomalies that arise, it’s enjoyable to find the patterns emerge and explain the puzzles.
But what I like best is the sound and the feel. It’s a lovely language.
It’s also wonderful that my employer is so supportive and pays the fees for the courses I do.
I’m helped by a great dictionary written by an extraordinarily talented friend of mine.
One of the difficulties of the language is finding the opportunities to actually use it, and practice. There are quizzes, reading clubs and social events organised for Welsh learners and I’d like to get to more of these but often I cannot. However, all the Welsh speakers I know have been amazingly encouraging and have tried to talk to me in Welsh to push me on!
Finally, I think it’s especially good for me being in the business of education to be learning as a student. I’ll save some reflections on that for another post, perhaps over at the Development Oven.
Well, diddorol (interesting) that may not have been, but at least that’s got a post out there.
If you enjoyed that, you have reviews of Skyfall, the Melody Pond tie-in book and my favourite teapot to look forward to you. But it’s unlikely you did, so just take comfort in the thought that in a couple of weeks I’ll quieten down again…