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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A much bigger challenge

My blogging challenge for this year is to do and write about some gardening each week, and I'm not expecting it to be a particularly difficult challenge. That said, the weather is keeping me indoors at the moment - the wind is making it dangerous to go out - so I'm not sure what I'm going to write about this week. Anyway, there's a much bigger challenge ahead of me: It would seem that now is the time to learn Welsh.

We've lived here for over three years, now, and there's a limit to how long you can keep saying, Yes, I am going to learn, before you actually have to do something about it. Our friends next door have signed up to Welsh lessons and another friend, who is Welsh, has started a new class in which he talks about local history in both Welsh and English. This seems to be excellent practice for those who know a bit of Welsh, but at the first one I felt totally out of my depth. Rather than chickening out, which is tempting but shameful, I need to pull my finger out and learn at least a few words, so I can catch some of what he's saying in Welsh and not feel totally at sea. First, I need to stop panicking whenever someone speaks Welsh to me.

To this end, I've found a couple of teach-yourself courses to have a go at. I went to the local library and searched until I found one that doesn't insist on just listening without having anything written down - it's so much easier to hear the breaks between words if you can see them written down as well - and includes some instruction in grammar, instead of insisting that it's unnecessary. The library courses were all for the southern version of Welsh, from which I conclude that this is the appropriate form round here, bang in the middle. Then I was talking to someone at a wedding on Saturday, and she said that we're in the north here. Help! I resorted to Google and, unsurprisingly, the question has been asked before. One answer was particularly helpful: I live in the North and their accent/language sounds very much like the South Wales accent to us. ... Having said this someone from, say, Carmarthen, might think it sounds more like the North. That at least explains why I'm getting conflicting information - the young woman at the wedding was from Carmarthen. I'll take my cue from the library and learn the southern version.

The second course I've found is provided by the BBC. Called the Big Welsh Challenge, this course claims to teach Welsh in 12 months. This sounds optimistic to me, but I'll give it a go. It has nice little videos with subtitles available in both Welsh and English, and plenty of supporting materials. Now all I have to do is commit the time and effort to working through these courses. Maybe one day, when people are talking Welsh around me, I'll be able to follow what they're saying. Who knows, I might even be able to join in!

10 comments:

  1. I've always wanted to learn Welsh, but, being in South Wales I know of no-one that I could practise on!!
    We were taught Welsh in school but was mostly forgotten when I finished.
    (I do remember 'rydw i'n hoffi coffi' which means 'I like coffee'!)

    Good luck to you! Where you are, you should have no end of Welsh-speakers to practise on :)

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    1. You almost certainly know more Welsh than I do, though I have learnt 'paned o de' (cup of tea). Yes, there are plenty of Welsh-speakers around here; which is my main motivation for learning.

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  2. Oooo... that sounds like such fun! Of course, I enjoy studying foreign languages... there's just something so magical about being able to make sense of something that was once just a jumble of sounds. Have fun with it, I'm sure your Welsh neighbors will be thrilled to help you in your studies.

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    1. I just made the mistake of looking at a document entitled, "Some basic rules of Welsh grammar." If you have a look, you might understand why, "daunting" fits my expectations more than, "fun". Still, I will try to adopt your attitude and focus on the little bits I've learnt, not the huge amount that's still ahead of me. Every journey starts with one step, as they say :-)

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    2. Remember that even little kids learn Welsh. The reason grammar looks so daunting is because you're looking at it with parts of your brain that aren't built for language. But if you speak any language, then you clearly have the neurological hardware you need in order to learn even Welsh grammar. But you have to train those parts of your brain, a little at a time, with deliberate practice, and they will learn. They will learn because you are human, and learning languages is something we do really, really well. You can do it! :)

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  3. It's a lot of work to learn another language, but it's worth the effort it takes. I don't speak Welsh, but French and some German. If I may offer you two pieces of advice: view language learning like a sport and train for it every day. One excellent exercise is to memorize chucks of text (stories, poems, songs, plays, etc.) always striving to get the accent as close to perfect as you can get it, paying close attention to where the stress falls on a word (use recordings of natives reciting the text). The second thing is to push yourself to speak with the natives as much as you can. This is hard to do because everybody will want to practice their English with you. View this as a kind of contest and strive to win it. Think (but don't say, obviously) "look there's millions of English speakers who don't want to learn your language, practice with them. With me you're going to speak Welsh, dammit!" If you do these two basic exercises (at least), and if you stick with it and keep getting back to it after layoffs, you will keep improving and you will eventually find yourself chatting with people about news, politics, gardening, etc. and when that starts to happen you'll feel great about it. Good luck!

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    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your encouragement, though this does reinforce quite how much work is required to learn another language. When speaking with natives, it's not really a question of them wanting to practice English - all Welsh speakers also speak English fluently - as me being too embarrassed and lazy to try Welsh. Oh, and not yet knowing enough words to attempt a conversation. that's quite pathetic, isn't it?

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    2. Incidentally, the way I view sport is mostly with a distinct lack of interest, but if there's one I happen to enjoy, I might take part once a week or so, when I feel like it.

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  4. Good luck with this challenge! If you fancy an intensive beginners' course/week's holiday in a beautiful place by the sea, Nant Gwrtheyrn is really good (www.nantgwrtheyrn.org). The classes give you lots of chances to practice talking to each other in Welsh, which is the bit I find hard when I'm mostly learning from books.

    Alicia :)

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    1. Hi Alicia, thanks for the tip - I'll bear it in mind :-)
      There's a local group just started for Welsh practice. The first one I went to, shortly after writing this post, I found completely terrifying as I couldn't make sense of any of it. A couple of people said to me, "Don't worry, just listen out for words you know," failing to appreciate that I didn't know any words at all! After a month of not-very-diligent study, the second meeting was much less scary. Spoken Welsh actually sounded like a language made up of words, not a jumbled stream of sound. I could even pick out a few of the words. Those meetings are going to increase to once a fortnight, so I should be able to get some practice there, then when I'm a bit more confident I'll try talking to the old ladies on the bus.

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