I've intended to learn Welsh since we moved here, but somehow didn't quite get round to getting started for the first few years. Then Brython, a friend of ours who Ian knows through the community bus service (he's a volunteer driver and committee member), started running a group for Welsh learners. Since he was willing to give his time, I felt it would be churlish not to go along.
I didn't know Brython very well when the group started, a couple of years ago, but he was very pleased that I'd turned up, and was keen to encourage a new Welsh learner. He expressed this by looking straight at me for a lot of the evening, whilst talking Welsh. This was quite terrifying. Other members of the group were sympathetic and said things like,
Don't worry, just listen out for the odd word that you know. The trouble was, I didn't know any words.
After that evening, I had a choice: I could give up and run away, and either avoid Brython or feel awkward every time I saw him, or I could put some effort into learning a bit of Welsh before the next meeting a month later. As you may have guessed by now, I chose the latter option.
There are lots of resources available online, as well as at the local library This is great if, like me, you're too skint to pay for actual lessons. Having got over the first hurdle - living smack bang in the middle of Wales, do I go for the North or the South version? (South, I think) - I quite enjoyed the BBC's Big Welsh Challenge*. After spending quite a bit of time with this over the following month, the next time I heard Brython speak Welsh, it sounded quite different - it sounded like language.
This was an indication of quite how low my starting point had been. Unlike French or German, I'd had no prior exposure to Welsh at all, so my brain didn't interpret the sounds as language. We have specialist language-processing areas of our brains, so that language is treated differently from other sounds, and these just weren't engaging for me when I heard Welsh. No wonder I found it terrifying!
That was almost two years ago, and since then I've continued to work away at learning Welsh. It's certainly not an easy language because it's very different from English. I found a very encouraging article on Quora that included the advice:
It's not difficult to learn a language, it just takes a lot of time. As to how long, he gives the estimate of 600+ hours of study to reach fluency in French.
Now, I think Welsh is rather more difficult than French, but on the other hand I'd be happy with something less than fluency, so I'll take 600 hours as a guideline figure. Suppose I were to study for 20 min a day, six days a week, for 50 weeks a year. That would be 100 hours a year, so 600 hours in six years. Twenty minutes a day feels doable, and I'd be very happy to have a reasonable grasp of the language in six years, especially bearing in mind that I took three years to even get started.
For an English speaker, Welsh looks difficult. For a start, there are all those consonants - The villages of Ysbyty Cynfyn and Cwmystwyth are both a few miles from here . Then you learn that Y and W are vowels, most of the time, and it looks a lot easier. Then you notice the vowels: They're often strung together, just one after another with nothing to break them up.
colours), for example, has five of them in a row. Here I think it is essential to have a Welsh speaker to learn from, then it's just a matter of getting used to how it sounds when vowels are pronounced one after the other.
The next big hurdle is mutations: The first letter of some words changes in some contexts. For example, the village I live in is called Pontarfynach, which is three words run together: Pont (bridge, same as French) ar (on) Fynach. The name of the river is Mynach (which means monk), so that M is mutated to F (which is pronounced like an English V unless there are two together) in the middle of the name. Then if I want to say that I live here, the P at the beginning mutates, too.
It's all very confusing, but I've found that if I don't expect to learn the mutations as I go, then it's not that bad. In fact, I started with just trying to note,
Oh yeah, that'll be a mutation, if I spotted one. My learners' dictionary has three pages of rules on the subject - there is no way I'm ever going to learn that lot. In fact, I'm pretty sure that native Welsh speakers do not learn the rules explicitly. For this reason, I'm aiming to expose myself to as much of the language as possible, in the hope that correctly mutated words become familiar and so feel more
right than incorrect words.
I'm focusing on reading, because unlike listening, I can go as slowly as I need to. This endeavour got a great boost when I discovered that the library has Roald Dahl books translated into Welsh and available in electronic format. Since we have a set of Roald Dahl books on the bookshelf, I can read the Welsh and English versions side by side.
This way of studying is lots of fun, and the motivation to learn (rather than just checking the English all the time) is that I can read the story much more quickly if I can understand more of the Welsh. I'm not worried about getting every word, just enough to follow the story. The goal here is exposure, remember.
In addition, I'm also listening to the radio, which is much harder to follow due to the speed. While I'm doing the dishes, it's usually Bore Cothi** that I'm listening to. Sian Cothi has such a warm smile in her voice that I feel welcome and included even if I don't understand a word. Increasingly, though, I do understand some of the words, and the regular structure of a radio show helps me, as I get to know what sort of thing is coming up next.
Sorry for rambling on about it, but I'm quite excited to be making some progress with this. Last year, while I didn't feel like doing anything much, I did feel like learning Welsh. Having been fairly terrified to start with, and now I can more-or-less follow a book written for seven year-olds. I'm still too nervous to actually say much, though, so I'm going to start a beginners' conversation class next week.
* I've also found Memrise very useful for learning vocab. The content is provided by users, so is a little hit and miss, but the way the material is presented and tested is based on very sound psychology.
Boremeans morning, so this is a play on Coffee Morning, which would be