Be a habitat for the Welsh language…


People will tell you that learning Welsh will help you get a job, make new friends and teach you to roll your ‘rrrr’s. This is all true, but here are my top ten reasons you’ll be glad you learned Welsh.

Reason Number 1 (rheswm rhif 1): learning Welsh is an act of rebellion

If you learn Welsh, you are joining the ranks of people who for generations have taken action to reverse the injustice of the ‘Welsh Not’.  Banned from our Nation’s schools, from its courts and institutions, Welsh was systematically eradicated from communities and stolen from entire generations of families in many areas of Wales.  To learn Welsh is an act of defiance against those who would still keep our language down.  It’s a radical act.  Learn Welsh, be a rebel.

Rheswm Rhif 2: you will be better informed about Wales.

Now that I am in a position to consume news through the medium of Welsh, I realise that there is a considerable difference in quality and focus between English and Welsh language news in Wales.  The coverage of issues about Wales is more rigorous on Radio Cymru and S4C, and you don’t have to put up with stupid filler stories about Leonardo Dicaprio having lunch in Edinburgh cafes. If you are only consuming English medium news in Wales, then there’s a whole host of things you’ll miss out on, like almost any coverage of the Eisteddfod, or anything at all to do with the Welsh language.  You’ll also have to suffer through long unedited interviews with Peter Hain.

Rheswm Rhif 3: Welsh can be used as a secret language when travelling abroad, for example in England

This needs no explanation, but a disclaimer is useful.  Beware Welsh speakers in unexpected places, we get around.  Also, watch out when your mother is learning Welsh and you forget she can understand more of what you are saying to your husband than you think she can (hi Mum if you are reading this).  And don’t forget when under the influence of alcohol, that Welsh is not a secret language in Wales.  Even in Pembrokeshire.

Rheswm Rhif 4: When using your secret language abroad, it is a quick and easy way of identifying fellow Welsh travellers

For example, there will be an average of three Welsh speaking families on every ferry crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff.  Against the balance of probability, you will quickly locate each other among the other two thousand passengers.  You will bump into several other Welsh speakers whilst in Llydaw (Brittany), including someone that the friends you are holidaying with (Cymry Cymraeg) went to school with / go to the same Capel / their sister is married to someone else in the group’s cousin.  The world will seem like a smaller, friendlier place.

Rheswm Rhif 5: Welsh pop music

You will discover and fall in love with Yws Gwynedd, and ‘Sebona Fi’ will become your favourite song of all time.  Your children, if you have them, will turn up the radio to full volume when it comes on, and everyone, including babies, will dance.  It will make you happy.

You will become even more appreciative of Welsh pop music at Christmas, when, save for The Pogues, obviously, you may choose to spurn the usual repetitive Christmas soundtrack in favour of Welsh Christmas tunes – yes, my favourite is ‘Fy Nghariad Gwyn‘… by… you guessed it (there are a lot of other great Welsh bands and artists, too many to list all my favourites here but check out Swnami, Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, Kizzy Crawford, Band Pres Llaregub, Candelas etc if you aren’t already listening to Welsh bands…)

Also, check this out. Nadolig wedi canslo…

Rheswm Rhif 6: People who learn Welsh are good friends to have

People are learning Welsh all over the world, many of whom have never even been to Wales, helped in no small part by fantastic resources such as Say Something in Welsh. The achievement of these international Welsh learners is inspiring, and you can join their online community via social media.

There is a pretty good chance in my opinion, that if someone is learning Welsh, they are worth getting to know (admittedly I am slightly biased). In particular, there are a high proportion of learners who have moved to Wales from other places, including like me, from England.  What I see in these people is an interest in the culture of their adopted home, a desire to learn, openness to new experiences and a sense of curiosity. These are all features I like in people, and if someone who has moved here is making the effort to learn Welsh, then chances are they’re a good egg.

Rheswm Rhif 7: Despite what people will tell you, it’s not that hard to learn Welsh.

Ok, so Welsh does have mutations, but I recommend a fairly laissez-faire approach on those, it’s worked fine for me.  After all, if you mumble a little, who can tell if you mutate or not? Everyone will understand you well enough regardless.  There’s also a thing going on with numbers in Welsh, but it’s really not a big deal, you’ll get over it – generations of Welsh children have learned to count after all.

On the plus side, Welsh is phonetic.  So at least you know where you are in terms of pronunciation, save for a few pesky vowel combinations.  Compare this with trying to learn English as a second language. How would you pronounce ‘ghost’ if you were approaching it sensibly? What’s with ‘th’ in English? Is it hard or soft? And whose idea was the silent ‘k’ (knowledge, knickers…)?

Also in the learner’s favour is the  fact that Welsh conjugation is pretty straight forward. Once you know your personal pronouns (I, you, he , she etc), all you need to do is arm yourself with a handful of useful everyday verbs and you can say a lot of what you need to in the present tense without needing to learn heaps of different vowel endings (yes, I’m thinking of you French GCSE syllabus, that wasn’t so much fun huh?)

Also, unlike learning French, or Spanish or Mandarin, you don’t have to go to France, or Spain / South America or China in order to immerse yourself in the language (although you have got a cool excuse to go to Patagonia).  You can find Welsh speakers to practice with everywhere in Wales.  If you happen to move to Caernarfon for a year (as I did) then you will be able to practice your Welsh everywhere with practically everyone,  (although if you have learned in the South it will take you a few months to work out what anyone is saying, and occasionally, people will look at you funny and ask you what language you are speaking, even when you have been there the best part of a year and are doing your best Gogledd Welsh). You’ll probably get to meet Nia Parry too (she smiles even more in real life…). Nia will be a great help, will enunciate clearly and be a good laugh.  You will grow very fond of her.

Rheswm Rhif 8: Enrich your experience of living in Wales

Where to start? Aside from the host of cultural experiences you can take part in through the medium of Welsh,  being able to understand Welsh place names is one of the loveliest benefits of learning.  It gives you a much more meaningful sense of place.

Welsh place names are usually literal and descriptive, and often very beautiful.  You can learn a lot about the original geography of a location, by being able to decipher the place names. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant (it feels criminal to even try to translate it but it would be something like ‘The Church of the Waterfall in the Stream of the Pigs’).    This is a good resource for understanding the different elements of place names in Wales and how to pronounce them (for example common elements such as bryn/hill, cwm/valley and llan/church).

Rheswm Rhif 9: see a new side to your Welsh speaking friends

A great many people in Wales live the majority of their lives through the medium of Welsh.  It’s their natural, preferred medium in which to communicate.  If you only ever speak English with Welsh speakers, there’ll always be a side of them you are missing out on.  I am tempted to say that it would be like only ever seeing penguins on land.. But, you know, its maybe not OK to compare my Welsh friends’ conversational skills in English to penguins.  (Penguins walking three miles to their mating grounds with a belly full of fish  – you’re watching Planet Earth 2, right?) Really, in using this analogy, I am thinking more about how gracefully penguins swim (and the sheer speed…).  Its beautiful really.

Rheswm Rhif 10: be a habitat for Welsh speaking children

Supporting the Welsh language is like nature conservation.  To save the snow leopard from extinction, we must protect the mountain habitat in which it lives.  Welsh is the same. The numbers of children being educated in Welsh continues to rise, but without Welsh speaking communities for them to live in and use their Welsh, their language skills will not survive.  By learning Welsh, and practicing with all the children you meet who are being educated through the medium of Welsh, you are providing them with vital habitat.  You become part of a Welsh wildlife corridor,  a network of Welsh language hedgerows in which other Welsh speakers can ymgartrefu (make themselves at home).

Rheswm Rhif 11 (I know I said 10, but it was hard to prioritise): by speaking Welsh you can stick two fingers up at Theresa May’s Snoopers Charter

I’m sure that M15 has access to Google Translate, but I still like the idea that by communicating in Welsh, it adds a hurdle to their attempts to snoop and keep tabs on us ordinary people.  Imagine the annoyance of having to translate everything we pesky Welsh freedom fighters are saying…


Postscript: If you’re thinking about learning Welsh, or you have already started, you might like to buy the book Welcome to Welsh, by Heini Gruffudd. Trust me it will be a good investment. You will feel ready to have a go at Welsh in several different tenses after just a few chapters, it will make you laugh, and you will probably tell all the other learners you know about the brush salesman and why he ends up in the bedroom cupboard..

It would also make a great Christmas present for a friend.

Mwynhewch! Enjoy 🙂



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