Learning journeys

Diary of a Welsh Summer Course

DAY 1

I’ve come to Llysfasi to do a Welsh course at Popeth Cymraeg. There are only two levels: mynediad (entry level) and sylfael (intermediate). After doing some prep in the months before, I’d decided to go for the intermediate level.

The six other people in my group are all learning Welsh for different reasons: some because their kids are going to attend a Welsh-medium school, and they want to be able to understand what they’re saying to each other at the kitchen table, some for theological reasons, and some just because they live in Wales.

“Strangely, ‘fun’ wasn’t an option on the course’s application form.”

I’m the odd one out here. I’m learning Welsh just for fun. Strangely, ‘fun’ wasn’t an option on the course’s application form.

Pegi, our teacher is super nice and used the first day to make us feel confident using what we already know of the language. We all have very different levels of Welsh, some people have better pronunciation, some better grammar, and I must admit I was starting to feel a little out of place, because I hadn’t had as much exposure to Welsh as the rest of them.

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DAY 2

I need to be able to say things more spontaneously… One of the students keeps talking to me in Welsh during the breaks. That’s nice, but I keep understanding every word except the most important one in all of his sentences. I don’t know whether it’s that I lack very common vocabulary, or whether he’s just using weird ones, but it’s quite frustrating. More about that later!

DAY 3

The course carries on and I feel better the next day when I find out that some of the people in my class have been learning Welsh for 24 years. My three-month-old Welsh feels OK now. One of the main issues for me is to understand everybody else’s pronunciation.

“I feel better the next day when I find out that some of the people in my class have been learning Welsh for 24 years.”

The /x/ sound written ‘ch’ is a big issue for them. Some can do it, some can’t at all, and some manage some of the time, but others not. It’s very confusing for me, as sometimes I imagine a word written in my mind and can’t understand a sentence because most ch’s became c’s.

DAY 4

We’ve been using a wide variety of language and the exercises are nicely done in that they have different objectives. One very nice one was a board game where you find yourself on a cell with a sentence like “I need to lose weight”. You read it aloud and your partner had to use structures to give advice. Like this:

“I need to lose weight”
“You should stop eating”
“I can’t live without eating”
“You could stop eating only for a fortnight…”
“Thank you”

By allowing students to “make fun” of each other while knowing it’s planned and not personal, it made everyone speak and use useful structures.

DAY 5

Tonight over dinner we had a very interesting discussion with two other learners who shared their frustration. They have been learning with the so-called traditional method and although they had been able to pass exams they realised after just a few days at the residential course that they were unable to speak and lacked confidence in the language.

It also seems that some Welsh teachers still feel they have a duty to somehow protect the language and make it better. They will say things like “you don’t need to learn that, it sounds old-fashioned and nobody uses it” when actually it is used colloquially and, more importantly, very commonly in books and on the news.

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The main question I heard from learners during the course was “and now what?”. We’ve done the residential course, it was great, but we don’t really want to go back to our traditional courses as they will ask us to forget some of the things we have learnt during the summer. The teachers have given us a list of websites and links to apps (including Memrise) to keep practicing our Welsh, but I feel this is not enough.

Another interesting conversation we had with our teacher was how to avoid answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Welsh. Since Welsh lacks words for yes and no, you’re supposed to repeat the verb of the question to answer. Our teacher also gave us very useful words for “of course”, “without a doubt” or just taught us what sound would be the equivalent of a nod in Welsh. This is maybe not what you’ll be taught in grammar books but this is what people actually use in everyday Welsh. And for that I really would like to thank Pegi as I feel everything I have learned during those five days was real.

Looking Back

Everything was living Welsh, as it is spoken today. There were probably things that the grammar books would disagree with, but if no-one uses the grammar rules, what good are they? One of the best things about having Pegi as a teacher is that she would tell us: “you’ll see that in written or posh Welsh but in everyday Welsh everyone will say this”.

And this is exactly what a teacher should do! For that, for your great activities and your smile during those five day, thank you very much! Diolch yn fawr iawn!


5E0A0987Guillaume has always been fascinated by languages and started learning and creating new languages from a very young age. The things he likes the most in languages are phonetics and grammar. He’s lived and worked in several countries: Russia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and others before joining the Memrise team as a French specialist.

He is now one of Memrise’s Product Managers, and is currently learning Welsh and possibly trying to revive Akkadian.

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? Check out Memrise!

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