Welsh Learning Journey

Dw i wedi bod yn dysgu Cymraeg.

I have been learning Welsh for around two years now, and as I approach the end of the Say Something in Welsh course I thought I’d take the time to think about my Welsh learning journey so far, what I’m going to do next, and to write here about what has or hasn’t worked, and share some advice and tips on learning Welsh that may be useful to anyone reading.

Growing up in Wales in the eighties, I was aware of the Welsh language and had Welsh lessons in school, but here in the north east corner it was never actually used or heard, outside of the classroom or occasionally pausing on S4C while changing the TV channel.  I thought that Welsh was used in the rest of Wales (assuming, wrongly, that the south would be the Welsh-speaking heartland) but not here; maybe we were too cool for that, as Welsh was definitely seen as “uncool”.  I remember very little from those Welsh lessons in school, other than the basics of saying good morning / afternoon, telling the time, a bit of weather, that sort of thing.  Occasionally over the years I’d briefly entertained the idea of learning some more, but never pursued it for very long.

Then the pandemic changed everything.

Like many, the start of the pandemic saw me working from home, and after a busy start as everybody needed support getting themselves set up in their new home offices (I worked in second line IT support at the time), things went pretty quiet, and I found myself with a bit more time on my hands, with not having to commute, etc.  I noticed that I was constantly picking up my phone to check on social media; at first to see what the latest updates were in this strange new world in which we were living, but then it just seemed to have become a bad habit.  When I noticed this, I decided that I should use the spare time to do something productive, and while looking to see what other apps I had installed on my phone I saw that I had Duolingo, from a brief time using it a little while previously.  That was the spark I needed; learning Welsh would be a better use of my free time than endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and so I started learning again with Duolingo.

After a little while, I realised that while it was enjoyable and I’d learned quite a lot of new Welsh, I wasn’t really understanding it, didn’t really know how to connect it all together and use it, and felt that I needed a more structured approach to learning.  I first looked up the Dysgu Cymraeg courses, by then being carried out on Zoom, but the schedule doesn’t really appeal to me – you do a block of three hours, one or two evenings a week for several months – and I wanted something more flexible and less of a commitment, as I felt that I’d probably lose interest in a little while anyway.  Then I came across Say Something in Welsh (SSiW) and I did their free introductory lesson, which worked really well, however I wasn’t ready to pay the monthly subscription at that time, so I decided to self-teach using a book, and bought a copy of Welsh in 12 Weeks.  This helped to pull together the bits I’d learned so far, but I found that as I got further into the book it was getting harder and harder to do the exercises, as they seemed to require me to know things that I hadn’t learned, or that hadn’t been explained very clearly.  It’s also a very difficult book to navigate if you want to go back to something that you’ve learned – if I want to find the past tense of ‘I did’, for example, I would need to know the correct grammatical term (“Affirmative forms of the simple past tense of ‘gwneud'”), for example… and I didn’t.  I grew frustrated with it, gave up, and just continued daily practice with Duolingo instead.

The most important moment happened next.  As lockdown restrictions were starting to ease in May 2021, I went to meet with my local YesCymru group for the first time, and was blown away by hearing local people speaking Welsh in my home town – something I’d never heard before!  One of the ladies said that she had learned Welsh with SSiW; she said it was a brilliant way to learn, and it obviously worked, as she seemed fluent to me as she conversed with ease.  After that meeting, I went home and started my subscription with SSiW for their ‘6 minutes a day’ course.  Initially I was able to do around 15-20 minutes a day before my brain started to hurt, but I was soon doing a full, 30+ minute “challenge” each day, and flying through the course.  I would repeat each challenge two or three (sometimes four) times, before moving on to the next.  I completed the course in about six months, and have since been working through their ‘old course’ material, which I am due to finish today.  So almost 12 months after starting, I can honestly say it was the best decision I’ve made in regard to learning Welsh, and I would recommend SSIW without hesitation.  At times it’s hard, at times frustrating, but it works.  It teaches by repetition, but in a way that gets you piecing together new words and structures with what you already know to build a strong understanding of the language, and it teaches Welsh as it is spoken, rather than worrying about being “correct”, formal written Welsh.  You don’t need to know the grammar rules (that can come later) you just need to listen, recognise, repeat.  There is also great support on their public forum and their private Slack channel, from where they run regular group video chats to help learn more and practice speaking.  I haven’t joined any of the group chats (mainly because most of them run during the day while I’m working) but I have met with others on the course to practice via Zoom, and I regularly watch the video recordings to pick up extra tips and information.

What next, then?  I continue to practice daily with Duolingo, but I’m coming to the end of their content too now, and it still hasn’t really developed my learning.  I think my next step will be to go back and work through Welsh in 12 Weeks again.  Perhaps now that I know a lot more, I will find learning the formal grammar rules more useful and that it will clarify what I’ve learned.  I also have a couple more grammar books to consult, should I need to.  I also want to start reading more Welsh – I follow a number of Welsh Twitter accounts (and, recently, Mastodon too) and I try to work out the meaning before looking up words, or translating a whole tweet.  The short form is helpful in this respect; it’s quick and fairly easy to translate a <280 character tweet.  But I also have a few Welsh language books (short stories, novels) that I want to start reading through.  One of the most critical things to do though, in my opinion, is to continue listening to Radio Cymru and watching as much S4C as I can – the more I listen, the more I’m able to understand.

Learning Welsh has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me, and while I still have a long way to go, it amazes me every time I’m able to read a Welsh language tweet or news headline, listen to Radio Cymru or watch something on S4C and think “yeah, I understand that”.

Tips / TL;DR :

  • Sign up and follow a course with Say Something in Welsh.
  • Join their group video chats for practice, if you’re able to (only available to subscribers).
  • Listen to Radio Cymru every day – you don’t have to understand it, just listen.
  • Watch programs that interest you on S4C (without subtitles!) – you don’t have to understand, just listen.
  • Follow Welsh language accounts on social media and try to translate their posts yourself.
  • Use Welsh in your own social media posts.
  • Read news headlines in Welsh and try to translate them yourself (BBC / Golwg).
  • Practice every day with Duolingo / Memrise / Clozemaster – but don’t just do “vanity reps“.
  • Talk to people (or yourself!) in Welsh, as often as possible.

I will create and share a list of Welsh learning resources soon.