Arrrrrrrgh! Banging my head on a brick wall

I’m so frustrated! After an evening yn Gymraeg with good friends, I went into the supermarket feeling confident and comfortable with my Welsh. Noticing that the woman at the checkout was having a conversation in Welsh with the customer ahead of me, when it was my turn and she said ‘Good morning’, I said ‘Bore da’. We then went through the entire transaction with me speaking Welsh and her speaking English, all the time looking at me as though I was mad. It was humiliating.

I know there are lots of reasons this might be the case: maybe she thought she was making it easier for me, maybe my Welsh is so terrible she couldn’t understand a word I said, maybe I was so humiliated and embarrassed that I mumbled, maybe she just didn’t feel like speaking to a learner - who knows? Whatever the reason, I left there feeling like an idiot, with a queue full of people witnessing my shame.

I know that I’m now at the level where I should be having frequent, spontaneous conversations in Welsh, but I’m not sure it’s worth going through that experience just to buy some food. It’s not the first time it’s happened either, and I feel that I have enough to be getting on with without deliberately making myself a public spectacle. As much as I want to start every conversation in Welsh, I’d also quite like to keep a reasonable level of confidence and self esteem. Can anyone give me any tips, or even just convince me that it’s worth trying again?


Are you sure the woman at the checkout was looking at you as if you were mad? Maybe she was afraid that you were going to use ‘proper’ words that she might not understand and was hoping you’d change to English? And maybe the people in the queue, far from witnessing your shame, were admiring your determination to keep on speaking Welsh and doing your bit in the fight to keep the Welsh language alive :slight_smile:
Something similar happened to me in Clynnog Fawr on Saturday, but without the queue. It’s certainly a bit excruciating to try and continue in Welsh when people respond in English - the only tip I can offer is to try and remind myself that I don’t really know what’s going on their head, and that if they want learners or others to switch to English, tell myself that that’s their problem not mine, that they’re providing the service, not me, and that I have the right to speak Welsh. Dal ati @Isata !:slight_smile:


I think this is almost certainly a matter of (probably mostly) unconscious bias - in a kind analysis, part of her brain was going ‘This person isn’t white, Welsh speakers are white, it would be rude or racist for me to speak Welsh to her, oh my God it might be even more racist than usual because she’s not white, argghgggh, ohmyGod she’s STILL speaking Welsh what can I do I’d better just carry on in English to be SAFE’.

Let’s clear up some of the surrounding stuff - it is NOT that your Welsh is so terrible that she couldn’t understand you, because your Welsh is FINE and natural sounding. Trust me on this more than random till lady, please.

It is also NOT that she didn’t ‘feel like’ speaking to a learner - that’s not really a thing, apart from some people just being generally nicer than others - it was almost certainly mostly happening on auto-pilot for her, part of the damaging invisibilising of the language where it begins to be something you only ever use to people you already know (a well-known stage of language shift).

Also - I don’t want to sound as if I’m not considering your feelings - because I know that kind of humiliation can feel exquisitely painful - but I think it’s important to note that you are almost certainly the only person there who would have been able to see it as humiliating for you. Everyone else would either have heard a conversation with one person speaking Welsh and the other English - they happen, often enough - or would have wondered why anyone would speak English to someone who wanted to speak Welsh. NO Welsh speakers would have thought ‘Ooh, she shouldn’t be trying to speak Welsh, how naughty of her’ - the sense of humiliation is all about your own fear, so you have to try to breathe your way through it… :heart:

So for where you go next - I suspect you need to see this as a misguided and inherently racist attempt to avoid being racist, and decide that it’s YOUR language, and you’re going to fight for and win the right to use it whenever and wherever you want. And there’s a very simple step to do that - you just have the phrase ‘Oes ots gynnoch chi siarad Cymraeg efo fi?’ ready and waiting, and you use it the MOMENT any Welsh speaker speaks English to you.

And you do NOT compromise, and you do NOT give way, because you have LEARNT this language and you have the RIGHT to make it a natural part of your life.

And any person you say that to will almost certainly NEVER speak English to you again, so you’ll have helped them normalise better linguistic behaviour too… :slight_smile:

Or, if you want to leave them with the trauma they really deserve, learn the Spanish for ‘I’m sorry, I’m from Argentina and I don’t speak English, so I need you to say that again for me in Welsh this time’… :smiley: [And yes, a similar plan was why I first started learning Spanish…:wink: ]


Oh, what, hang on - you were in Clynnog Fawr on Saturday, after dodging me in Oxford?!

Do please come round for a panad next time… :slight_smile:

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Great you had the courage to carry on.


I can’t speak to the motivation of thinking processes of this woman, but I can say that there’s nowt wrong with your Welsh so that certainly wasn’t the issue. I’m sorry you’ve had these experiences - how absolutely frustrating for all of us that want Welsh to thrive (but particularly for you, obvs…)

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I’ve been trying to get someone in the local petrol station to open up and speak Welsh, without actually saying so outright, but by dropping in lots of incidental Welsh hints (from simple Diolchs and Prynhawn da’s to the most adventurous being mae’n oer yndyfe), but I can see that it is never going to happen and I think some people will only speak Welsh to people they know well and who it seems natural to speak Welsh with, such as friends and close family. I have a neighbour who does the same to me, but talks to my kids in Welsh.

I think there may be a mental block/barrier in some people to speaking Welsh to people they don’t know very well, because it is not what they are used to doing maybe and I’m wondering if it feels odd and awkward to them in some way (I think diglossia can also be used as a term to describe how and when people feel comfortable speaking either language and speaking Welsh to strangers, in certain settings, might not be part of the diglossia they have developed and I’m speculating a lot here, but maybe actually speaking it to a stranger might make them feel slightly awkward and anxious).


@Isata now listen to me.

I admit I didn’t go through any of replirs here but, the heck, I know you at least of that Welsh language part of things, well enough, as I was priviegred to live for a week on the bootcamp with you to know you know better than that.

Your nature doesn’t fit into this “I was ashamed” frame if you want to admit this or not. By my opinion and beliefs (well, but as always, I’m not expert for such mattters though) you are TOTALLY CAPABLE of conversing in Welsh. You were at the bootcamp never having the particular troubles with this, and since it’s already two years from that time now, I believe now you’re even more capable and experienced with more knowledge at hand.

I bet no one in the queue even thought your Welsh is shameful or awful and not good enough. I think they rather thought “Look at that cashier! She thinks people/learners aren’t even worth to put an effort to speak in Welsh to them at all! What a shame!” So, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE! don’t stop talking in Welsh, no matter what occassion.

Here’s at least one person on this world who believes in you! (and I know there are many, many more than just one to be fair.)


As someone who recently listened to you chatting effortlessly to different people at last Saturdays cloncydigion, and looking forward to the day my future welsh sounds as good as yours I can say 100% it was nothing to do with your welsh.
I hope Aran is right but I fear not. Sadly some people are just plain rude and very ignorant but hey ho it’s there loss.
I too have a friend whose Welsh is great like yours and the guy at the petrol station who spoke fluent welsh to his regulars would only speak to said friend in English even though he was asking him for things in welsh. He stopped using the garage in the end and so did I.
There is sadly a tiny minuscule minority of people that speak Welsh are just not nice people. I just feel sorry for them and so should you. It’s our language too. :facepunch:t2:


Thanks everyone, and sorry for the rant. I know my experience isn’t unique by any means, but I think it got to me today because I’m pretty sure other learners have had conversations with this woman in the past, and I expected a conversation to open up. I don’t know why she didn’t engage in Welsh, and I’m not going to second guess, but I think I will try to be more direct in future. After all, if someone doesn’t want to speak Welsh to me, it’s hardly going to make things worse, and if there’s another reason, it might help to overcome it if I just ask.

@aran, thanks for your directness and, as ever, your unflinching good sense. I agree that bias does exist: I once went on a group walk where everyone was speaking in Welsh, but there was one man who, although he spoke to everyone else in Welsh, and I continued to speak to him in Welsh, insisted on speaking to me in English - kindly, but also quite slowly and clearly. Oddly enough, I could cope with that better because I knew what it was and where it came from, and I could dismiss it as being no fault of mine. I even managed to find it quite funny. But perhaps it lodged itself in my psyche somewhere and, along with other experiences, rattles my confidence sometimes. Now. Deep breath, and I’ll have that “oes ots…” sentence ready for future encounters. It’s MY language, and I’m going to fight for it and win the right to use it whenever and wherever I want… :slightly_smiling_face:


@Macky Thanks so much for the compliment. What a lovely (and surprising!) thing to say.

@Toffidil I’ve had a similar experience locally but I know there’s nothing malicious in it because he’s the loveliest man when we speak in English. The first time I greeted him in Welsh he automatically replied with a long sentence in Welsh and then stopped short in surprise and we had a brief chat (in Welsh) about me learning, and I thought we’d broken through. Since then, I’ve spoken in Welsh and he seems overcome with embarrassment and just replies in English. I’ve given up trying, because it seems cruel to make him go through something that’s so obviously uncomfortable, though I still greet him in Welsh just in case one day I manage to take him unawares again. Next time, I might just ask him outright about it!


One of the things that is tough for anyone who isn’t privileged - in whatever particular way - anyone who varies in some way from the white, straight, able-bodied, middle-aged+, male, English-speaking model that power-brokers want to centre - is that they can’t just relax and be ‘normal’, unless they’re willing to pay some of the various prices for having less power.

It’s one of the things I get agitated about with regards to Welsh - that I dearly want my children to be able to speak their first language WITHOUT having to struggle or campaign or be stubborn for it.

And then you get caught in the trap - that you have to be willing to struggle, campaign or be stubborn to have any chance to build a society with less centralised norms. I can’t just sit back and hope my kids get to be ‘normal’, I have to be willing to fight for it.

It’s unfair on you, but as a new Welsh speaker who isn’t a white middle-aged male (yeah, I know you’re going to try and claim some middle-aged solidarity, but frankly anyone who’s met you is going to join me in rejecting that!) - you make a priceless contribution EVERY SINGLE TIME you speak Welsh.

It’s true of ALL new Welsh speakers, of course - but doubly so, unfairly and yet beautifully and encouragingly, for anyone who doesn’t fit the imaginary model of 1950s rural Wales (which I know to be imaginary because one of my grandfather’s relations is of Liverpool Caribbean descent, but was brought up speaking Welsh in Pen Llŷn after being evacuated there in the war).

DIOLCH, Isata. Diolch for every word of Welsh you speak… :slight_smile: :star2: :star:


If you were in our local store, it may be the same person who did it to me last week! I was in the same situation - she spoke to the person before me in Welsh, so I tried speaking Welsh to her too, but she didn’t respond in Welsh until the final ‘Diolch’.

It made me feel that I was a ‘pretend’ Welsh person, and that she only speaks Welsh to ‘real’ Welsh people.

On the other hand, maybe she only speaks Welsh to her friends. But how will speaking Welsh be seen as normal if everyone, for whatever reason, only speaks Welsh to their Welsh-speaking friends and speaks to everyone else in English?


I just wanted to try to reassure you that it’s not you, it’s most likely, as others have said, that speaking Welsh to a stranger felt too weird for the woman on the checkout to cope with.

Earlier this year I was in the garage shop in a small village in Mid Wales and, as I’d heard the chap behind the counter speaking Welsh with someone the day before, I said “helo” and commented (in Welsh) on how wet the weather was. (I looked like a drowned rat, having spent some hours squelching across a very rainy hillside.) I got a total deer-in-the-headlights look and not a word of Welsh in return. I’ve had similar experiences with other people, which is very frustrating, especially as I’m now more confident and fluent. It does knock your confidence.

Possibly the problem is that, while English people are used to hearing people speaking all kinds of Englishes with any number of different accents due to seeing so much variety on TV, this doesn’t apply to many Welsh speakers who may not even watch S4C or listen to Radio Cymru.

I don’t know what would help. More staff training, perhaps? Is this something that businesses could do to help support the Welsh language?


And maybe not even that - a first language speaker from Aberystwyth told me the other day that with several of her friends it’s happened that they’d been speaking only English with each other for ages before they discovered that each of them were first language speakers!


Right! She’s gone too far now. SSiW meet-up, checkout number 2? :wink:


Dammo, @aran! Now I’ve got something in my eye…


Isata, I have really enjoyed reading this thread. Thank you so much for sharing. I have a little to add but remembered how proud I was of Leanne Wood when she shared her vision for Wales. Hopefully, I have posted it above this message. (I am quite good at not posting things well)
I think I understand how you feel, and think Aran’s view has much truth in it. My husband of 42 years is black and from Trinidad, so we have had inappropriate reactions for different reasons. My great-granddad was from Antigua too. Though I look very white, my sister is dark. We have always found Welsh people very warm and welcoming. We found Wales in 1974 and had around 70 + holidays here, moving to Gorslas just 12 years ago. We both feel very comfortable and our children now bring their children for holidays as we did.
Personally, I think that although the whole of Wales has not experienced the same level of immigration, the warm, down to earth nature, of the Welsh people will enable it to work. By then, I’m convinced that the Welsh speakers will have grown considerably. I also agree with the person who suggested simply saying you would like to be spoken to in Welsh, should open the conversation up, in a positive way.
Thank you again for sharing. Let’s hope that others in authority, will be blessed with open hearts like Leanne Wood. How wonderful that this forum is connected enough to share too. Well done everyone!


I must admit that everyone in the shop speaks Welsh to me, - the odd time anyone doesn’t, I just say, ‘I’m learning Welsh - can we speak in Welsh, please?’ This occasionally leads me into scary territory. I’m happy to join you in the checkout queue (it won’t be the first time, Isata, that you’ve inspired me to stand up for our right to use the language), but could we first practise saying things like, ‘Can I have £20 cashback, please?’ and ‘No, I’m not collecting the stamps, thanks.’

And meanwhile, I hope the responses here make you feel thoroughly encouraged and vindicated, Isata (and Helen). I love this forum.


Keep the faith :slight_smile: I must have had this happen to me more times than I have had hot dinners. Well, it sometimes feels that way, anyway. It can take a while, but I have had speakers finally switch to Welsh after anything from less than a minute, up to well over ten minutes. And, yes, I will keep on talking to them for that long to see the bulb light up in their brain when the penny finally drops. I have even had people quite literally say, “so you can speak Welsh, can you?” and I have had to virtually gag myself to avoid stating the obvious that that is exactly what I have been doing for the previous ten minutes!

It is an interesting Psychology experiment. I think many people really are unaware of the language in which they are being spoken to. Some subconscious process translates the heard words into internal concepts and then the brain seems to regenerate the words if needed.