Bootcamps for "newer learners"

Okay, so “newer learners” is not quite the right terminology but I don’t what else to call it. What I was wondering was, could one bootcamp week be set aside for learners who have just the basic entry criteria (i.e., level 1 + vocab) under their belts?

I am conscious that a lot of people who go on bootcamps have been learning Welsh for many years, and are very proficient in their language skills. That’s wonderful, but for me and others like me who are getting to grips with the basics, a room full of people who are all marvellous by comparison could be very intimidating!

I’d welcome some views! Diolch.

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I think this is an interesting point David, and one that I have thought about from time to time.

I was on the first ever bootcamp and I’m not even sure that Course 1 had been completely written at that stage. Certainly the Vocab Units didn’t exist, so I was pretty limited in what I could say. There were a few others that were much better speakers than I was, but I found I learnt a lot from listening to them. There were also others that were weaker in their Welsh skills and I was happy to help them when I could.

I think a mix like that above can be a good thing depending on the willingness of those with more experience to be patient and help those that haven’t been learning so long. But as we don’t vet the skills of those coming, there is always a danger that we could get a bootcamp with 9 more experienced and 1 that has just done the obligatory Course 1 plus Vocab Units and they could feel quite intimidated and inadequate when they shouldn’t because they have completed what is required before attending.

We are also getting a lot of ‘returnees’ which on the one hand is great as it shows that people really enjoy the bootcamps, but also has the potential to be intimidating to first timers that are less sure of their Welsh. Tresaith does have other accommodation nearby, e.g. the flats next door, so there is the possibility for returnees to organise their own ‘bootcamp’ at the same time and join in with some of the activities but leave space for the newbies to get extra attention when they need it.

At the moment, apart from the northern bootcamp which fills up pretty quickly, there are usually plenty of places on the Tresaith ones, but I would support giving priority to newbies if we get to the stage of having a waiting list.

Good to have a discussion on this topic though and see what others think - those that have been to bootcamp and those that are considering it.


Bootcamp in its current form, is a week in which attendees are only allowed to speak Welsh for the entire week. So the experience becomes one in which each individual is saturated in Welsh 24/7.

The week then consists of outings, activities, sight seeing, pubs, restaurants and so on with the odd challenge thrown in. The week is a highly social one in which Bootcampers are encouraged to converse a lot with each other and with the locals. We don’t hold classes or give lessons. So it’s basically a week living entirely through the medium of Welsh and having fun along the way, but the pace is fairly fast.

You’re thrown in there and are expected to ‘survive’ the entire week on your conversational Welsh.

We’ve discussed many possibilities for Bootcamp in the past and are continuing to consider different formats and ideas. We’ve no idea, for instance, what next year’s Northern Bootcamp will be like - Aran and myself have already been discussing changes for next year… There’s so much scope, but no way of telling before hand how successful any Bootcamp will be.

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There is clearly more “pent up” demand for Bootcamp places than there is “supply”, generally speaking.

I know that in the past, the forum (this or previous versions) has discussed the possibility of people getting together to organise their own bootcamps or mini-bootcamps. These would have the disadvantage that (at least until we manage to clone them) there would be no Aran, Catrin, Iestyn or Cat, but at least it would offer more slots to more people. And if the location is well-chosen, then of course there is always scope for contact with locals, including hopefully first-language speakers.

I just throw this idea (not an original idea) into the mix, to (hopefully) get people thinking.

One possibility might be to try to find times and places where there is already some Welsh cultural event going on to increase the chances of access to other Welsh speakers. (I know this already happens to some extent with the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, but I was thinking here of perhaps less high profile events).


A few ‘facts’ about Bootcamp to give you a better insight…

It’s exhausting.
Sharing a house/hostel for a week with strangers of all ages and backgrounds; having long and very busy days as well as late nights one after the other; sleeping in a strange bed; having your brain working at it’s full capacity all the time; being totally immersed in another language.

It’s emotional.
Realising your potential as a Welsh speaker; being away from loved ones and not being able to communicate with them (Welsh only rule); being on a huge personal journey; being totally immersed for a week in this culture you’ve fallen in love with; making some very special friends along the way; spending an incredible week with wonderful people.

There are always tears at the end of Bootcamp week.

For us as hosts it’s a ‘deep breaths’ kind of situation. You never know which way it’s going to go, or how everyone is going to cope. At it’s best it’s an amazing week, life changing for the Bootcampers and deeply moving. A week with an abundance of laughter and joy. A week in which you really connect with some wonderful people. A week of incredible experiences and brilliant days out.

At it’s worst, people don’t get on, people come and realise they’re not ready, the dynamics of the group doesn’t work, the weather is dreadful, there are illnesses, people get lost, there are minor accidents and so on - there are so many variables.

Bootcamp is very organic and volatile and getting the balance right, from our point of view is tricky.

We begin Bootcamp with tight schedule and clear set of specific activities and outings. But will almost always have to adjust and change the plan from day to day as the week progresses and we get to know the group better.

Each Bootcamp I’ve done has been different and I can now see a world of difference between the Bootcamps Aran and myself used to do in Tresaith a few years ago and the Northern Luxury Bootcamp which we now dedicate ourselves to - they are two completely different beasts.

My head is always buzzing with Bootcamp ideas and we are always experimenting with different formats - varying Bootcamp sizes, varying activities, adjusting schedules, changing challenges and so on. In truth there are so many different directions we could go in with Bootcamp, but there is no right way and definitely no way of pleasing everyone.

But at the end of the day, Bootcamps are not really an SSiW priority.

Here up North I can see Bootcamp becoming something I eventually take over doing as Aran is just way too busy with the business all the time. I may at some point stretch to 2 Northern Bootcamps a year, but certainly no more than that.

Having people attend Bootcamp who have completed course 1 certainly helps us. We know where everyone is at, we know more or less the length and breadth of their vocabulary and it gives us a fair idea of the activities which will be suitable. We also know that when everyone arrives on the first evening, we are able to all sit around the table and start conversing in Welsh, albeit a little stop start right at the beginning, but it gives us a good starting point.

I’m imagining that a Bootcamp with attendees who have a lower level that course 1 would take a long time to warm up and get off the ground. Activities and outings would be limited as well as conversation, therefore hindering the strong social side of Bootcamp.


I will be going on my first bootcamp in June, so can only give a gut feeling reaction to this question. My feeling is that a mixture of levels should be a real advantage, at least for the lower levels. I’m guessing it could be good for the more advanced learners as well, since teaching someone else is a good way of making things clear to yourself.

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I’m imagining that a Bootcamp with attendees who have a lower level that course 1 would take a long time to warm up and get off the ground.

I think @davidht was saying that he’d like a Bootcamp where no one has more than just course 1 plus the vocabs (instead of lowering the minimum skill level, capping the maximum skill level).

@davidht: From experience at a couple of meetups and one Bootcamp, I can relate to feeling intimidated at times by people whose standard of the language is infinitely better. I’m easily discouraged, so I will even admit that sometimes it makes me feel as if the whole thing is futile, since I will never be as strong as insert name/Radio Cymru/S4C/etc. That said…

I think it is also extremely important to have a good mix of lower and higher level speakers at learners events, including Bootcamp. Sometimes it’s the reverse of what I said above, and it gives me hope to see people who have excelled.

On a more practical level, someone who is stronger than me will have the flexibility to a) make out what my bad Welsh is saying b) try to use different phrases and vocab if I am not understanding something and c) they will have a good idea of what it’s like to be a learner. I found this to be extremely helpful on Bootcamp, especially when faced with the alternative of simply not being able to communicate.

I also really believe in the idea of surrounding oneself with people who can really teach you something and who challenge you to become better and stronger.


I haven’t been to bootcamp (yet), but I have been a couple different collaborative learning environments. Based on those experiences, I agree with Catrin that personalities are definitely a factor in success.

I was in a PhD program for biology. The personalities did not mesh and people were not interested in collaborating or helping each other grow. In the end, this was one of my primary reasons for leaving the program early.

At my acting school, the class officers set up the scene partners for the first few scenes for a new student based on who they know would be supportive, patient, and willing to let the new student do their own thing (not play director). Because of this, the students get comfortable in the class quickly and are willing to look stupid for the sake of trying to find the truth of the story.

So perhaps the solution isn’t a bootcamp for only “newer” learners, but rather bootcamp with half to mostly “newer” learners mixed with more advanced learners who have been to bootcamp before and are there knowing they need to be “newer”-learner friendly. Perhaps the advanced learners for these bootcamps would be there on an invite-only basis determined by conduct at previous bootcamp(s). This way the “newer” learners can still reap the benefits of having advanced learners around, but might feel less overwhelmed by them. Sadly, this scheme would also make organising more work for our fearless leaders.


Well, I never was to bootcamp and I probably never will be (I’d be only trouble in all possible ways and I want to spear our heartful leaders of that) but I strongly feel bootcamps for only beginners wouldn’t be such a good ieda. They could learn from “teachers” and locals, yes, but who would they learn from else? From themselves? No way there’s no improvement this way. And besides, those “improoved” learners could easily learn patience toward newbies or improove this skill (yup, I call it skill and I know how it is as I many times have to teach people of some tech thingys other then language though).

(just my humble (might be unneccessary) 5 cents (as they say)) :slight_smile:

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Yep that’s exactly what I meant - it can be very intimidating feeling that everybody else is way better than you. I understand the benefits to having people at all ability levels, but I know from experience that all it takes is for a speaker to keep using level 3/above phrases, which someone like me does not understand, and it leaves them floundering, mute and feeling immensely foolish. I am not convinced I will ever be in a place where I could combat my shyness and get the best out of this.


I see your point exactly David, thank you for clarifying and I understand where your need comes from. It leaves me wondering though, considering the shyness and lack of confidence you mention, weather Bootcamp at this stage of your learning would be be beneficial? Then again, only you will now how much your shyness is likely to hinder you.

To a certain extent, we do tend to throw learners in to the deep end. You are set tasks and activities which require you to do a number of things from go out and talk to the locals on the street, to creating and performing your own little Bootcamp play with a group of fellow learners. We have had murder mystery evenings where everyone gets in to character, treasure hunts, looking for info at a local attraction, doing simple cookery displays, speed dating, creating installation art on the beach, playing charades and so much more. It is huge amounts of fun and often those who first thought they’re shyness would get the better of them, discover quite swiftly that it’s melted away.

You are encouraged to converse all the time as much as possible with your fellow Bootcampers and we know from experience, the more you throw yourself in to the activities and spirit of the week, the more you will get out of it. You quickly make good friends (some which will become lifelong friends) and you soon realise that being at Bootcamp feels like being part of an extended family. You will also feel an element of belonging, of camaraderie and of being part of a dynamic team despite feeling exhausted and rather emotional.

As mentioned earlier in the thread, having a varying degree of abilities does to an extent help how freely and easily the week flows. As you can imagine, having the odd one or two more confident individual amongst the group, often helps to liven things up, to move activities along and helps to fuel everyone’s fire a little bit. More confident conversationalists encourage and help the less confident and in group activities it’s always helpful to be able to insert a more confident speaker in to each one. We always mix people up and keep mixing them as the week goes on. We swap pairs and groups around and make sure that everyone gets to know each other well and has a chance to converse with everyone else.

In this year’s Northern Bootcamp for instance, we have enough of an equal mix of first timers and returnees to have been able to set up a mentoring system. This, so far seems to be working well. We do find that generally, more confident speakers are a great form of encouragement and inspiration in a Bootcamp situation.

I’m imagining that if we were to have Bootcamps which are made up entirely of learners who haven’t progressed any further than course one and are possibly shy/lacking in confidence then I don’t think that Bootcamp in its current form would work. We’d probably have to look at restructuring depending on the needs of those attending. But we’re always open to ideas.

I hope this extra information and insight helps to answer your question David. :smile:


Hi, David and all! I tend to agree with Tatjana’s view that having a mix of learning levels there is good, and that coming up with a criterion for dividing up learners on basis of experience would be trickier than it seems.

Here’s my experience. I attended the third or fourth-ever Bootcamp, at which point Course 2 was maybe halfway through creation; I’d been learning Welsh only through SSIW and some Cwrs Mynediad book study on the side, and only for about 8 months, and hadn’t yet found anyone to practice with here in Washington, D.C.

What I found was that I struggled less at Bootcamp than some people with years of classroom and other experience; SSIW (especially the listening & speaking practices) had trained me to blurt out the first Welsh that came to my head, rather than stress out about it, and that turned out to be Bootcamp-appropriate! Further, I was hugely grateful that Hewrop (= Huw), who had great command of Welsh, was along with us. A friendly kind advanced learner who’s willing to rephrase things until a beginner gets them is a great role model.

I went back to Bootcamp a bit over a year later, and by that point, I was one of those more-advanced learners, and still enjoyed the experience and everyone attending.

David, if you don’t mind a personal comment:, you’ve always seemed on the forum like somebody who’s open and who has a good sense of humor. Those would carry you far at Bootcamp. When I’ve talked to people whose Bootcamp experience hasn’t gone great, a theme has been something that they “brought with them” held them back – emotion about being away from home/family, tension from high expectations for themselves, etc. Shyness by itself isn’t disqualifying, as far as I can tell, as long as you’re willing to look ridiculous sometimes and give yourself positive mental pep talks. (Take this test: Can you imagine picking up a dish from the dishwasher, and making an icky face at your dinner-cooking partner to elicit the word for “dirty”?)


Just to add another point . . . I was at a meetup with Joanie & her husband Bill last summer before they went to Bootcamp, and I distinctly remember Joanie worrying aloud that she was too shy with new people to enjoy the experience. :smile:

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How very kind, Diane :blush: - yn enwedig oherwydd dy fod ti fy “rôle model”
I wonder if a bootcamp-lite or cumfy-slipper-camp would be feasible and attractive. I have in mind a week with the same basic aims of instruction/confidence-building/enjoyment in a Welsh only environment but motivated by a volunteer* team of, say, one native or fluent speaker and two or three facilitators who need not be fluent but slightly more advanced. If Iestyn and Aran provided templates for the week’s activities - that might work. Be’ ti’n meddwl?

  • an incentive for volunteers (apart from the fun and the satisfaction of promoting the language) might be a concession on their accommodation.

Later: I should add that, on the last bootcamp I attended, @Deborah-SSi was effectively the sort of facilitator I’m talking about.


Something major must have happened on the train journey from Brum to Aber :smile:


That’s something I’ve really appreciated.
Perhaps, when promoting camps next year - for a few days - 75% of places could be allocated to first time attendees only; the other 25% open to returnees who could offer encouragement. If they’re not taken up it’s a free for all.
Always happy to volunteer on Bootcamps and to get people in the party mood; introduce them to the locals on Bootcamps if needed…
Great thread by the way!


No one who has seen Joanie’s ‘unique’ song and dance routine would believe she was shy!

Diolch @hewrop for that encouragement. I’m actually keen to be involved in exactly the type of thing you describe - more of a self-run week in Welsh with a few experienced learners on hand to facilitate, help out and answer questions but giving our Famous Four a break to concentrate on getting the course moving along.

The ideal would be to clone them, of course, and I know there would be times when we would have to say - or mime - “sorry, don’t know the answer to that one”, but I’m sure we could give people a lot of practice and have fun at the same time.

This idea has definitely got some promise …


This was the kind of thing I had in mind as well. One model could be that, say, 4 or 5 people who have already been on at least one official Bootcamp, act as the nucleus, and agree between them where they would like to go, and make tentative arrangements re: where to stay etc. They could then offer it up to people who haven’t been on official Bootcamp before, up to whatever number of people the “nucleus” think they can cope with, but ideally there would be one experienced person for each newcomer. I can see some practical difficulties, but they could be overcome with common sense and good will.

I could see this eventually having a multiplying effect with mini-, micro-, or even maxi-Bootcamps being spawned all over Wales (and even beyond, perhaps).

I can almost hear the interviews on Radio Cymru now …



Oh, can i go, perhaps a weekend or long weekend in Cardiff, (it has a youth hostel for cheap accommodation).
Of course there is the one (hostel) in Borth which puts Aberystwyth to porthmadog in range via train.

If you want a luxury one plas tan y bwlch is very nice indeed, bilingual staff and mini buses that are under utilised.

Cheers J.P.


No one who has seen Joanie’s ‘unique’ song and dance routine would believe she was shy!

@dee Lol, that was completely under duress!