Diphthongs from a Swedish Perspective

So, as we all have more time on our hands these days, I thought I should tell you what I, as a native Swede, find the hardest about Welsh pronunciation. There are two things really, but I think I’ve finally got the LL sound sorted, which leaves this big conundrum: diphthongs (two vowel sounds in one syllable).

Now, this may surprise you, but my native Swedish does not have diphthongs at all. I’m OK with them in English – or maybe I should say I’ve always thought I was OK with them in English? – but I have issues with them in Welsh.

To illustrate: in the very common sentence starter Dw i , my question as a Swede is: which vowel do you stress? Is it “doo-y” to rhyme with English “Louis”, or is it “dwee” to rhyme with English “twee”? Or should it really be two syllables, “doo ee”, which is what my Swedish brain desperately wants it to be?

It’s particularly difficult with all the words with wy or yw in them (and you have to admit that there’s an awful lot of those!). How do I know if dwylo is “dwee-lo” or “dooy-lo”? Or is it actually “dwuh-lo”?

I experience this frustration every time the Daily Word on Twitter (which I think is a great concept) tells me to put equal stress on two vowels. My brain struggles with this concept… although I think I’m slowly getting there; whether it sounds right or not is a different story!

The thing is, most Welsh speakers probably won’t even understand my problem, because they probably genuinely do stress both vowels more or less equally (whatever that means), and my questions won’t even make sense. So I’m not really looking for a solution, just sympathy… :blush:

Here is a genuine question, though: does u always form diphthongs? That’s clearly the case in dweud (which I guess really features a triphthong), but what about the word Duw ? Do you say “dee oo” (two syllables), “d-yoo” or “deew”?

And please don’t tell me “it doesn’t matter” – I know I will be understood whichever way I say it, but I’d like to be as accurate as possible!

Oh, and here’s another one while we’re at it: in diphthongs with an i , is the i ever stressed? I remember being confused the first time I noticed that Skewen (in Neath) is written Sgiwen in Welsh and assumed it was meant to be pronounced “skee-wen”. It was only after I had started learning properly that I realised that iw could also be pronounced “yoo”, which of course made it much more similar to the English form. But is that always the case, and if not, how do you find out?

OK, I know how to find out: just listen to native Welsh speakers. I know that, and at some point I’m going to start doing just that (BTW, I have done both the old Course 1 and the new Level 1, so I have learnt some pronunciation from there). But for now I just wanted to share a problem that probably isn’t even an issue for most of you!

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I find these difficult too especially:
The difference between wy and yw

I wonder whether those with a Welsh accent find this any easier because their accent naturally fits the words?


I’ve been observing for 2 years… Still observing… Still learning from my observation practice. It may be a rest-of-lifelong commitment for me! :wink:

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Excellent question!

Well, for starters dw i is not a diphthong, it is two syllables. Other than that, in my experience, the dominating vowel in a diphthong is the first one. But that said, you’ll have a hard time finding two speakers who’ll pronounce each diphthong exactly the same all the time – there are just two many variables because of regional differences and personal preference.
I have found a Youtube video that may be helpful:

But even here, the male and female voices differ slightly in their pronunciations: he uses southern pronunciation, she uses northern.

Hendrik gave a great explanation above, but for this particular question one I can offer some comfort - when the i is stressed it will usually have two dots above it like this - ï . So e.g. while nofio is pronounced nov-yo, copïo is pronounced cop-ee-o, not cop-yo.


That was actually very helpful - thanks! Although it also shows how difficult these sounds can be… I couldn’t really tell the difference between word-final and non-final yw: byw and bywyd sounded basically identical to me, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to say them differently (although I’m also fairly sure it won’t really matter).
It also showed that neither of my suggested pronunciations of Duw in my original post was correct… :frowning: and I can’t quite work out what sound they’re actually making!
OTOH I have no problems with the difference between troi and trwy etc, which I think is quite tricky for a lot of English-speakers.
Anyway, I will run through that video (and probably the others in the series) to try and get a better grasp of these elusive sounds. Thanks again!

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I already knew that ai and ae (and au) were pronounced the same way, while ei and eu are different to those but the same as each other. (At least in South Wales.)
But for a much more thorough explanation, the video posted below by Hendrik is very helpful, both with your issues and mine!

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This is one of the reasons the SSiW courses encourage going through the lessons without looking at notes or written vocab until afterwards - it’s much easier to learn how things sound by hearing them than by looking at them, because it’s almost impossible for anyone to avoid overlaying pronounciations from their first language onto the new one. Of course there comes a point when you see some text without an accompanying audio and that’s when it gets tricky, but listening to anything and everything you can (TV, radio, podcasts, videos, people!), even when you don’t understand the words, will imprint the sounds in your brain and make the links later with the written forms.


Yes, I know that’s the principle behind it - but it doesn’t quite work for me (which is one reason I haven’t moved on to Level 2). For example: when I started using SSiW I kept hearing fe as “dde”; I already knew a fair bit of grammar, and couldn’t understand what that word was supposed to be. Even now I often hear “dde”, even though I know it’s fe.

BTW I have a similar problem with (southern) English (as it’s not my mother tongue): short a and short u sound basically identical to me, so when I first hear colloquial words like faff, I can’t use them until I have looked them up to see if it’s “faff” or “fuff”, as I can’t suss (or was it “sass”?) it out just from hearing it!

Basically, if I can’t visualise a word, it’s much harder for me to learn it properly - but if I can’t work out how a certain word is pronounced, it’s very hard to visualise it…

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Yes I agree! I am at that tricky stage where I’m having to learn some new words by reading rather than just listening but doing the lessons without text really helped initially.


Yes, I’ve found that a problem all the way through level 1. I was on about challenge 15 before I realised that I was actually hearing fis rather than ddis, and since then I’ve checked a lot of the f/dd sounds against the vocab lists to make sure I’m getting the right letter.

On the original pronunciation question, it’s really a matter of listening to as much Welsh as you can. I’m probably fortunate with that, in that I’ve spent upwards of 10 years living in a part of Wales which has quite a high concentration of first-language Welsh speakers, so I hear it a lot and had a fairly good sense of pronunciation before I started. I imagine it would be much harder without that.

One of the sounds that’s tricky is wy, as in something like wythnos or bwyta. As far as I can tell, it’s often pronounced sort of mid-way between your suggested pronunciations. The w isn’t quite like an English w but it isn’t fully an oo sound either. It’s a bit of both.

Ha - I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking f and dd are hard to distinguish. I thought maybe my problem was that Swedish doesn’t have the dd sound…

As for wy and yw being somewhere between my two options, I am theoretically aware that’s probably how it should sound; I just can’t convince my brain that that’s possible… To my Swedish mind, a sound is either a vowel or a consonant, there’s no middle ground!

That’s also true in Welsh. w and y are vowels in Welsh.

W is a vowel but it can have a consonant sound to an English (and maybe Swedish?) ear. When someone says dw’i the w sounds like an English w (consonant) regardless of it being a vowel. I think DavidH is talking about the sounds rather than the technicalities.

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Both w and i can be consonants in Welsh, but this shouldn’t matter too much if you’ve got the proper grounding by not trying to read and write too early in the course.

Thanks for this video - very clear and concise! And that Northern accent is definitely why I went with the Northern course :blush:

Yes, and since Swedish doesn’t have diphthongs or semi-vowels like English w, I think of the w sound as a consonant when it’s not a proper vowel.

And most of these replies confirm what I already suspected: native English speakers don’t see what my problem is. I know that in wy and yw, both the w and the y are vowels; I just can’t work out how two vowels can form one syllable. In my head I have to turn one of them into a consonant, but how do I decide which one? Saying that they’re both equal might be true, but my head struggles to accept (not to mention replicate) it.

And I don’t really expect an answer, I just wanted to share my struggles… :smiley: Although the only sensible answer is, of course, to listen to native speakers!

A bit too late, as I had already started reading about Welsh grammar before I discovered SSiW… :grin:

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What about Hej Hallå or Hem?
Genuine question as my knowledge of Swedish is limited to words loaned into the English language. Or perhaps that’s a haitus.