Helo pawb! I would love to share with you all my story about how I accidentally stumbled upon Welsh one day and fell totally and utterly head over heels in love with the language like a cat falling out a plane and landing in a field of infinite catnip.
I was born and grew up in the medieval Kingdom of Mercia, or in the now apt if slightly less splendiferous parlance, the Midlands. Having left the land of hope and glory in search of sunlight and more palatable food I eventually found myself on the outskirts of the thriving, vibrant metropolis that is Mexico City, my own little rincón del paraíso. You’re all very welcome to visit, it’s lovely! (…and no, I don’t work for the tourist board.)
Though my father worked in Wrexham for decades and provided me with the most common surname in Wales, unfortunately, I’m 100% English, at least by a few generations. So sorry if that in itself causes offence, I feel a bizarre compulsion to apologise for my very existence among my fellow islanders.
For even the most casual globetrotters among you, you’ll know modern English could not be described as a secret tongue. While it’s true my outbursts of colourful and vulgar vernacular in the heavily-congested streets of this global city are lost on most natives, - no doubt quick to judge my spoutings as the speech of someone two sandwiches short of a picnic, - my mother tongue has never truly felt like my language. English is the world’s language, it belongs (if you’ll forgive my strange use of possession for a moment), not to one small minority but to pretty much everyone born on planet Earth.
I promptly decided that this simply wasn’t good enough and if people were to constantly introduce me as British, as they so often do after exiting UK borders, then I had better embrace this newfound national identity (for a patriot I was not), and start learning another language from our beloved British Isles. My eyes turned eagerly homeward.
Is there any member of my close family that speaks a language other than English? Of course not! However my grandfather was born on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Perfect, I’ll learn Cornish! I hesitantly entered “learn Cornish” into Google who returned just shy of 800,000 results in a timely if perhaps mocking manner, as if learning Cornish was as common as frying an egg. One of those results caught my eye for one reason and one reason only…the word “something”. I figured if I could say something, just one single thing in Cornish, then I would already be on the right path, my personal journey to true Britishness (whatever that means and I suspect there’s no such thing), and the inevitable mastery of a British tongue. I clicked on the link. So what happened next?
I started learning Welsh.
After clicking on the SSi icon in the top left-hand corner of the page a list of languages popped up with Welsh topping the bill. This peaked my interest. Curiosity, the great bringer of knowledge, is in a roundabout way, curious in itself, and this time curiosity lead me down a decidedly Welsh path. Perhaps in that fleeting moment I wondered how easy Welsh would be to learn, the similarities, if any, to English and if it would be easier than Cornish to learn given the higher number of speakers but truthfully, we don’t always know why we do what we do, sometimes we just do. We reach for the other brand of washing powder, we turn left, not right at the traffic lights (madness!), and this time, curiosity guided me defiantly Welshward.
I already found North Wales infinitely beautiful and spent many glorious holidays there in my youth so I proudly began “Course 1” in North Welsh and here I am feeling pretty accomplished already, only 14 completed challenges later. The system is so fresh and rewarding for me but in equal measure unfamiliar. I ashamedly repeated the first few sessions several times, paused more often than I would have liked, stopped entirely for a week after old master doubt smothered my belief in this completely alien method, then finally, after my ego had bludgeoned my skepticism to death, thought to hell with it, returned to lesson 5 with renewed vigour and have never looked back or repeated a lesson since.
In Mexico, there exists the philosophy of valemadrísmo which essentially is the state of being carefree. I strongly suggest and encourage this approach to all those starting their Welsh language journey, even if I am still very much on the bottom rung of a tall ladder myself. Be a valemadres or for the Pixar-lovers among you, just keep swimming!
Despite my brief foray into Cymraeg, I can’t express how much I have enjoyed diving into this fascinating and beautifully constructed language. It breathes a forgotten history, inspires the most delightful poetry one could ever find, and wraps around my tongue seemingly better than English ever has. How fortuitous that I did happen upon this website. I can’t thank Aran enough for founding this absolute joy, fostering such a pleasant, motivating community, and opening a door for which I hope many more stumble through as I did and end up staying for the long haul! Learning a decidedly complex language doesn’t have to be a bellyache and you have all proven this in spades.
I shall end with a quote from the late, great Douglas Adams which perfectly summarises my experience, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Viva Cymru! Hwyl am y tro!