How to improve my Welsh understanding

I’ve completed all the available courses relating to South Welsh (most more than once) and proudly proclaim myself a Welsh speaker. I can speak the Welsh learned in the courses pretty well and can see that the breadth of my vocabulary will, and is expanding with time and practice.
However, I can’t claim to be able to understand spoken Welsh, well not spoken at normal speed anyway.
If you were to speak a sentence then allow me to think it through before going on to the next sentence then I’d be OK, but try as I might (I’ve persevered with the listening exercises for months, I listen to Radio Cymru at least 10 minutes every day,
watch S4C as much as I can. I try to speak to my fluent Welsh speaking daughter, but she just gets frustrated when I have to ask her to take it one sentence at a time), I just don’t seem to be able to make any measurable progress in understanding Welsh.
The Boot Camps would probably help but for a number of reasons they’re not practical for me. Does anyone one have any tips on how I can get to the stage when I can understand as well as I can speak Welsh?


I have no particular advice, but this is more or less my situation too. I (feel like) I speak many many many times better than I listen.

1 Like

Do you do the Level 1 accelerated listening exercises for 5 minutes every day? :slight_smile:


I’ve just started these (not exactly a last throw of the dice because I will persevere, but more in hope than with any confidence) but should I keep doing practice 1 until I understand it all then move on to Practice 2, or should I just go through them one after the other?

Since you’ve covered all the material, I would recommend that you cycle through them - first day do practice 2 (don’t bother with the normal speed one), second day do practice 3, then practice 4, then practice 5, then come back to practice 2 again the next day.

Unless you fancy doing 10 minutes a day, in which case same thing but pair them up.

Next question - do you have a regular conversation partner? :slight_smile:

Did the Southern level 2 listening exercises ever happen?

Thanks Aran, I’ll give that a go.
I have a 12 year old daughter who is fluent, but as I say, she gets frustrated after a while of speaking Welsh and asks if we could return to speaking English.

I think it’s just something that takes a while. I would try and have the radio on more than 10 mins and treat it as background. Do you have a smartphone or ipod? I listen on headphones. I listen to the Pigion podcast every week on my way to work and there is a list of vocab on the website, so if I read that first and get an idea about what the stories are about then I have more chance of understanding it.

The episodes are here
And the vocab is here

Sometimes I understand practically nothing. But with time I’m getting more and more sentences and sections which make sense, which is very exciting. I can also listen to Radio Cymru live on my iphone and also sometimes listen to (again only understanding flashes) of Beti ai phobol - that’s one long conversation with a different person each time so you get a chance to get used to their accent. I have an hour commute each way 3 or 4 times a week and I’m trying to spend that on Welsh (duo lingo and listening, I can’t do SSIW on the train or while walking!).

It will come with time!


I guess it just needs patience, its just frustrating that I can see huge improvements in my speaking but very little in my understanding.

Not yet - we see Level 3 content as more important at this stage - but hopefully before too long… :slight_smile:

Ah, no, a 12 year old who has a normalised pattern of speaking English with you is very much not the right conversation partner at this stage. Later on, she’ll be a great resource for you - but she’s not the starting point.

You need to find someone who will do an hour a week with you. An hour a week of actual, real conversation will add very seriously to your ability to predict what bits of language are coming your direction at any point - which is a hugely important shift.

Would there be any value in doing SSiW-style reverse exercises in which one has to translate from Welsh into English? Listening exercises are good, but I wonder if they are too passive. In other words, would having to verbally translate from Welsh into English drive the material more firmly into our heads?

I suggested that a couple of years ago.


I’d go along with this, but also try to squeeze in some concentrated listening time., using headphones, as Kate suggested, but really listening out for every word, and even if you can’t identify words, being able to spot beginnings and ends of words is good (and Radio Cymru presenters tend to be pretty clear speakers, I find … phone in guests less so!).

If you haven’t used it, there is the BBC iPlayer Radio App that one can use on smart phones or tablets. You can listen online when you are connected to wifi, and also download programmes to listen to offline (for a limited period, something like 28 days).

For programmes, as well as the Pigeon podcast, I’d suggest browsing through the Radio Cymru schedule (which you can do on the iPlayer App or on the RC website) and seeing if anything takes your fancy.

One regular weekly programme that might work for you, as a southern learner, might be:

Dewi Llwyd is a southern speaker with a fairly relaxed pace of speaking, and the whole programme (which goes out on Sunday mornings) tends to be very relaxed. There are some musical intervals, but it’s mostly conversation (which is probably more useful to you in this context).
Of course, with iPlayer, you can listen to it at any time, not just on Sunday morning.


I think they’re not - the results we see from them even in the limited time context of the 5 day intensives are hugely, hugely impressive.

1 Like

When it was suggested to me a year ago that I do the listening exercises (I hadn’t been until then), I indeed started and I’ve been doing them ever since. I will be the first to admit that they have helped me tremendously. The first time that I heard the double-speed listening exercises in Level 1 I thought “You cannot be serious!” (It’s now Wimbledon fortnight; forgive me.)
A year later…it’s like a whole new world. I occasionally repeat the Level 1 listening exercises and I can understand the vast majority. What an improvement.
At the same time, I do wonder if Welsh-to-English translations would be of value. (I have no experience in teaching languages and I’m not in a position to be judgmental. Regard this as feedback from a satisfied customer.)

1 Like

For me (in terms of course-building decisions) it’s largely about weight of evidence at this stage - I’ve seen enough results from the L1 listening exercises to want to build the same approach for L2, and then L3, and then to develop a dialogue/story driven listening approach to acquiring the first 4000 words…

Once we’ve got that done, I wouldn’t necessarily mind doing some decent testing on target-language->native-language translations - but my gut instinct is that it would be a slower and less helpful process… :slight_smile:


Out of interest @aran

Since you’ve written the course I figure you may have an estimate.

What number of words do you estimate are taught to someone who goes through a L1,L2 and 3 of SSIW?


I’ve been using these as you suggest for the past few weeks and it’s surprising how much I can understand at that speed, though I haven’t noticed any significant improvement since starting them yet.
I was wondering though, what should be my approach to them? Should I just have them on and not pay too much attention, or should I be concentrating? Should I try to translate them in my head or should i just try to understand without translating?



Ideally, you should pay attention to them, without expecting anything from them - just let your attention rest on them, but don’t try to do anything with them. And if you feel as though you’re not experiencing change, listen to the first one - the one at normal speed - again. If it sounds faintly r…i…d…i…c…u…l…o…u…s…l…y… slow, then that means you’ve triggered some adaptation… :slight_smile:

Just a thought: are you trying to understand every single word? I know it sounds daft, but until I let go of that (being determined to understand absolutely everything) I got completely bogged down: I was so busy dissecting the verb at the beginning of the sentence (“so that’s the verb digwydd and it’s got the ‘odd’ ending, so it must be ‘it happened’, past tense…”) I completely missed the rest of the sentence and I was totally lost.

Have you ever had the experience of being at, say, a house party where there are lots of people crammed into a kitchen who’ve had a few drinks, there’s music blaring out, and everyone’s having very animated conversations. And you’re having a conversation with someone you’ve just met, and you can’t actually catch everything they say - you’re getting, perhaps 80% of it, so you’re getting the gist but not exactly every single word. Perhaps it’s their accent, or the background noise, or the fact that they’re using a few words that you’ve not come across before so you’re not 100% sure what they mean (but you can sort of guess from the context). Welsh can be a bit like that for me sometimes. And sometimes I get completely the wrong end of the stick because of it…

So I treat the things I can understand without worrying about as jigsaw pieces and don’t worry too much if some of the other pieces around them are missing, as long as there are enough there for me to be able to tell what the picture is. Occasionally I think it’s a horse when it’s a llama, but most of the time it works out OK :slight_smile: