I hang my head in shame

I failed. Not at the challenges (I’m lucky, they really suit me), but at the hard part - actually speaking to someone. I completed level 1 right before going away for a week. The first time I have been to Wales for three years and the first time since properly starting to learn Welsh in earnest. A week there and I said little more than “Bore da” and “diolch”. I can almost forgive myself for not doing better in Aberdyfi as its almost impossible to know before speaking who is local and who was in the next carriage on the train there from Birmingham, but my real shame is not taking the chance in Machynlleth. In the Owain Glyndwr centre I was asked if I needed help, and after freezing up for a very long couple of seconds I eventually blurted out “ddim”, and that was that.

I’ll do better next time.


No failure or shame at all. You didn’t feel up to the ordeal of live help at the time and you said “dim” , Which they understood as “Dim diolch” .
Even though yo froze, you still spoke your first word in the wild. Onwards and upwards…


John’s absolutely right, no failure or shame there - sure, you’re kicking yourself about a lost opportunity but it’s all part of the learning curve (which admittedly can get pretty steep ‘in the wild’), and the important thing is that you took the first steps to do it - remember, very few people can clear a flight of steps in one go!


Definitely no shame. I bet freezing is most people’s experience of their first attempt to speak Welsh in the wild. It certainly was mine, and I still freeze up from time to time.
Keep at it and you’ll get there.


You’re all right of course, it shouldn’t be shameful at all, but I am disappointed in myself. I’m not the most extroverted person, nor an especially good conversation partner unless you get me on the right topic, but I am also no stranger to speaking a foreign language. I’ve initiated conversations in Japanese, German, Spanish, Hungarian and French (some of these languages I can even still remember some of). I’ve never found it as difficult as I found it to start a conversation in Welsh.

I’ve got theories as to why this is:

  • I’ve spent so much time in Wales (I even lived in Wales) but only spoke English. I know many people find it hard to suddenly switch the language they use with another person, so perhaps this applies to me for a place.
  • I can say a huge amount, but none of it is the kind of small talk that can initiate a conversation with a stranger (which is why I am most annoyed at missing the chance at the Owain Glyndŵr centre where the conversation was initiated for me).
  • It is too easy to not speak Welsh, because most people are also first language English speakers.

I think I also feel more fear of making mistakes in Welsh than I felt in other languages, and I think that is because I have such a strong love for Wales. But that same love is what makes it so disappointing that I didn’t manage more.

It isn’t all bad news though. I understood an impressive amount of announcements at the station and random signs and leaflets I came across.


Be kind to yourself speaking is a lot harder than understanding.
It’s also a minefield chatting with strangers and unless you have a fluency already it is a very faltering way of getting practice. I found that volunteering at the Eisteddfod as been my greatest speaking experience. It’s not like learning French and throwing yourself in on holiday. Nearly everyone you meet will speak English as well.
Be exceptionally kind to yourself you have succeeded and you will succeed achos chi eisiau.

Best of luck and hope to see you on one of these:

Hwyl Sue


One thing you often hear from people in areas where the language is perceived to be under threat is “Even if visitors only used a few phrases such as diolch and bore da, it would make a huge difference.” It sounds like that’s exactly what you did. So that’s a big win, from my point of view.


You went to Wales, spoke a handful of words, and understood an impressive amount of announcements at the station and random signs and leaflets you came across.

I’d actually call that a win. It’s clear that you are moving forward and not back, are making progress, and have actually managed to speak some Welsh in Wales - Llongyfarchiadau!

Even if your first encounter with Welsh in the wild is three words, and every encounter thereafter is one or two words each time, you are moving forward, progressing, and improving.

You’ve got this, please don’t be hard on yourself! You are becoming a Welsh speaker!


There’s no shame in easing yourself in! My first experience was equally flustered and I felt dreadful about it. I’m still quite nervous about speaking in the wild, even though I manage OK at local sgwrs sessions. Ironically it is the fear of the native speaker assuming I am fluent that makes me freeze. I’m in Caernarfon next week, so will have another go. After all, what can go wrong? (And if you see ‘Englishman offends entire nation’ headlines, you’ll know it’s me!)


I think you could only cause offence by not trying and being dismissive of the language (which it’s obvious you’re not going to do!) Have a fab time in Caernarfon - it’s such a lovely town.

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I look forward to the newspaper article if you do @patrick-taylor , but I’m sure it won’t happen.

I actually have a story about being mistaken for a fluent speaker. I always like to learn a bit of the language before going anywhere (which is why it is shocking that it has taken me so long to start learning Welsh). I was living in Germany but was going to a conference in Amsterdam. Towards the end of the train journey I realised I didn’t know any Dutch. I looked up how to say “Hello” and “I’ve got a reservation”. I arrived at the hotel and said the two things I could say in Dutch. I guessed that the next thing that the receptionist said was asking my name, so my name I gave. She then launched full speed into who knows what. I had to stop her at some point and tell her “I’m really sorry, I’ve already used every Dutch phrase I know and I’ve got no idea what you’ve just been telling me”. We had a good laugh and a really lovely stay. So I guess the takeaway here is if you do get mistaken for a fluent speaker, be proud of yourself and you and your conversation partner can have a good laugh about it.


A very timely tale … I’m off to the Netherlands next week!

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I bought a ‘Cofiwch Ddyfryn Towy’ t-shirt in Llandeilo the other week: learning Welsh has turned me into an activist! Anyhow, I greeted the woman in the shop with a ‘Shmae’, and also bought the local papur bro, which i guess marks you out as some sort of Welsh speaker. Problem was, the t-shirt didn’t have a price on it, which initiated a monologue on how and where it might be found. I mean it might have been a conversation, but my sole contribution was ‘dim o gwbl’ -quite literally in fact, as I informed her there was no price on the hanger! I completed the purchase having felt very out of my depth, although I don’t think the assistant realised. Maybe she thought I just wasn’t very talkative…


Trying to speak a little Welsh makes me feel like a child, even asking for a coffee I am busy thinking what to say and moving to the back of the line to give me time and to save embarrassment if I get it wrong! I really loved German too
did not get very far with it, not thought about it for years but that is what my mouth comes out with to stop me from choking!

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I think that working on the principle of “fake it till you make it” you did rather well here. Da iawn!


It took me 3 years to speak English to my Brit husband! So there is no failure in taking your time if you’re a similar hyper-perfectionist. But it’s a pity we’re not more daring. (Btw, I swear he married me because I was the only German too shy to practise her English on him. To keep him happy, the two of us continued to speak German at home.)
I wonder how I’ll react if to my first Welsh encounter, whenever that may be.