Hi all. I’m a complete beginner, and I’m four lessons in to Course 1 (South dialect). There’s a lot I like about this method of learning, but there’s one aspect I’m finding so frustrating that I’m on the verge of giving up the whole course.
In the introduction, we are instructed to put away pen and paper and not read or write anything, at least in the early stages. I get that, I really do, and until today I have stayed well away from the written vocabulary lists so that I can give full attention to what I’m hearing. I can readily understand that trying to read words in Welsh, with a spelling system so very different from English, would get in the way of really listening to what the instructors are saying. After all, toddlers don’t learn a language by reading it. They learn by listening and watching and imitating and being corrected. So I completely understand why we have been given that instruction.
The problem is that we can’t SEE the instructors. We can’t see their lips or tongues, so we can’t see how they’re forming the sounds, the way a toddler does when learning to speak and trying to copy Mummy or Daddy. And - unless you personally know someone who speaks Welsh, which I don’t - we get no feedback on whether we’ve heard the sounds correctly and are copying them correctly.
When I studied phonetics as part of my linguistics degree, I learned to make all sorts of sounds - but I had a tutor standing in front of me demonstrating them. I could see her mouth forming the sounds, so copying her was easy.
All we have to go on here is the audio file. And for me, the sounds on the audio file are not clear enough to tell them apart, especially the fricative sounds.
Some examples of where I know I have gone wrong, or suspect I have gone wrong:
The fricative in the middle of the word that means “can”, that Iestyn referred to as a “hissing goose” sound. When I first heard this sound in Lesson 1, I thought it was a voiceless velar fricative, like the [ch] sound in Bach or loch. It was only when Iestyn described how to make this sound that I realised he was describing a voiceless lateral fricative, not a velar one. (I already knew how to produce this sound, and I already knew that it is spelled “ll” in Welsh. I don’t know any other Welsh spelling, though.) My point is, although I know perfectly well how this sound differs from a velar one, the recording is not clear enough for me to be able to hear the difference.
The word that means “something”, that I have today discovered is spelled rhywbeth. For almost two whole lessons I thought the sound on the end was [f], i.e. “roo-bef”. It took a long time - and a fair bit of ingrained wrong pronunciation I had to unlearn - before I realised the sound on the end was not [f], but [th].
The word that means “to buy”, that I have today discovered is spelled prynu. For ages I thought this was pronounced “thrun-ni”, because that’s what I heard - and that’s what I still hear. It was only when I reached the lesson where the initial consonants on the verbs were being softened by the [i] sound preceding them that I realised I was wrong. I could see the softening pattern straight away because of my background in phonology, and I realised the sound I had thought was [th] was softening to a bilabial [b], which made no sense, so the original sound must start with a bilabial too, i.e. “prun-ni”, not “thrun-ni”. The sound I had heard as a voiceless dental fricative [th] was almost certainly a voiceless bilabial plosive [p].
The word which means “not”. Four lessons into the course, I still cannot tell whether this is pronounced “vim” (with a voiced labiodental fricative, as in the English “veal”), or “thim” (with a voiced dental fricative, as in the English words “this” and “that”). I have now listened to countless sentences, playing Lessons 1 to 4 over and over and OVER again, especially the bit in Lesson 1 where the word was first introduced, and I STILL do not know. To me it sounds much more like “vim” than “thim”. But while looking up the other words in the vocabulary list today, I discovered it was spelled ddim - which alarms me, because the Welsh pronunciation guides I consulted today (out of desperation) all say that Welsh dd is pronounced [th]. So I feel I now cannot trust what I am hearing. Please, someone, I beg you, put me out of my misery and tell me which one it is. If it turns out NOT to be “vim”, I’ll have four lessons’ worth of wrong pronunciation to unlearn.
The last straw was receiving the “I Am Not Going Back” email from Aran today, urging us to push on rather than playing the same lesson over and over again. I appreciate the encouragement and the intention behind this email, but how will it help us push on if we’ve misheard the pronunciation?
It is very hard to UN-learn a bad habit once it has firmly taken hold. We need something or someone to put the brakes on us at an early stage and say - no, you’ve misheard the word, it’s not “thrun-ni”, it’s “prun-ni”, go back and practise those sentences again, to wipe the wrong pronunciation from your brain and replace it with the correct one.
Exactly what that something or someone could be, I do not know. It would help enormously if we could SEE a short video with the instructors reciting the vocabulary list for each lesson. All of the examples I described above could have been easily overcome if only I could watch Iestyn and Cat say the words.
Failing that, how about a written vocabulary list with a phonetic transcription? (And yes, I realise that will be difficult for sounds such as [ll] which don’t exist in English.) At least then we will know whether we’re somewhere close to the real sound, or wildly off course. I realise there’s a vocabulary list with the Welsh spelling, but that doesn’t help if you don’t know what sound each Welsh letter represents, or if you aren’t sure how regular the letter-to-sound correspondence is in Welsh.
In the absence of such a pronunciation aid, I’m feeling very discouraged. It’s so frustrating listening and listening and listening to the recordings and still not being sure if I’ve heard the words correctly, no matter how many times I play them. If I ever attempt to speak Welsh with anyone else, I risk having them fall about laughing at my bizarre pronunciation because I’ve misheard half the consonants.
I’m close to giving up. It’s a pity, because apart from the difficulty in hearing these sounds, I’ve been enjoying the course. Any suggestions (and an answer to the vim/thim question) would be much appreciated.