Is it bad to learn how to read/write from Level1, Challenge 1? (or in any SSI course)

I remember when I first used SSiW 5 years ago or so (a looong time ago :slight_smile:) that there was a guide to gaining fluency; one of the tenets was to NOT learn the written vocabulary until at least challenge 6. I’ve read Aran’s HILT book, so I understand the method behind SSi and I LOVE it.

However, when I learned German a few years ago I learned by extensively using it in the written form. I’ve noticed that since learning Welsh this time, I’m remembering the vocabulary so much easier than ever before by learning the written form from the beginning! Having tried the Cornish, Manx, Dutch, and Welsh courses, this go at learning Welsh has so far been the far best I’ve done at using SSi.

But I’m not sure, since I’m still early on into the L1 course, if this will have negative long-term effects. When I learned German, after having used it in chatrooms/messenger I noticed my spoken German flourished then, and only then. I’m wondering if that’s simply how I learn, but this raises the question if this is worked with a traditional language learning course (I took it in my undergrad :slight_smile:) and won’t work with the SSi method.

Now, even not having studied Welsh nearly at all in between those 5 years, I still remembered tons of the vocabulary, so the traditional SSi definitely works (I remember I really impressed a non-Cymraeg-speaking Welsh coworker of mine when I spouted out some Cymraeg to some Welshmen we met at a bar), so needless to say if I can stick it out I can learn using the traditional SSi method. But I’m just curious if by using this non-standard SSi approach, if I’m doing it ‘wrong’, which will lead to poor results down the road.

I’m not sure if there’s been an updated ‘manifesto’ on gaining fluency, or if it’s still around the site somewhere. So, my main concerns are 1)am I mitigating the quality of SSiW by learning it this way? And 2) will it impact my spoken Welsh? I know this is a very subjective predicament, but maybe some of you lovely learners out there have participated this way (or have any observations based on your experience(s). Any thoughts or questions are highly encouraged, as I’m a little nervous proceeding with how I am learning.


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I definitely want to know the written form because I’m not always great at judging how to spell things in Welsh just by hearing it.

What I do is look at the Vocabulary List after I’ve had a few successful goes with repeating the phrase as prompted. I’ll look at the list, and learn how something is written (a word, a phrase) and then I’ll first react to a prompted translation, and if I repeat it successfully, I’ll go ahead and type it out in Notepad or any other text editor. By doing this I’m practicing a phrase twice, both in a spoken manner and written. But I can be very visual, so by seeing it written out (and better yet, having written it out spontaneously!) I’m reinforcing the material.


I think it depends what works for you.

Personally i would do each lesson or challenge and maybe then check the spellings and write them out if you feel you need to. I have done this a few times when i have been unsure of the pronunciation. But i wouldn’t look up that lessons vocab first although that’s just my preference.

The most important thing i think, is to not aim for perfection on every lesson but to move through the course when you’re getting most of it right.


I think the problem with writing or reading early on is that when you come to speak it is not ‘automatic’. Those nano seconds when you are searching for a word can force a first language speaker to switch to English and it is a battle to get them to go back to Welsh.

Also, I think the course is designed so you practice sentences and phrases in ‘blocks’ this makes structures and vocabulary easier to recall in conversation.

There is nothing ‘Wrong’ with writing or trying to read early on in the course but it will definitely slow you down in my experience.

I took a bit of a detour into reading and writing earlier this year and my progress ground to a halt.

The course is a ‘process’ and is very carefully designed so, if you have to see how a word is spelled, that should be the minimum, any more is not using the product as designed.

There are plenty who would disagree with me, so please treat this response as my ‘experience’ rather than definitive advice!


I always found SSiW to be a marvellous course, robust enough in the advantages it brings to everyone to not be affected by doing other things, learning from other courses or learning to read and write.

It gave a tremendous amount to me, I know, and I was learning through other courses, learning to read and write and trying to talk to people around me I knew (or didn’t!) in Welsh from the off.

I found SSiW gave a tremendous amount of information on the language to me, crammed a tremendous amount of new information into each lesson, a good feeling of practising with speaking with someone when I didn’t have the opportunity to do so in the flesh, and gave me great confidence to speak with people when I did have the opportunity.

It fitted in with and enhanced every other form of learning I was doing, allowing information from elsewhere (including that from reading) to be slotted into what I learned through SSiW, and being part of every form of learning Welsh in a way that no other form of learning was.

I certainly didn’t find it was made less effective by my learning to read and write Welsh early on - SSiW is too good for that. Much too good.

[of course, I agree with all comments about it being subjective, what works for you, not definitive, etc!]


I feel that Aran’s formula of leaving out the reading and writing at first, as has already been mentioned here, comes purely down to pronunciation. I live, and grew up, in an area with a lot of Welsh place names but pronounce them, I feel, better than most because I heard them first off my dad, who was a Welsh speaker from the cradle. Most people in the area pronounce the local places with an English slant. E.g. Gwersyllt = Gwuhr suhlt, Maes y Waun = Maizey wine, Rhosllanerchrugog = what?, Froncysyllte = forget it! So, in my opinion, for what it’s worth, reading from the outset, or especially learning from a book, would heavily influence your ability to pronounce Welsh in a natural way. Once you learn how to say something in a particular way it’s really difficult to unlearn.

Edited to add … As soon as you have said a word or phrase correctly and are sure that it is cemented in there (the pronunciation, not necessarily the usage) then why not read it, write it, play with it however you will. It can only help to get it into the “forever” section of the brain.


Totally agree.

I was brought up in the south and although my parents were not welsh speakers we learnt how to prounce things.

Moving up north i soon found myself irritated by Landudno , Langolen and the dreaded Betsy Co Ed.

So learn to pronounce things. Look up the words later and you’ll be surprised how soon you start to guess the correct spelling.


Landudno has always driven me crazy as well. Can’t really explain why and i laighed the first ftime i heatd betsy co ed

Whatever works for you; I prefer to wait until I’ve finished the lesson before I start looking at how to write a word. That said, it’s still important to use the vocabulary in speech as well - language is a physical skill, and it takes practice to get your mouth used to moving the way it needs to move in order to make the correct sounds for a new language - even when the sounds are very similar, there’s always a slight difference.

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Personally, I’ve steered almost completely clear of written Welsh and have concentrated purely on the sounds of the language.

For me (this is, of course, highly subjective) it seems to have REALLY paid dividends. I’ve learnt so much more by this method (Diolch, SSiW!) than in my previous failed attempts over the years. Then, I became hung up on the spelling and written form of the language and all in all, learnt very little.

Now, when I learn a new SSiW word or phrase in Welsh, I try to resist the temptation to look it up to see how it’s spelt. Instead, I try to associate the sound of it with the sound of something in English, to help me remember. For example…I originallly had trouble remembering “I need to” - Mae esie fi, The pronounciation of “esie” sounds a bit like the English “shave”, so I think of “I need a shave” and lo and behold, I’ve remember the phrase “mae esie fi”.

A bit peculiar, perhaps, but for me it works! (I may have spelt “esie” wrong, but if I have, it just illustrates my point…)

Mae esie fi fynd nawr.


Totally not Welsh learning here, but, I’m having an interesting experience starting to learn Vietnamese (don’t ask why!). The language uses the roman alphabet with lots of sguiggly accents and dots around the place. Unfortunately, because there is no SSiV (yet) the method I’m using to learn presents me with the written words right from the beginning. If I listen to the word and look at the spelling at the same time, I struggle to remember how to say it. My pronunciation is heavily influenced by the way the word looks to a first language English speaker. To get anywhere near the right pronunciation, I have to shut my eyes and just listen, over and over again. Once I know how to say the word, I allow myself to look at it, and see it as a whole entity, not thinking about the individual letters.

To me it’s the same as what SSiW teaches you at the beginning. Focus on listening, mimicking, getting the sounds right, then see what it looks like. Your pronunication will really benefit from doing it.


The first and most important thing to say here is that there aren’t any large scale, long term studies that could provide a definitive answer, so we’re all dealing to a certain extent with personal supposition in how we respond to this line of thought.

I can add quite a bit of experience working with learners to my own personal experience, so I’ll chip in here, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m claiming any kind of special ability to provide the (probably non-existent!) ‘one right answer’ to this… :slight_smile:

I still strongly recommend leaving reading and writing until later.

I think what you gain from that is principally:

  • closer and better listening skills (because of the extra pressure on your listening)
  • a better accent (largely as a result of the extra emphasis on listening)
  • a faster overall approach as you spend less time on slower moving tasks (ie reading/writing)

Now, having said that, if reading and writing is a comfort zone that keeps you progressing, and stops you from feeling negative about mistakes or other elements of the spoken only approach, then you’re far better off reading and writing than giving up!

It certainly won’t prevent the SSi method from working - it may lead to not-quite-such-a-good accent, but that is likely to be corrected over time anyway if you spend enough time in the target language. It may mean that your listening skills won’t be quite as good - but there are a lot of variables in that mix, and again extensive exposure will get you there in the end anyway.

The main risk, for me, doesn’t seem to be present in this example - which is that someone will find the comfort of a more familiar approach so attractive that they more or less stop doing the work on speaking and listening - and in most cases I’ve seen, that tends to be very unsuccessful.

But you shouldn’t feel that you’re a ‘visual learner’ and need the extra input - we all learn some things much better visually (we’re usually pretty excellent at remembering places, for example) - but the general idea of ‘learning styles’ has been very widely debunked (Google ‘debunk learning styles’!), and I suspect that what is actually happening when someone feels that reading/writing is improving their memory is that they are feeling more successful - which isn’t the same thing as being more successful.

There’s evidence, for example, that people who learn with interleaving (rather than with blocked practice) learn better but feel that they are learning less successfully - see for some intro stuff on interleaving.

I suspect something similar happens in the mix between writing and speaking to form memories.

But the overview here is definitely:

Do what you feel like doing.

It’ll get you there, as long as you don’t give up on speaking and listening.

And it’s a journey to be experienced, not a race to be won… :slight_smile:


I LOVE your assessment and encouragement! Thanks!

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Aran, I am listening to the video now. Thank you for a thorough, personal assessment!

Also, thanks for all other views :slight_smile: I’m taking critiques into account and will see if I can try the more traditional SSi approach with a little less emphasis on writing/reading for now. Maybe I’ll try and be successful once traditionally, and then redo it with the r/w approach after. That way, I have to be successful first with the SSi approach, but then I get that other satisfaction. I’ll play around and see if this helps me progress further than with previous attempts!

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Looking forward to hearing how it goes for you… :slight_smile:

Just to add to this, my own experience with learning reading and writing vs speaking and listening:

When I started learning Welsh, I used the now archived ‘BBC Catchphrase’ course, along with the then very limited amount of other material I could find on the internet at the time. It was 2005/6 and I was living in Kent at the time, so I didn’t really have access to a wide range of books and courses there back then. With BBC Catchphrase, learning the words in written form was pretty much all I could do, since the audio wasn’t brilliant or as thorough as SSiWelsh is, so this was all I had to go on for many years. So trying to pronounce all these new words that I can now spell was a nightmare, since many of the letters sound different to their English counterparts, and some letters also appear as 2 characters (ll, ch, rh, dd…) which only added to the headache!
I then, much later (around the end of 2012), discovered SSiW, and found that the course concentrated more on speaking Welsh and less on writing and reading. I followed the course and was completely hooked! I even found that along the way, many of the words I learned in written form on Catchphrase had a way of being pronounced that I never realised before just by reading from the written form. Also, SSiW helped me with my Welsh grammar as well, even though throughout the course we were told not to worry too much about it! There was a genuine reason for this - throughout the course, everything just naturally falls into place before you even realise it! I guess if you had previously followed other courses this happens far sooner though.

So, my idea as to why you are not encouraged to look at how the words are written before you have heard the lesson/challenge has always been so you are never tempted to try and pronounce the Welsh word using English pronounciations - as it will be very likely you will pronounce those words to sounds of those letters being pronounced in English if you don’t already have an understanding of the Welsh alphabet and pronounciations. This was particularly important at the beginning of the course, hence why you were discouraged to look at course guides until at least lesson 6. Once you have an understanding of how letters are pronounced in Welsh though, it isn’t so bad, and I feel it helps to tackle the reading and writing aspect as you go through the course.

Of course, every learner is different in what works for them when they are learning. As long as you trust in the main method that is used in SSiW and are making progress doing so, there is no harm in learning to read or write from the first course or level at all.

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I am hugely enthusiastic about @aran’s methods, with one tiny caveat. I am definitely losing some of my hearing as I age. I tend to use subtitles when watching TV dramas in order to be sure not to miss what is said. If you can’t hear, then seeing what is written is very useful!!


I remember that we were driving home one day when my daughter, then still 3, pointed to a road sign and said ‘hospital’. As starting school was still some way off my wife and I said to each other that we were going to have to teach her to read.
It would be very difficult to convince me that she had worked out how to say the word by sounding out the letters. Much more likely that we had shown her the hospital buiding and the word was written on it somewhere.
If we learn our first language first by hearing and saying the words and then later recognise the written form as a picture, a particular pattern of letters, it would seem sensible to learn another language in the same way. Breaking down a written word and trying to work out the pronunciation came much later.

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The first written word my son recognised was before he could actually speak (he was a bit delayed on the speaking front) - he was pointing at his name I had written on a picture he’d painted, and then back at himself. He thought it was really funny. I agree completely with your interpretation!

My mother, a speech and language therapist, told me that the majority of children don’t need to be ‘taught’ to read - if you read with them and follow the words with your finger they’ll work it out for themselves sooner or later. (Some have particular problems, of course, and will need extra help.)

Of course, it’s a different situation with us adult learners (unfortunately!)