Memorising Welsh vocabulary - what works for you?

I’ve been reflecting lately on how I go about committing new Welsh words to memory. Vocabulary acquisition has always been my biggest weakness when learning any new language, so I’m always interested in tips to help with memory retention. I searched this forum to see if anyone had already started a thread on it, and I didn’t find one - although this forum is vast, and a similar thread may well be hiding there somewhere.

I thought I’d share what works for me, as well as what doesn’t. Even if something doesn’t work for me, that’s not to say it won’t work for you.

I’m sure many people make liberal use of sticky notes - sticking bara on the bread bin, ci on the dog’s sleeping basket, and so on. Now, I have done this in the past for some languages, but it has its limitations.

For one thing, you can only do it for tangible objects. It won’t help you remember the Welsh for any of the words in “it’s a fine day today” or “I have a meeting this afternoon” because they aren’t really things you can stick a note on.

More importantly, even for tangible objects that do lend themselves to having a note stuck on them, I find the method unhelpful. When it comes to languages, I am an aural learner rather than a visual one. Looking at a written word in Welsh does nothing to help me remember it. It’s full of Ws and LLs and DDs and Rs and Ys in difficult combinations, and the minute I look away from the word, I struggle to even remember which letters were in it, let alone what order they were in.

I’m a very good speller in English, and always have been, but I’m a shockingly bad speller in Welsh. The worst speller you can imagine. My excellent visual memory for English words completely fails me when it comes to Welsh. Take the word for aeroplane - awyren. I can tell by the sound of it that it starts with “aw” or something similar, and ends with “n”, and has an “r” in it somewhere, but as for the rest of the letters, and what order they come in - aweryn? awyryn? aywren? awiren? awirin? aweren? awerwn? awyrwn? The pronunciation gives no clues. Sure, I could write awyren on a picture of an aeroplane and stick it to a wall, and look at it a hundred times today - but ask me tomorrow what the Welsh for aeroplane is, and if all I’ve done is tried to rely on my visual memory, I won’t be able to do it.

Even worse, looking at a word in Welsh encourages me to mispronounce the vowels. Even after all this time, I still look at the Welsh [u] in a word I haven’t seen before, and mentally pronounce it [oo] rather than [ee]. And that’s merely the starkest, most obvious difference that Welsh has between its vowels and English ones. There are many other more subtle differences. Written vowels are treacherous things. My advice is not to get too dependent on them. Listen to vowels rather than read them. By all means learn to read written words later, after you’ve committed the words to your aural memory, but I would suggest not leaning on the written word too heavily in the early stages.

So if reading Welsh words doesn’t help me commit them to memory, what does? The first thing I do is listen hard and try to copy as closely as I can, especially the vowel sounds. Whenever a new word is introduced, I say it aloud, over and over and over again, trying to embed the sound of it in my memory. Even if later on I forget what it means - and I often do - in fact, it’s fair to say I usually do! - I’m trying to at least make my brain say “I know I’ve heard that word before.”

Committing the sound to memory is one thing. Committing its meaning to memory can be more difficult.

If it sounds very similar to its meaning in English (or another language that I’m familiar with), then it’s not hard. Words such as trio, achos, tafarn, rygbi, beic, reis, bacwn, siocled, brecwast, trowsus, siaced, siwmper, nyrs, and a hundred others, are all easy to remember because they sound a lot like what they mean in English. Ffrog is not much of a stretch - it sounds like frock, which is close to its meaning. Meddyg is close to medic. Ffenest is easy if you speak any of the Romance languages. Similarly llaeth, which probably derives from the same root word that produced latte, lait, and the rest. Canu reminds me of cantare and cantor, and again I suspect may be derived from the same root. Ceffyl is very clearly related to cheval. Ti and tri are easy if you know Italian or Russian. Cwningen is not hard if you know that coney is an old word for rabbit.

Other words can be linked to their meanings with only a little stretching of the imagination. Caws means cheese, and cheese is made from milk which comes from cows, which sounds similar to caws. Crys means shirt, and is easy to remember because shirts get creased. And when they get creased, you have to smwddio them! How easy is that!

But what if it doesn’t sound much like its meaning in English (or any other language you know)? What I do, if at all possible, is to use my imagination to create some kind of connection in my mind, to link the word with a picture, or a situation, or a saying, or a person, or anything. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t mean anything to anyone else. Nor does it matter if the connection is a bit silly - in fact, the sillier the better, because I’m more likely to remember it if it’s absurd.

Some examples:

Moyn sounds a little like mine, so I imagine a miser greedily coveting a pile of coins. Mine, mine, mine. Moyn, moyn, moyn.

Esgidiau contains a syllable that sounds a little like skid, so my mental picture when I hear esgidiau is someone sliding along the floor in a pair of shoes with very slippery soles.

Gwerthu was difficult to remember, until I realised it sounds a little like wealthy - and if you sell enough merchandise, you’ll become wealthy.

Mefus was a tough one. It sounds a bit like the name Mavis, so I conjured up a mental picture of a woman called Mavis, and I pictured her making strawberry jam.

Gwregys was also tough. I was regularly forgetting that one, until I realised it sounds a little like the name Greg. I don’t know any Gregs, but I formed a mental picture of Greg Brady in his groovy 1970s clothes, including a particularly groovy-looking leather belt.

Cefynfor - another tough one. The cefyn- part sounds like Kevin. So I pictured my former colleague Kevin drowning in the ocean. (Sorry, Kevin!)

Llwyd was almost impossible, until I realised that it’s only one letter different from Lloyd. I have a relative called Lloyd, so I tried to fix in my mind an image of my Lloyd as one of those human-statue performance artists, with a stone-grey suit and complexion to match. (Sorry, Lloyd!)

Moron (carrot). Carrots are orange, so I decided to associate a carrot with a person sporting a very orange fake tan, and… no, perhaps I’ll keep that one to myself. Trying very hard not to offend anyone!

And so on, stretching my imagination as far as possible to come up with some connection between sound and meaning, no matter how slight or silly.

But that still only gets me so far. There are some words that I just cannot come up with a mental image or connection for. In those cases, I sometimes resort to memorising the word as part of a longer phrase. For some reason, I can remember the sound of long phrases better than I can remember the sound of individual words - and it’s the remainder of the long phrase that provides the “way in” to remembering the problem word.

For example, I couldn’t remember lawr on its own, but I could remember lawr y staer - and stairs are things you can fall down, so that reminded me of the meaning of lawr. I was struggling to remember menyn, but found I had more luck remembering bara a menyn - and what goes with bread? Butter!

And so on. Sanau sounds nothing like its meaning, but I was able to remember esgidiau a sanau. Clywed was impossible to remember on its own, but I committed clywed y newyddion to memory with little difficulty. I couldn’t remember cerddoriaeth on its own, until I constructed the phrase Dw i’n chwarae cerddoriaeth (which I hope is good Welsh, because I actually haven’t heard anyone else say it). I couldn’t remember gwrando on its own, but I could remember gwrando ar gerddoriaeth.

So those are my methods. They don’t help in every situation, though. I’m still having a LOT of trouble remembering short words such as bant, pwy, mas, yma, dyma, efo, dros, rhy, among many others.

And place names - Caergybi, Abergwaun, Amwythig, Abertawe, Caerfyrddin, Caergrawnt, Y Bontfaen, and the rest, are just not sticking. It’s probably not helped by the fact that I’m Australian, and some of those are place names I haven’t even heard of in English, let alone in Welsh. For those of you in the UK, those words may conjure up memories of places you’ve visited, and you can find a way to attach the Welsh word to your memories, but for me as an Australian, at least half of those place names conjure up nothing.

Enough from me. What methods do other people use to help remember Welsh vocabulary? What works for you and what doesn’t?


There’s one thing I did; I have made a picture card for each word I want to remember.

It is easy to find pictures for all sorts of things on the Internet eg seed catalogues for fruit and vegetables, clothes and houshehold items also in catalogues, building suppliers for doors, windows, etc, also similar places for vehicles, body parts, sports, tools, plumbing items like taps and baths …and so on. It is trickier for words like accept, think, remember, etc but you can find them as they often come up in children’s stories. I prefer this way so that I avoid the step of translation from the English word.

However, it doesn’t help with the spelling in Welsh. It only gets you to practise the spoken word.



Hi Matilda, I wouldn’t worry about place names, as many are archaic, so they won’t have a great bearing on your speaking Welsh. However, I hope this might help. Like you, I also like to see pictures of words. Usually, place names have a descriptive meaning.

OK, so Caer is a fort (as in Chester, Caster, Castle, etc). So, Caergrawnt (Grantchester, in English, just south of Cambridge) is the fort of the River Grawnt (Granta in English).

Aber means the mouth or confluence of a river. Abertawe is the mouth of the River Tawe, etc, etc. Abertawe is now called Swansea, but nobody really knows why :slight_smile: so just enjoy the Welsh names and their mental pictures. Don’t try to translate them into the English equivalent - no one else can. :slight_smile:


If it were entirely up to me, you’re right, I wouldn’t bother. There’s a lot more Welsh vocabulary more meaningful to my daily life, that I’d rather give priority to.

But Duolingo introduces place names in Welsh early on, and prompts me to revise them regularly. And every time I try to revise them, I fail miserably with at least half of them.

I’ve worked out a couple of tricks, such Caeredin sharing the -edin bit with Edinburgh, but mostly they don’t help. I know that newydd means new, but that doesn’t remind me whether it’s Newport or Newtown or Newcastle or New York or New-something-else.

And even when I dimly recognise the word and manage to get the Welsh-to-English right, English-to-Welsh is almost impossible. I usually can’t remember the word at all, let alone remember how to spell it. (And as I’ve mentioned in a different thread, Duolingo is a written medium, so spelling is everything there. Your pronunciation could be dreadful, but as long as you’re spelling everything correctly, Duolingo will tell you you’re making great progress.)

So my choices are either to keep a “cheat sheet” of place names handy, grit my teeth and churn through the exercises to get on to the more useful stuff, OR to work out some more memory joggers.

I like your suggestion of trying to familiarise myself with the descriptive meanings and then breaking down each name to try and associate it with its landscape or history. Duolingo does offer a list of geographical/architectural features such as caer and llan, but they still don’t help if you’re not from the UK and don’t know what any of the places look like or what rivers, etc are there. I didn’t know there is a River Tawe in Swansea, for instance.

I think I’ll do a little googling for maps and pictures, to see if I can work out why each place is called what it is, in the hope that it might get a few more place names to stick. Thanks for the tip!

Incidentally, Duolingo translates Caergrawnt as Cambridge rather than Grantchester. I wonder if it will accept Grantchester as a translation? - because I’d certainly find that easier to remember. When I think of the word Cambridge, I think of bridge on the River Cam, which is nothing like Caergrawnt. Might give Grantchester a go next time Duolingo tests me on Caergrawnt, and see what happens.

It sounds like you are doing better than you thought. That’s great.

I can’t see Duolingo accepting Grantchester, as it is now only a small part of Cambridge - but I bet you will remember the translation now.

Yes it seems a bit harsh for Duolingo to expect you to know the translations of place names, especially ones that aren’t even in Wales. I would definitely check out an internet map site to get the feel of places. You might need to use the English version of the names for some of the places, though.

All the best with your vocabulary widening.

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Grantchester is actually a village just outside Cambridge, as far as I recall - there’s a (?)Rupert Brooke poem about Grantchester Meadows that famously incudes the lines “Stands the church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?” :slight_smile:

But I’m afraid we’re back with rivers again. In Old English the name of the river at Cambridge was the Granta (whence Grantchester and Caergrawnt), and the name of the town was then Grantanbrycg (Grantabridge). With the foundation of the University and the mediaeval tendency to do everything in Latin, this got somehow latinized as Cantabrigia rather than Grantabrigia - why, I don’t know, but possibly due to some confusion with Canterbury. At any rate, Cantabrigia worked its way back into English - with the second ‘a’ disappearing, the resulting ‘ntb’ gets assimilated to ‘mb’, which is easier to say. Then, as a final touch, since the city is now called Cambridge, the river gets renamed the Cam.


The ones that I like are the ones that clearly go back to Roman names - like Caerloyw, from Caer + Gloyw, with a soft mutation. The English Gloucester (from Old English Gleawaceaster), like the Welsh, goes back to Latin Glevum (‘v’ presumably pronounced like a ‘w’).

My favourite is probably Efrog Newydd for New York (although I bet most Welsh speakers say ‘New York’). Newydd is fine, but Efrog!? Well, Efrog goes all the way back to Roman Eboracum - the Archbishop of York will still sign himself ‘John Ebor’, or whatever. Eboracum became Eoforwic in Old English (‘f’ pronounced the Welsh way, like a ‘v’) - ‘wich’ means a settlement, in names like Norwich and Ipswich and Sandwich, and ‘eofor’ means ‘boar’, and evidently sounded close enough. Then the Vikings came along, and turned Eoforwic into Jorvik (‘j’ as in German, like English ‘y’), and we eventually wind up with York. And then, eventually eventually, New York :slight_smile:


Richard, this is fantastic!

It’s not merely interesting as a history lesson. What you’re doing is providing exactly what I need - the step-by-step sequence of small sound changes that link a Welsh word to what on the surface is a totally different-sounding English one.

Already you’ve provided one I now won’t forget - the “Glou-” in Gloucester is cognate with the mutated “-(g)loyw” in Caerloyw.

And the history of Efrog is just fascinating!

Got any more? The others that Duolingo wants me to remember, and that I’m struggling with, are Abergwaun, Caergybi, Caerfyrddin, Amwythig, Y Bontfaen, and Y Drenewydd. And Dulyn I’m only managing to remember because it starts with “Du”, same as “Dublin”.


I don’t really, although I might try looking, now. As far as I know, Dulyn is basically a translation of ‘Dublin’ – at any rate ‘dubh’ = ‘du’ = 'black, so it’s not a coincidence. Also, Caerfyrddin for Carmarthen is just a soft mutation away from being *Caermyrddin, so it looks like the English is just unmutated for some strange reason. And Y Drenewydd is basically just a straight translation of Newtown – one of the lessons somewhere has the sentence “Bydd yn ofalus pan ti’n cerdded I mewn i’r dre(f)” - “Be careful when you’re walking into town”, where ‘tre(f)’ (‘y dref’, with the article) is just ‘town’.

I’ve now distracted myself into looking up Winchester (Venta Belgarum, Wintanceaster) on Wikipedia, and then clicking the language tab to swap into Welsh (Caerwynt – not to be confused with Caerwent, which was apparently Venta Silurum). And then down the bottom you have a whole list of places in England, some with proper Welsh names, and I’ve wound up clicking on everything that begins with Caer-… Caerwysg (Isca, Exeter), Caersallas (Salisbury)… Swapping back and forth into Latin via the side-bar then takes you further down the rabbit-hole :slight_smile:


‘Amwythig’, according to the English Wikipedia for Shrewsbury, is Welsh for ‘a fortified place’. (The Welsh page helpfully reckons that it should really be Mwythig.) I tried looking in the online GPC for anything that made that ‘fortified place’ sound more plausible – after all, it does have a castle, and is on the border, so it makes sense – and the best I got was a form amwyth (the second one) that sent me to a verb amwyn that apparently means ‘fight’ or ‘battle’ or ‘attack’ or ‘defend’. If that’s the right word to be thinking of, it apparently ultimately goes back to ambi- (both sides, like ‘ambivalent’) and the same ‘fight’ root that gives us ‘victory’.

I have little enough confidence that this is actually right, mind you – but maybe now that I’ve gone down that particular rabbit-hole I might remember Amwythig (which I had, frankly, forgotten).


Y Bont faen for Cowbridge – y bont is “the bridge” (pont, like French and Latin, but with a softening), and I’m guessing faen is mutated from maen – apparently ‘stone’ (so then a ‘menhir’ would presumably just be a long stone). ‘Bridge of Stone’, ‘Stonebridge’ rather than ‘Cowbridge’?

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Thank you so much for all this research. I’m enjoying it hugely, and it’s incredibly useful.

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Awyren is one I originally learned by knowing the root root “awyr” = “air”

But I’ve never really learned vocab in an organised enough way to give advice. I try and deconstruct to root words or work it out by context as an when I hit up against it if reading/listening. Or chuck in the English and hope someone corrects me if speaking!

If I’ve completely stuck reading i’ll look it up but won’t write it down or make any particular effort to retain it - either it’ll come up again and again in which case it’ll stick anyway, or it won’t in which case I probably don’t need it that much :wink:

I’m a very lazy language learner!

Very occasionally if I have to (or choose to!) speak publicly in Welsh I try and make a little list of any specialist jargon I know I don’t know - but I’ve only ever succeeded in retaining stuff crammed that way for the length of the event.


A few gems from places that I’ve lived near to - just to bore you:

Yes, the river through Cambridge keeps changing its name as it flows: Granta, Cam and then Ouse.

The river Usk at Caerleon is also known as the Isca.

Back to Welsh: Caerfyrddin (Merlin’s fort) is, according to legend, named after the Merlin (Myrddin) of King Arthurs round table.

Newport (the one near to Cardiff) used to be another Newcastle, hence Casnewydd.

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I have been doing very much the same as @leiafee. In fact, one of the things that I have loved about this time round learning Welsh is the dawning realisation that I may never have to sit down and learn lists of words. Before Christmas, I started trying to use Memrise and struggled through 150 Welsh verbs, but didn’t really know them at the end of it. In fact I had seriously concluded that my brain was now too old to learn new vocab, because I could only remember words that I was re-remembering from school.

At the moment I would estimate that I am acquiring 3-5 words a day, possibly more, with my combination of SSIW, duolingo, reading and listening.

(Yes I know there is a crucial final practice type I have not yet added in - conversation!).

When I do need to look up a word I use a dictionary app, which is predictive and offers choices, taking into account mutations.


I’ve just done a Duolingo revision exercise on animals, and I’m forgetting the same ones I always forget.

Does anyone have any memory-jogging suggestions for llygoden, aderyn, iâr, mochyn, morfil, carw, pryf, and tylluan? I’m looking for this sort of thing:

Peppa Pinc the mochyn says soch soch which sounds mochyn-ish to me :wink:

A morfil lives in the môr - not sure if the ‘fil’ is from mil/thousand but whales are pretty big so I’m choosing to believe so :wink:

I prefer gwdihŵ for tylluan because it sounds like the sort of thing an owl might say!

I learnt aderyn around the same time as learning adenydd for wings and they make a pair in my head.


Mind you a tylluan does live traditionaly in my childhood story books in a tyll/hole in a tree so…


Morfil reminds me of Melville, who wrote Moby Dick - about a whale. :slight_smile:


Not a mnemonic maybe, but another hook to hang ‘mochyn’ on: the Welsh Romani nickname for Machynlleth - partly maybe to keep their dealings private from strangers, Cymry or Sais, but partly I think just for the fun of word-play - was Bale ar’o Thud. It means ‘pigs in the milk’. :slight_smile:

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