Memorising Welsh vocabulary - what works for you?

Thanks to everyone for their great suggestions. Keep 'em coming! - for these words, or for any others you can think of. If you have a quirky and useful way of remembering a word in Cymraeg, chances are someone else will find it useful too.

I’d also be interested to know if anyone uses methods other than the ones we’ve mentioned here (sticky notes, flash cards, brute force oral repetition, clever or silly word associations, memorising whole phrases instead of words). If there’s a holy grail of vocabulary memorisation that works for any word, I’'d really love to know what it is. Perhaps most of you just absorb new words like sponges and retain them from that point on, but I certainly don’t. I need all the help I can get, and I’m probably not the only one.

This is really a case of repetition. If you can’t go there to generate the feelings you’ve mentioned then it’s a case of finding sources that mention them. BBC Cymru Fyw - Welsh language news (text). The Welsh is very formal and so a bit tricky (well, very tricky) but they write about these places. (I notice you didn’t mention Caerdydd and I assume that’s because you know that one? :slight_smile:)
I am a huge fan of T. Llew Jones’ books. He writes about, mostly, North Pembs, Sir Gâr and Ceredigion. That helps get places in the memory. A little map next to you for reference mag help?
Just a couple of ideas. Hopefully one day you can come visit :smile:

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I only mentioned the ones I’m really struggling to remember, and Caerdydd is not too bad in that regard. Caerdydd. Cardiff. Two syllables, same consonants apart from the last one, vowels not too dissimilar. So Welsh-to-English is not too bad. I usually recognise Caerdydd when I see it or hear it. English-to-Welsh is much harder, but then that’s true of nearly all the vocabulary I try to learn.

Thanks for the tips!

Children’s telly on S4C is called “Cyw” and has a little picture of a chick.

Cyw iâr is chicken (as in the meat)

That’s the only way I remember iâr as hen.

Works with all other meats - cig oen (lamb), the animal is “oen”. Cig moch (pork) - mochyn, pig, cig eidion (beef) - eidion, bullock.

These aren’t great, sorry!! :slight_smile:


Well that’s a victory at least :smile:

(sometimes we take for granted the things we find easy and don’t recognise them as successes).

Memorising is hard. I think the words I know all have a context to them.


fil of morfil comes from mil, which refers to it being an animal (in this usage, not a fish). There are other occurrences, as in bwystfil.



So Whale is just a sea-beast? I love it!


Presumably milfeddyg for vet is from the same mil.animal plus meddyg/doctor. animal-doctor


Exactly :slight_smile: makes more sense to a modern ear than the Latin.


Fair play, I’m going to remember “mil” now. Especially every time I come across the acronym MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra). Sorry, I’ll take my coat.


I just did a Duolingo revision exercise on placenames. Although I’m still falling down on the usual problem ones, such as Abergwaun and Aberteifi, thanks to @RichardBuck’s historical nuggets about placenames I was able to remember the English-to-Welsh for Caerloyw and Abertawe and the Welsh-to-English for Caergrawnt and Amwythig for the first time ever. So that’s progress!

I also remembered Neath was something-fortified-Nedd, but couldn’t remember the Castell bit. I thought it might be Caer Nedd.

I did, and you’re probably wishing you’d bet money on that, John, because I deliberately entered Grantchester for Caergrawnt just to see what Duolingo would do, and my answer was rejected.

But you’re right, I’m unlikely to forget it now, because I have that mental sequence to link it, even going from English to Welsh: Cambridge swallowed up Grantchester -> Chester+Grant -> Fort+Grawnt -> Caergrawnt.

I’m enjoying everyone’s suggestions for memory triggers, so keep them coming, folks!

Some of them are so logical that I should have come up with them myself, but my favourite quirky one so far would have to be @Nienke’s:

That was inspired. Even without the môr association, which I should have worked out myself, I am never forgetting that Melville wrote about a morfil now.


Sorry, I’ve just realised I gave Richard the credit for the Abertawe memory-jogging explanation, and it was actually John’s:

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Someone on Duolingo has come up with the most brilliant memory jogger for bwrw cesair (hailing).

Hail Caesar!


I can imagine that there’s no one single holy grail, but one thing I’ve found is helpful is memorising not individual words but short phrases or sentences containing that word – giving it some context.

I’m not deliberately doing this nearly as much as I could but I’ve found it helpful.

It’s something I think you already mentioned (gwrando ar gerddoriaeth for gwrando etc.) so it’s not new, but I thought I’d mention it again.


Yes, and that’s one way in which the SSi method works. Another part of SSi is the built-in spaced repetition. I’ve never used it, but I assume that’s also built into Duolingo, as well. It certainly is in the various software vocabulary-practising (flashcard). tools there are out there. The most well-known one of the type I’m thinking of is ANKI.

However, the thought of ANKI “drills” fills me with dread, and I’ve never used it, nor ever plan to. However, repetition, whether scientifically planned or not, is necessary. You will get this naturally by doing a lot of reading, a lot of watching (and listening to) S4C, and listening to Radio Cymru, and of course lots of sgwrs if you are lucky enough to have sgwrs partners.

Personally, I tend to write down new words (or words I feel I ought to know, but am not 100% sure about), although I never (nowadays) consciously try to learn them. I do feel that the act of writing it down (as well as saying it) does help somewhat. However, this (writing down) won’t appeal to someone who is very much not a visual learner ( @Matilda ).

An alternative to writing down new words (or phrases) could be to record oneself saying them (easy enough on modern phones), and that would seem to be closer to the SSi method, and also (possibly) more attractive to a non-visual learner.


Guessing is another option, when reading and can really make words stick. Getting it wrong doesn’t do any harm and seems to help in remembering when you can finally be bothered looking it up.

Some words are just really frustrating little bleeders to get comfortable with though. I have a long standing issue with cynnal, it’s become my nemesis. I can quote the dictionary definition - maintain, sustain, support etc and sort of get the gist of sentences with it in, but I just don’t really get it properly for some reason.

For some words there’s a difference between having an English equivalent or equivalents and somehow getting the meaning or feel for the Welsh word.


I’ve heard this as well – that specifically the mechanical act of putting pencil (or pen) to paper helps to fix the word in your memory in a way that typing it into a keyboard can’t.

So I’m not sure whether “visual” enters into the picture, since from what I had heard, it’s the act of writing that is helpful, even if you discard the piece of paper afterwards and never look at it again.


I’ve also seen articles about research that suggest that the act of writing something down helps you remember it. Anecdotally, I know that if I make a shopping list and then forget to take it with me, I usually remember all the things, even though I don’t have it to refer to. If I don’t make a list at all, I come back without half the things I needed. As it’s the physical act of writing, I’d say it’s closer to kinaesthetic learning than purely visual.

It’s the kinaesthetic element that makes physical flashcards so much more effective for me than an app like Anki. I gave Anki a try because so many people liked it and I thought it would save a lot of time in preparing the cards, but I discovered that the act of typing up, printing out and cutting up the cards starts the learning process. Also I don’t like the rigidity of the Anki system. I do use spaced repetition with my physical cards and I print out a spreadsheet of when to do each group, but if I feel certain cards need more/less practice or time is limited, I can be more flexible.


I’m with you on guessing, and what you say above. Sometimes I can more or less “know” (or feel) what a passage means, without always being able to put it into English words (which is partly why translation is a different specialism from just being able to read for understanding).

On this sort of subject, I should perhaps mention (again) the Goldlist system invented by David James, who is a (frankly) eccentric, but also very interesting and apparently gifted linguist, living in Poland. (As a sign of his eccentricity, he has a series of Russian lessons on Youtube, under the name of Professor Huliganov, and when he’s speaking English on these, it’s with a thick Russian accent.

It’s an interesting system (Goldlist), although will probably not appeal to everyone. I won’t go into it here (I suggest googling, if interested), but he emphasises the physical act of writing, and into a good quality hardback book.


@mikeellwood, Interesting that you should mention the Goldlist method because I am experimenting with that. I’m using it to learn the vocabulary that I pick up from reading novels. I haven’t got beyond the first distillation yet, so I have yet to see how successful it is. But I have a big hardback notebook and I’m writing by hand.