So, I’m an American whose never been to Wales but is learning it for its beauty and music and this awesome community. I’m currently staying in a hostel in the country of Georgia (long story) and happened to mention that i was learning Welsh to another guest, who was from Australia. And i was shocked at the sheer vitriol that poured out of his mouth. Apparently, he had spent three weeks on a farm in Wales, where the family had the temerity to speak in Welsh around him even though they all of course speak English! The question I would have liked to ask him is if he would have been so angry if this had been in Italy or France or somewhere else.
The question I have for you all, particularly those of you who live in Wales, is how do you deal with those kinds of negative attitudes? Is it a steady stream? Or does it only pop up occasionally? Do you start an argument? Or do you just politely move to a different topic of conversation and sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau all the more loudly and proudly later?
Fortunately it doesn’t happen too often, but yes, there are still occasions where you come across it. There is very little point getting angry (on the outside!), and it can be difficult to react calmly, but the best two options are usually either to walk away or to engage the person in a rational conversation about their experience, how they developed their views and - without sounding as if you’re trying to ‘convert’ them (which can be tricky ), explain how much you get out of learning Welsh and the advantages it can have.
And yes, singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau all the more loudly and proudly later certainly helps!
I have to say I have never experienced this at all. We live in Carmarthenshire. Southwest Wales. We are surrounded by native Welsh speakers and some English speakers who are all absolutely lovely and are currently caring for us while we self-isolate at home. I would say the ratio is 60℅ Cymraeg and 40℅ English speakers.
The person you describe must have been very unlucky I think.
I am English my husband is from Trinidad and we have been coming to Wales since 1974 and finally moved here 14 years ago. We have lots of Welsh friends and a couple of English too. Our experience has been warm, welcoming and supportive. We have never, ever, have experienced any hostility at all. So sad that his experience was so negative though.
I love living here and have no desire whatsoever, to live anywhere else.
It’s not just the countryside which is beautiful. The people are beautiful too. Warm, friendly with many gifts, and they have a terrific sense of humour as well.
Our friends naturally flip in and out of Cymraeg because the community is so mixed and their desire to be inclusive is very strong. I often ask them to keep speaking Welsh and not to switch to English for my benefit as I need to learn.
Hi Hannah - I’m really sorry you had this negative experience - it’s certainly true that there are negative attitudes towards the language from some people (often driven by a belief that it’s somehow not a normal language, but only used to exclude people deliberately, in a way they don’t imagine ‘normal’ languages like French or Italian being used).
Would you mind one thing, though? Would you mind changing the word ‘hatred’ in your title and in your post? I think it’s important - now more than ever - for us not to polarise, not to use language that itself steers us towards strong emotional responses - so if you could perhaps change it to ‘negative attitudes’, I’d be very grateful…
It’s something I’ve heard quite a lot from my fellow English people. There’s a bizarre and yet quite widespread belief that people only speak Welsh to exclude English speakers. When I was talking the other day about learning Welsh, a Scottish acquaintance said he’s surprised that there are any Welsh speakers at all. When I first moved to Wales, I met someone who said that until she moved here she thought Welsh was a tourist language - that it was used as a novelty to entertain holidaymakers, similar to when you go to a reconstruction of a Victorian village or something.
I’m not sure where these ideas come from, but as an English person I can say that they’re not uncommon. If I have to listen to one more person saying they went to a pub in Wales where everyone suddenly switched to speaking Welsh to spite them, I’ll…well, I’ll just roll my eyes wearily and correct them like every other time (the pub folk were already speaking Welsh, but probably with the odd English word mixed in, because that’s how it goes).
I read an article not long ago that argued it’s better to try and gently but firmly correct these misconceptions than to get angry. Education, not confrontation.
This reminds me of one of the Welsh strands in my family tree. The Lloyds were from tough mining stock and, allegedly, didn’t suffer fools gladly.
In the early 1900s my great grandfather came over the border, presumably to escape the inevitable life down a mine, because his father had been killed in a mining accident. He married an English girl just over the border but they always returned to Wales when a child was due.
The story goes that when receiving English guests they would happily talk to them in English, but if they didn’t like them revert to Welsh!
The above linked article rings true in that they conversed amongst each other in Welsh on a day-to-day basis and didn’t even think about it when they crossed back to Welsh from English because it was just natural and they didn’t realise they were doing it.
I’ve loved Wales for many many years and despite only really trying to learn Welsh properly for the past couple of years (thanks SSIW), I have always been interested/fascinated with the language. When I was in my mid/late teens, I would travel with a friend,camping, hitch hiking or cycling and we’d go ‘Borrowing’ around Wales! This was the term we used penned after the writer George Borrow. I remember stopping at a farm in LLanddona (Sir Fon) to ask if we could camp. The farmer instructed his son (in English) to take us to Cae Canol, (the name of one of the fields). I assumed their use of English between them was for our benefit, but on querying the son (early teens), I was so disappointed to learn that he did not speak Welsh. They spoke English together as a family, but whether he knew more Welsh than he was admitting to I don’t know. That area of Angelesey around Biwmaris has been rather anglicised for a long time I guess. I assumed farming folk would be different. Anyway, the whole point of that stori bach is the contrast between one persons annoyance at hearing the language, and my disappointment in not hearing it. Friends have also related the story of going into the welsh pub etc. When my sister in law recently did the same, I just said ‘Oh I’d love it if they all started speaking Welsh when I walked into the pub’! And I really would, and these days, I’d hope to join in, (at least to pass the time of day).
I’ve never experienced negativity, but I have had to deal with “Why not learn a useful language, like Spanish?” and my reply is always “I go to Wales about once a month. It’s an hour away by car. I’ve never been to Spain and I’m not likely to any time soon!”.
I was going to write an answer based on my experiences but essentially it boiled down to how much energy it’s cost me to engage with these arguments on social media. I have deleted twitter because I can’t stop myself engaging in arguments with accounts that push negative ideas about the Welsh language.
So instead i plough that energy into speaking Welsh with my son
When I went on the Cymdeithas yr Iaith weekend in Caernarfon I was chatting in the Black Boy with Archie from the band Celt, who writes comedy for TV. He mentioned that old chestnut, so I mentioned the Dim Byd sketch: oh yes, he said – “I wrote that one.”
I keep telling people that I’m learning Welsh and expecting them to be pleased/encouraging, but they tend to be displeased and discouraging. I have decided to just put my effort into learning the language and remembering that I am learning it so that my baby daughter will learn Cymraeg. I also try to think of the Welsh friends who taught me a few Welsh words who were proud of their language. There is a lot of weirdness in my family about Cymraeg because my dad grew up right on the border of North Wales. He attended a Welsh high school before the language was taught in schools so he did not learn Welsh. He seems to have a rather negative attitude toward the language which is really disappointing. I’ve decided to try to stop worrying what the older generation of my family thinks and just work on learning Welsh so the younger generation will have the language. I am tired of friends telling me, “the Welsh language is too hard for anyone to learn”. sigh I don’t cope very well with the negative attitudes, but I do follow some Indigenous people who are learning their respective Indigenous languages and they inspire me to keep learning Welsh.
It’s a shame you’ve had that experience. The worst I’ve had is puzzlement from my English relatives (“people speak that?” etc). Most of my Welsh friends and colleagues are really pleased that I’m learning. Of course, I’m lucky in some respects, in that I live and work in the Gwynedd area, which has quite a high concentration of Welsh speakers, so people appreciate me making the effort.
I think it’s easy to assume that Welsh would be hard to learn, because it’s so different from English and the biggest of the European languages (French, Italian, Spanish and even English have similarities to each other because they all come from Latin to some extent. Welsh doesn’t.)
Certainly I always thought it was going to be insanely difficult, but learning to speak it conversationally isn’t as hard as people assume.
My dad finally said that he thinks it is great that I’m learning Welsh. I think his attitude changed after we had a good conversation about why I want to learn the language and how he was once in a Welsh class but had a bad experience in that class when he was a child.
That’s brilliant news @joanna-berger
There was so much anti-Welsh attitude/practice in schools for so long - it makes me so sad to hear of it. If your Dad can see what learning Welsh means to you, and the joy it can bring, perhaps one day he might even want to return to it himself. Da iawn i ti - well done you!
And quite apart from learning the SSiW way being so different to how I learned languages at school - the community here is brilliant. Friendly, supportive, caring, fun… and worldwide. I live in England, and the first person I ever spoke Welsh with was in Finland (and yes, Finnish). The next one was in Houston… So that’s Welsh for you - a wonderful language connecting people across the world People you can connect with both here and on Slack…
I think it’s lovely that you’re learning so that your baby daughter can learn Cymraeg too - something special for you to share, and also to give you that extra connection to Wales and her past, as well as her future. Enjoy the journey - laugh, have fun with it and make friends.