'Numbers will not save the Welsh language'

Here’s a powerful message in poem form from Joe Healy (originally from Wimbledon, south London,) who won the Welsh Learner of the Year award at the National Eisteddfod in Ceredigion, this summer.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-wales-62483610

What do you think?

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I thought it was ardderchog, powerful stuff.

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Makes me want to weep, makes me want to march.

I’ve met the 16 year old with the Welsh Bacc (even my own son!) who can’t, won’t speak the language. More dangerously, possibly, I’ve met the ‘learners’ who’ve been at it for 20 years, living in the country, county, cwm, and won’t count themselves as siardawyr. Living in the wonderful space created for welcoming learners but not using Welsh outside that space. I’ve failed to be inspired by a ‘learner of the year’ who has been at it for 20 years and am so inspired by Joe Healy. Diolch yn fawr Joe.

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Those of us who have been learning for years and yet have only recently started using Welsh “in the wild” and being confident enough to call ourselves Welsh speakers are not entirely to blame. Back when I first started learning in the late 70s and early 80s, there was a certain type of first language Welsh speaker who was very protective of the “purity” of the language. If you couldn’t speak Welsh perfectly (whatever they meant by that), they would not speak Welsh with you. We also suffered from being taught a form of Welsh that was too formal. It took me a while to realise that when locals said, “Oh, you speak such good Welsh!” it was not a compliment, they meant I sounded like a book.

There was a huge shift in attitude in the early 2000s where styles and content of teaching Welsh for Adults changed and the old guard of native speakers who used Welsh as a literal shibboleth to exclude incomers are no longer with us.

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I’m sorry, I’m being brash again. One of many faults. I too have experienced the (non) compliment. And Welsh native speakers telling me I’m wasting my time. I can’t quite remember how long I’d been learning before I decided I wasn’t going to call myself a learner any more, and the word siaradwr doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or don’t have lots more to learn (although I’m not actively doing anything about it at the moment). But we need to switch that switch, or be encouraged to jump the line far, far earlier in our learning ‘careers’ than we do. There’s a reason why we’re told, at the end of every bootcamp, that we’re speakers now. But that phrase needs to get beyond our ears and under our skins.

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As I said, attitudes have changed a lot and I’m really glad that people who start learning now or who started in say the last 10 years do not have to face the negative attitude to learners and new speakers that we had to cope with. You needed to be thick skinned and determined and not all of us are. However, it’s not just speaking Welsh that’s important. I use Welsh to book a slot at the recycling centre, pay for groceries at the self-service check out, verify that our details are still correct on the electoral roll, and get cash out of the machine outside the bank etc. If these services are not used in Welsh, then businesses will say, “Why did we bother?”

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Absolutely! The only time I will actually use a self-checkout machine in a supermarket is if it’s in a very English-speaking area. Generally something goes wrong and everyone nearby hears Welsh. I used one in Abertawe recently and it was hilarious. It was WAY louder than the other machines and literally shouted Welsh at everyone in the store! :joy::rofl:

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I’m sure the self-service checkout machine in our local Co-op shouts louder in Welsh then when it’s switched to English. I try to use it once a week or so, though I wish it would give me a few seconds more before it starts ordering me to scan another item or pay. Mind you, it’s just as bossy in English, but it’s louder in Welsh.

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We are off to Tywyn on Saturday and I have resolved to seek out these Welsh speaking machines and use them. Will select the option 1 for choices in Welsh on the phone to the castle in the morning.

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Gwych! Let us know how you get on @mairyddraig.

It can be quite nervewracking the first time you go for the Welsh option on a phone call, but if you explain you’re learning and you want to try, in general the other person is very pleased and happy to help you understand. They appreciate the effort you’re making.

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Sounds good and loved his views

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I thought his poem and views were very inspiring. I went to the Eisteddfod for the first time this year and found first language Welsh people very happy to speak a little Welsh with me. I have been going to a Welsh chat every week since May after two years or learning, and this has helped my confidence speaking, and ability listening, as they are all very encouraging. I feel the more I learn the more I feel I don’t know, but thanks to SSin I do consider myself a Welsh speaker now. Outside the group I attend in Cardiff, I don’t have much opportunity to speak as though I have some Welsh speaking friends, they see me only as an English speaker! But I’m plodding on and will try and use Welsh options at cashpoints and supermarkets. That should be fun

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It’s really sad but he’s spot on. I joined a Sylfaen course this year. 3hrs every monday straight after work to compress 2yrs into 1. There were people on the course who learned at School then let it go, there were also people like me, born and raised in England but with some compelling reason to learn the language. Some of those people are lucky enough to live in Wales or in towns with an active Welsh speaking community. I am very envious of those people. I struggle to get an hour a week to practice my Welsh and that us with another learner in England. Living in rural Hampshire leaves very few opportunities to speak welsh. I’m sure the locals wondered what i was saying when i was learning the SSiW lessons, with me chatting away in response the the dialogues on walks down the lanes last summer. Hopefully some of the enthusiasm of those of us with no obvious reason to learn Welsh will motivate those living in Wales that little but more. Unless we use the language learning it won’t be enough.

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What a great poem. It’s strange, isn’t it, these people whose response is “what do you want to learn that for?”. As if language existed only for utilitarian reasons. Those people will never be poets. Dysgu. Ymarfer. Gwella. Byddwn ni’n coleddu a rhanu yr iaith prydferth, a fod yn hapus.

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I have to say that after living in the Basque Country for 2 years, I feel very positive about the situation of Welsh. I see so many people with different reasons for learning it, passionate, heartfelt reasons - Welsh people who feel their heritage wasn’t passed onto them, Welsh people who were ‘taught’ Welsh for years in school who came out unable to string a sentence together, English people who have moved to Wales and love the language as well as the country, and English people still living in England who value and cherish Welsh for being an original language of the British Isles, plus those outside the UK who learn it because they heard it a couple of times and fell in love with it!

Just reading the thread on Why I want to be a Welsh speaker is an inspiration and testament to the myriad of reasons people have.

Sadly, I don’t see that here for the Basque language. A friend told me it used to be that way in the years immediately following the repression of the language by Franco, but now the most common reason for learning is to advance in a career. There seems to be little interest in learning it for other reasons apart from some parents who want to be able to help their children in school. Possibly it might be just that I don’t live in the right area, but I feel the difference with Welsh. It is so important to so many people for so many different reasons that it is bound to survive and prosper into the future!

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This is real food for thought. I’m very early on - due to start Sylfaen in September - and while I can read and write fairly confidently (for my level) in Cymraeg, speaking is my weakest area and I just feel the absolute need to plaster my chest in big all-caps DYSGU badges and to stick with the ‘learners environment’ (and copious use of “dw i’n sori”). Nothing wrong with a good badge, but I also need some big-girl pants, I think. My self-consciousness isn’t helping anything.

I loved Joe Healy’s poem. Cuts deep.

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This is a really good thread about where we have used our Welsh, limited though it may be, out in the wild. The buzz we get from it is incredible! I think that if we reported our real life successes a bit more it would do wonders for our self confidence.

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Here on the streets of Arfon I hear young people, outside of school hours, talking, joking, shouting and - yeah - sometimes swearing too … in Cymraeg. So it really is a community language here for many (indeed for most in some parts) and that feels quite reassuring. But we cannot be complacent because there are increasingly bubbles of space where English can be heard, and in an increasingly dominant role.

I always try to dechrau bob sgwrs yn Gymraeg (start every conversation in Welsh) and cymryd pob cyfle i gario ymlaen yn siarad Cymraeg (take every opportunity to carry on speaking Welsh) … even if it is sometimes at the edge of, or beyond my comfort zone. Though thankfully these days, that zone seems quite spacious, probably thanks to my previous determination to expand it by repeated pushing of its boundaries. It is quite satisfying (if a bit scary) to successfully negotiate the purchase of a house in Cymraeg (back in 2018) and to get prescription glasses (which I am using right now to read the screen as I type this message) from a consultation with the Optician - entirely in Welsh. I believe the glasses were prescribed correctly (in 2020) so I guess I must have succeeded in communicating my visual perception accurately in the Hen Iaith

I sometimes feel slightly torn between the joy of being able to live my life (almost) entirely in Cymraeg (with the exception of talking specifically to non-Welsh speakers) … and wondering if there are places where the language is less safe but needs all the help it can get. I absolutely love living here in Arfon, but if I were able to make more of a difference elsewhere, part of me feels I might be duty-bound to do so. As it is, I do make trips back to North-East Wales, where I took my earlier “baby steps” in using Cymraeg “in the wild” since around 7 years ago … and take every opportunity to encourage new speakers and to show those who lack confidence, that it is entirely possibly to become fluent in Welsh in a relatively short time if you really want to do so. But even more important than being “rhugl” (what is Fluency anyway?) is that you can actually use Welsh as your daily language to communicate with people and live a satisfying life (with all it’s ups and downs) in the process

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Nerve-wracking. Yes. Tried the phone but was wilting by option 8. Still, pressed star to hear the options again. So, understood that much. Hwre. But second time around I still couldn’t decide which option would be best. Never have been good at decision making. So opted for email instead, but in Welsh, of course. But when we arrived I was brave enough to ring the farm to announce our arrival. A bit garbled, I think but seemed to get the message across. The farm family were so lovely and patient with me. Being the only Welsh speaker in the family it was always my job to ring when we needed anything. Out and about I found that bore da or prynhawn da and diolch were amazingly effective and people would speak to me in Welsh. At the station I got all tongue-tied and ended up with ga i siarad Gymraeg. But that worked too. Can’t wait for next time…

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This is where the first S in SSiW is so important. I always describe it as a ‘grammar lite’ method, where reading, writing and grammar are demoted to their rightful place, that is quite low down in the list of priorities. When was the last time, in a conventional course, that we were given a speaking task as homework? If you keep up with SSIW while doing Sylfaen you will fly the course.

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