Pragmatism in speaking Welsh

I am prompted to write after reading the comments about Bontmaen/Cowbridge and whether Welsh should be published or is spoken there, but I have started a new thread since there is a wider issue I would like to raise. Efallai, we shouldn’t feel that it always has to be wholly one way or un arall. I started a Cymraeg speaking group in Caerloyw/Gloucester, which is attended by several mam iaith speakers from De Cymru, who think nothing of slotting in the odd English words and do it naturally, within the Welsh structure. I met a family from Aberaeron at Y Mochyn Du, cyn yr gem at Stadiwm Y Milleniwm, dydd Gwener, who were happy to order “mushy peas” (although when challenged, they did come up with “pys scrunch” as a translation).
I visited Cowbridge last Summer and tried out my Welsh in a few shops: admittedly most said that they didn’t speak it, but I did hit lucky in a few places, and I would never have known if I hadn’t tried it out. Some of them spoke some Welsh but weren’t fluent and so being prepared to use an English word or add the English word (in brackets) can help one have at least a partially Welsh conversation and engage people. None of them were upset by it. The same happened with the staff at the shop coffee in Yr Sennedd wythnos diwethaf, where one of them was learning and they were happy to be coaxed into saying a few words.
In reverse, the man at reception was fluent but was kind enough to help me out on the parts where I was struggling.
I agree that we shouldn’t be using Welsh as a weapon, but I don’t think one should always have to ask permission or check first if the other person speaks it: pam lai just speak it in a friendly way and make oneself understood with some prompts or clarification in English. I have discovered a lot of Welsh speakers this way, whom I would not have guessed would be and some who aren’t but would like to be.
So, what’s my point? Well, just speak it and don’t be embarrassed or apologetic, but be prepared to compromise to enable people to use what Welsh they have, rather than be too purist about it. Even my secretaries at work (in Gloucester) are now regularly saying “bore da” and ysgrifennu llytherau. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Now I think I’ll get my fix of Iestyn and Cat on Gwers 3, Cwrs 3.
Hwyl Nick


Diolch, Nick!!! I’ve seen and heard Pys Slwtsh used for mushy peas in Pwllheli: On the menu as - *Sgods a sglods â pys slwts/*Fish and chips with mushy peas. It always makes me laugh when I order it…

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You’d have enjoyed the series Ifor ap Glyn did where he travelled around Wales without speaking any English :sunny:

I love the thought of English secretaries in Gloucester saying ‘bore da’ :star: :thumbsup:

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Nick - you hit the nail on the head.

A lot of first language Welsh speakers only speak Welsh to people they know speak Welsh, and in shops especially, will always great in English. Sometimes it heavily accented enough to set off your “Welsh Radar”, but often they can be as English sounding as any English person. Unless you start in Welsh, you’ll miss tens or hundreds of opportunities to speak Welsh. More importantly, less confident Welsh speakers will find it more and more difficult to change the language of a conversation the longer it has been going on, and unfortuantely, many Welsh speakers will happily fall into the “English habit” to the point where they keep on speaking English even when the other person swaps to Welsh. I’ll just speak them into submission (I do it all the time in poor French, so I have no problem doing it in Welsh!), but for someone who isn;t quite sure of their language, or is less pig-headed than me, giving up is often the simpler option.

SSiW will have to have a word with Nike at some stage, and add the motto “Just do it” to all our lessons, because that is the only way that you will speak any language, but certainly a minority language like Welsh.


Relevant quote from David Crystal-

“In actual fact, most people living in a community where there is a small language are already, to a degree, on a continua. Very few people in Wales know no Welsh at all, or in New Zealand know no Maori at all. My Icelandic has actually grown by 300 per cent since Wednesday - I now know three words. It is inevitable that, as soon as you come to visit a community or come to live in it, you start moving on the various continua: you will start hearing the language regularly, you will see it around you routinely. Intuitions begin to be shaped. And people need to have this foetal sense of the small language reinforced. If I were in charge of a marketing drive for Welsh, for example, I would’nt draw a contrast between Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking. That is divisive. I would say: everyone in Walwes uses Welsh. You can’t avoid it. Just by crossing the border, your reading comprehension starts to climb. You are already on the continuum. So, you know one Welsh word? Double your competence, learn another …! Minority labnguage planners need to think positive, not negative: not, how much Welsh don’t you know; but: how much Welsh do you know? And if you need to mix two languages together to make communication work (the phenomenon of code-switching), then mix them!

The number of people round/near here who would use-
shw mae, bore da, nos da, cwtsh, crwt, wus, potsh, cwtsh dan star, shibwns, mam-gu, pais, tshwps, bach, and a host of others while speaking English, not to mention the effect the structure of Welsh has on their use of English,
and then feel quite happy saying that they “can’t speak a word of Welsh!” has often made me feel it is better regarded as part of a continuum!

Yes, using Welsh in the way you describe is important at making it more natural - I feel like a stuck record sometimes saying I was surprised at how many Welsh speakers I found in Swansea after I started learning Welsh, and I grew up near the area.
Anything to encourage Welsh being spoken “in the open” in such places is to be welcomed.


Excellent stuff! I like to slip in a ‘diolch’ or ‘dim ots’ when I’m talking to people, but I might try a few more words here and there, just like the OP.

And David Crystal is ace - he’s the honorary president of my professional society, so I’ve had the privilege of meeting him and hearing him speak on a number of occasions. He has such an interesting attitude towards language.

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For very good reasons, David Crystal is figuring large in the forum nowadays. He also figured in the thread “Equivalence of Tenses in Welsh and English? - Bod versus Oedd”


Even in deepest darkest Lancashire, I quite often come across people (mainly at work, whilst Radio Cymru is playing in the background) who know the odd Welsh phrase. Iechyd da, dioch, dwi ddim eisiau siarad efo chdi, etc :smiley:

It seems people know more about languages than they realise :slight_smile:


David Crystal is fab. I’m a long-term fan.

He’s a bit dodgy on the mathematics front, though…:wink:


Not at all. He obviously only knew three-quarters of one word on Wednesday.
Perhaps “fidril…” for butterfly.


Mr. Crystal is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the Welsh language…

A comment in the comments on the video:
I know a lot of Welsh speakers who don’t tick the Welsh box because they don’t think their level Welsh can be called "fluent”.*

Chatting with Ifor ap Glyn:


While staying in the heart of Y Fro Gymraeg I asked a shopkeeper one morning : “oes papur newyddion o heddi yma”?. She looked pained at my mistake over ‘newspaper’, but said half-smiling ‘Wrth gwrs’ but she may have said ‘of course’, of course! I wasn’t quite sure!

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Warning: horrible negative post coming up!

Now I wouldn’t dream of walking into a shop in Cowbridge and starting off in Welsh because of the high likelihood that the other person didn’t speak Welsh, and the danger that they would take it as some kind of politically motivated implied criticism. Especially after the recent exchange of letters in the Gem. (From that point of view, it’s somehow easier for a “language tourist” from England or overseas to breeze in and have a go than for people who live just down the road.)

I’m not sure if that is being a bit oversensitive - but it’s the sad fact that many English speakers in Wales do feel excluded by Welsh language culture, and feelings can run quite high about it. It is by definition exclusive - and people get heated about the idea of “jobs for the boys”. I was in two minds about the issue myself when we were deciding whether to send the kids to the (excellent) Welsh school. In the end, we thought it was better to be in than out, although some aspects of the whole thing are a bit uncomfortable.

The 9 year old that lives next door to us groans loadly when he hears anything in Welsh and refuses to take part. Although he has to do quite a lot of Welsh at his English-medium school, he has already learnt that it’s threatening and demoralising, and his basic attitude may have been set for life.

Despite the admirable innovations of SSIW, the majority of adults in Britain wouldn’t count language learning as a very attractive sort of hobby. I wonder whether we enthusiasts should be careful not to get carried away with something that can be a sensitive cultural issue.

Sorry about that. :frowning:

Can’t argue with that, though I think that here in - jolly old England - it comes down to the atrocious way second languages are generally taught.
I do tend to start every conversation in Welsh now…Well, since my first Bootcamp and hav’nt had any negativity even in Cowbridge. As to exclusion: in the strong speaking Welsh area of south Gwynedd I’d say the locals are very inclusive and welcoming to people moving into the locality…Openly inviting them to take part in the culture.


In Cardiff I have found the Welsh speakers very welcoming. I am still on level 1 and so attempts at conversation are often very slow and wrong however people have been really helpful.
This afternoon in the library we spoke only Welsh even though we had to ask about quite a few words. I know which shops I can practice in and have never received any negative responses.


I’m glad to hear that you both have had only positive experiences, and I’m sure that’s the general pattern. I expect a friendly manner will save most situations - I just wouldn’t personally feel confindent enough to pull it off round here.

It’s sad that it can be a loaded issue, but there’s no point denying it. (And the other way round too, when the local “cymru cymraeg” weren’t available for the silver jubilee street party…)

Oh dear, I’ll shut up now…

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Everyone finds their own balance with this - and it can vary depending on where you are, what day it is, what the weather’s like, what mood you’re in - all the way from not using any Welsh through asking in English if they speak Welsh, or asking in Welsh, or just jumping right in - and there’s no one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way (just like with the language itself…;-)).

You certainly shouldn’t feel you’re doing something wrong by not starting conversations in Welsh - although if you develop the habit of asking if people can speak Welsh, you’ll almost certainly find a few extra places to use your Welsh over the course of time :sunny:


I don’t often open conversations in Welsh to strangers in or around Swansea - only when there is a decent chance for them to be Welsh speakers (for example, a Welsh language music event, or whatever). Outside that, I have to rely on picking up on the pronunciation of words, accent etc before I have a go at trying out a Welsh sentence on them.

It’s not the most efficient way to do it.

Other people do, and I take my hat off to them! When I have done it, or seen it done, to an English speaking monoglot, I have actually never seen anybody offended by it, as it were. At the worst, they can be a little bit flustered for half a second. At best, the conversation can end with a “diolch!”

I’m not saying there aren’t some people who would be offended by it or not like it - but as long as it is done, as Ifor ap Glyn suggests in the link in Aran’s post, with a smile and a in a friendly manner, I think the number of people who would react badly to it does seem to be minimal. Possibly less than I would have thought earlier in my life, in fact.

You very occasionally see some strange sideways glances from some people who even hear Welsh being spoken, but such people seem to me to be very much in the minority!

There is, in my opinion, a vast amount of goodwill towards the language from monoglot (English-speaking) Welsh people. This does not mean they won’t complain about the money spent on it, including jobs - that’s a completely different thing. A very important thing, but a completely different thing. Some people will wax lyrical about, and be genuinely uplifted by hearing their grandchildren or nieces speak Welsh, and go to Welsh speaking Schools, but will complain bitterly about money being spent on translation, jobs, etc. Two different things.

[I can’t speak about the attitudes of nine year olds. :wink: It’s an important issue, but not one which I have enough experience of to form an opinion. :wink: ]

In some ways, I think the point of the thread, and what David Crystal was saying, is that that is far from the case! Most - no, all! - Welsh people have at least one foot in the door already! Perhaps it’s just a matter of coaxing it out and extending it.

If that can be done in a friendly manner, in my limited experience and in my opinion, there would be far more good will than ill will towards any attempts.

I do understand, however, (and unfortunately, share!) the reluctance of someone to start every conversation with every new person the meet in Welsh, to see if they speak Welsh. It takes a deal of confidence, and to me, doing that in my own country would be a little like changing the language I use when speaking to my close family - it can be done, but will not feel natural - at first!

I think that is the idea though, (of this thread, as it were.) Not to start off with the idea of seeing whether the conversation will be all in Welsh, just use more Welsh in the conversation!

As I say, you could drop a hell of a lot of words and phrases into some conversations with some “monoglot” English speaking Welsh people round here before they even realised what you were up to! :wink:

Use those. Use a bit more. Use Wenglish more. And hit on the level both speakers are comfortable with.

Am I going to do that? I have no idea.
But it sounds like a Good Thing to me!

[Edit, as often happens with my rambling messages, Someone else posted while I was typing. So just to say I agree with what Aran said in a much shorter message :wink: ]


Thanks for your contribution, netmouse - I understand entirely. There is (as always!) a flip side to your point:

Until fairly recently, non Welsh-speakers could go about their lives blissfully unaware of the existence of the Welsh language, hence the horror of some now as the language becomes more visible (even though less used!). The problem with some of the extra visibility is that it is still not really a social norm to start conversations with strangers in Welsh, which means that “starting in Welsh” is very often done as a politcal act, sometimes in a negative way. If I’ve understood correctly, the idea that you will perceived as one of these political animals (with all the baggage that comes with it) is what is holding you back from starting more conversations in Welsh.

Now comes the flip side: Of course, the more people like you start conversations in Welsh, the more it will be perceived as “normal” rather than an act of revolution. The probem is, the “revolution” is actually in getting “normal” people to do such a thing!

As Aran says, everyone finds their own balance with this: Like everything to do with learning and using a second language, this is an entirely personal thing, and no-one can be criticised for whatever route they take - it has to be the best route for you. As long as the route is taking you where you want to go, then no-one can complain!

So, enjoy the awareness that you have of one of the many complications that face Wesh speakers on going about their everyday life. Half (maybbe, probably more) of the fun of learning another language is gaining an understanding of the culture that goes with it!


…and what a complicated one… It would be nice to just be able to go out and talk it!

I guess it boils down to deciding to make that your identity, and I haven’t quite got to that point yet! Question of critical mass I suppose, but we’re so far off it round here.

Always problems with positive discrimination I guess…

I agree with everything really Owain!