I have been learning Welsh for awhile now and I have a hard question: How do respond to others being dismissive of the Welsh language? I was watching “Hinterland” (English language version) tonight, for example, and a loved one was almost defensive about how people actually speak English in Wales, because they all know English. When I tried to counter that it depended on the area, I received a rather sharp, “Where were you in Wales? What did they speak there?” I finally said (perhaps not very gently) that speaking Welsh there depends on context and situation.
For those in Wales: When I was in Swansea, most people I met there were supportive of me learning the language. The only two people who weren’t (an English woman and a Welsh man) expressed contempt for a dying language.
Has anyone else found that learning the language was divisive among family and friends? Any suggestions about how to gently counter opposition?
I have had largely positive or politely interested responses on the whole, with the notable exception of some people from a firm in Abertawe that I work on a project with. They are Welsh and learnt Welsh at school, but were completely dismissive of the language’s relevance. I was saddened, and went on to talk about the week I spent on Pen Llŷn at bootcamp, and the unveiling of an almost hidden world of culture and tradition that we all experienced, it made no difference, but I at least put up some opposition to their dismissiveness. Amongst my English friends and relatives, the vast majority are interested. Around my village I am probably known as the nutter who walks around speaking some weird language out loud, and gives them the occasional P’nawn da.
My advice would be to ignore the nay sayers and dal ati. There is little joy to be had in having to justify what you are doing to all and sundry.
My advice would be to ignore the nay sayers and dal ati. There is little joy to be had in having to justify what you are doing to all and sundry.<
Stu’s spot on here and I think it’s that good old thing that if you’re slightly ‘different’, some people find it hard to cope. That’s not your problem to deal with in my view. My reaction to someone having a bit of a go is to get them to try a bit of Welsh on the grounds that it’s not hard, it’s interesting and it just might get you a pint more easily in most pubs in Gwynedd. It’s amazing how drawing people in kills off the daft questions.
Like Stu, I am also that ‘nutter’ who goes round speaking Welsh and occasionally drops out of English. No-one minds. Last week, when I was calling my dog up (in Welsh) and English man asked me to explain to the dog that he wasn’t going to kill him. I told him that he could tell the dog himself in English or try it in Welsh, we had a bit of a laugh, a word about what language dogs usually speak and that was that.
Deeply insulting question to most native speakers, I would guess… But one that crops up all too often in areas where the language is not part of everyday life.
My family has been deeply divided over this issue. My elder brother and I did not have access to welsh as a second language course while in school…let alone the option of attending a welsh medium school. My considerably younger brother and sister did however, and went to ysgol gwynllew in trevethin. This created a real divide in the family ( quite literally at the dinner table). I would guess the same is true around dinner tables throughout the south east where kids go to welsh schools ( though I hope not). It is not usually mom or dad who question the idea of some welsh education ( history, language, music etc) but family friends, or the uncle ( who once tried to learn and gave up) or the older friend who was taught that all things Gymreig were a drag on modern life ( except rugby of course), or the ‘closet imperialist’ who has little positive to say about wales or welsh people in general (although they may live there). Actually this latter type, though not often heard, loathes pethe cymreig---- possibly because they see it as a real threat, or do not understand it all.
On the other side of this there is the joy that you get from being able to connect with a culture at a deeper level; The sense that you get that you are part of something positive and constructive, maybe even the sense that you are saving something in danger of being lost.
Maybe your motive is sometimes just academic ( some really love the intricacies of the language)!
Maybe it’s practical ( for use in work). Maybe it’s social ( a way to meet interesting people). Maybe it’s benevolent ( I want to support the community).
Maybe there is no logical reason.(it is about passion)
Perhaps it is because you think that philosophically you should support a life beyond tolerance and actually celebrate our differences.
Maybe you do not need any justification at all… You are free to learn and that freedom should not be questioned…
For me it is a belief in the afterlife.( sounds strange I know… I don’t mean religiously necessarily). I choose to spend my time and energy in ways that I hope will leave the world a better place. In some small ways this means leaving our children with a culturally richer, not poorer place to inherit. Those who begrudge you learning welsh perhaps have a different view? I wonder what their world would look like?
Perhaps others have better ways of answering that all to popular question; why bother? These are just my ramblings.
Shak and Simon,
Diolch. Much food for thought. Being American and living in Tennessee, I’m glad I found SSiW.
Also, I reckon that if I keep going with the Welsh courses and keep a light touch when my relative starts in (which is not often, and she is mostly supportive-- I’m not sure why the hostility, except that to her things must be “practical”), perhaps I can disarm the hostility with humour, accomplishment, and kindness.
if it helps at all, you’re right about where you are in Wales! We have recently moved from Barry to Carmarthenshire. In Barry, Welsh was spoken by a tiny minority that composed of a lot of people who didn’t come from Barry and those that had a Welsh education. In Carmarthenshire, Welsh is every where, and I am so happy to say I hear Welsh as much, if not more, than English. I have been able to use my Welsh with all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, and there is a real passion for learning the language here. Hope you continue to enjoy learning Welsh, no matter why you’re doing it, or what anyone else say xxx
Honestly, I seem to be getting a mix of shock and embarrassment from Welsh people who don’t actually speak the language - mostly that an Englishman speaks it better than they do. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was actively hostile to me speaking Cymraeg, but I do get some ribbing from my friends back in England for learning “a dead language”.
My husband (born and raised in Barry) is fairly anti-Welsh language, but he’s had to tone the attitude down as he knows that I enjoy studying it. But all of his mates are really impressed that I’ve learnt Welsh (as an American) and say that they wish they spoke some Welsh whenever I see them. (Not that any of them actually want to study Welsh, they just want to know it, if that makes any sense)
I know this is an old thread, but I’m new here, and would like to add my thoughts:
One of the earlier sentence exchanges in course 1 was something like: “Pam wyt ti’n moyn siarad Cymraeg? Dw i’n moyn siarad Cymraeg achos dw i’n hoffi siarad Cymraeg.”
And that’s really all there should be to it. Why do some people like to watch football? Why do some people like to swim? Why do some people like to do crossword puzzles? You shouldn’t have to really explain things like that beyond that you like to do them. And speaking Welsh falls into that category. If people see learning to speak Welsh as a chore with no benefit, that’s their loss, but they should accept that many people simply enjoy learning and speaking Welsh.
Take a look at this news item, and at the comments, some positive and some quite hostile to Welsh. I wonder why English schools within reach of Wales don’t offer Welsh as a language, it would be so accessible and more parents could afford to pay for the school language trip.
In Welsh regions it should be done as it is in our country with minorities (although I’d go even more progressive) There are bilingual schools where all subjects are taught in both (Slovene/Italian and Slovene/Hungarian) languages. Wales (Cymru) is your country so it should be no question if there’s Cymraeg taught in schools or not. You’re the (proud) nation so you deserve to have and use your (beautiful and interesting) language everywhere.
And, I’d never accept the reaction prompting about “dying” language. It might be I would rather not even respond to such reaction but just turn around and go away because from my experience, a language (any language in that matter) can’t be defended “gently”.
I did take a look at the article, and found the statistics a bit confusing. Is the decline measured as a percentage of the number of language students relative to the total number of students per year? A sentence like this one: “In 2005, 12,826 children studied a language at GCSE, but by 2014 the number had fallen by a third to 8,601.” leads me to believe that the article may not have taken into account the total number of students in each year, which can lead to misleading results.
According to the stats published by the Government of Wales, in 2014 there were 191,279 high school students, whereas in 2004, there were 214,276. That is a decline in absolute student numbers of 22,997, and a decline of about 11% using the 2004 numbers, 12% on the 2014 numbers. So, while there is certainly a decline in foreign language learning, it may not be nearly as much in percentage terms as the graphs in the article suggest. I could be wrong, it is hard to say without further information.
I hope the Welsh government will follow the example of the English government in promoting foreign language learning in primary school, and also that it does whatever it takes to stop the decline in high school foreign language learning.
I was fortunate that my primary school were forward-thinking in foreign language learning back in 1967 when we were introduced to French in a totally conversational and non-grammatical way. I am not sure if we did reading and writing or if that came later on, in secondary school.
Having got grade ‘B’ in French ‘O’ level and grade ‘A’ in Spanish, I can still recall the French better. Maybe that is because of the early start, though I have also visited France briefly and not visited any Spanish-speaking country.
Foreign language learning is of course very commendable, but we need to remind ourselves at this point that Cymraeg is NOT foreign in Cymru. It is one of two languages that officially are supposed to enjoy equal status as languages in which one can live life fully. So there is much to be commended about learning through the medium of Welsh as preferable to simply “bolting on” Welsh as a second language. For those who have sadly missed that boat, catching up is better than giving up, of course.
I believe that many Welsh-medium schools are over-subscribed and there is a shortage of teachers who can teach through the medium of Welsh. I imagine this is even worse for shortage subjects like Maths and Physics, which already have teacher shortages in English medium schools across the UK. Maybe I should take a PGCE (my first degree is in Maths with Physics) but if I am going to do so drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg then I may need a few more months to gwella fy Nghymraeg first.