Some feedback on SSW experience so far

I have spent the last six weeks or so working my way through the Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Challenges, and thought it was time to provide some feedback. I am not sure how useful or interesting this will be to other people, because I am probably not quite the typical learner (if there is such a thing), in that a very long time ago I did study a certain amount of early Welsh as part of my degree course. I have long been aware that a lot of good things have been said, written and sung in the Welsh language since the scribes of the Mabinogion put down their quills, and have often meant to return to the language, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across the SSW course last month that I finally felt inspired to do a bit of catching up. I must say it has been great fun and just what I needed. Has my grounding in Old and Middle Welsh been of any help? Well, not much directly, to be honest. For one thing such memory of it as I retained was buried pretty deep, for another there was never any emphasis in my course on what the language actually sounded like, and then of course there is the fact that while Welsh has not changed as much as English over the centuries, I suspect that if a 14th century Welsh speaker were to be transported to the 21st century and plonked down among a group of people talking away in modern colloquial Welsh, there would be quite a lot he didn’t understand, though I’m sure Aran would soon have him up to speed and chatting about tipyn o bel-droed ar y teledu.
But I think I must have retained some feeling for how the language is structured, and even a certain amount of vocabulary, because while it has often been challenging to follow what is said on the course, it has not seeemed alien. In a way it has been like doing a large aural jigsaw, with a gratifying sense of accomplishment each time a piece falls into place: ‘ah, so that’s how you pronounce such-and-such a word’. So I have rather bombed through the lessons, and Aran should be pleased to know that I have so far made it without ever using the pause button or going back. But I will say that I might well have been a bit lost without a) the vocabulary lists and b) a certain amount of supplementary reading. I know that Aran and Iestyn want us ideally to learn the language in the natural way that children learn, becoming fluent speakers before they have any idea of the written language, but I can only say that personally I seem to learn much more easily when I can ‘see what I’m saying’, and I experience a mild panic when I can’t do this. Fortunately there is so much repetition in the course that sooner or later most things click into place and I do get a visual to match what I am hearing.
I don’t know what others do, but I have been counting it as a sort of pass mark if I haven’t finished one sentence before the next sentence comes along but know that I would have been able to given another ten seconds or so. I have had no problem with the short one-clause sentences, but at least on first hearing, often when I have to string two or three clauses together, then by the time I’ve assembled a bit of syntax in my head and got halfway through the response the blighters are off again with the next bit. This is not quite satisfactory to me, so what I have done now is start a consolidation exercise, working my way through the ‘old material’, and have now got to the end of the first set of the old Lessons. So far this material has now seemed very easy and I have had no trouble giving 100% accurate response well within the time, bar forgetting to make the occasional mutation.
The whole ethos of the course is one of encouragement. This is great, of course: we all need to be encouraged. The only thing is there is a bit of a danger of raising false expectations. I know something of what it takes to be fluent enough in a language to understand conversation at normal speed, to read a newspaper or novel with only occasional recourse to a dictionary, to appreciate a poem or understand the words of a song when you hear it, and my feeling is that if we are being totally honest, then to complete the SSW course as it stands is to walk the first mile of a hundred mile journey. It’s a very important first mile, of course, that puts the basic structures firmly in place, and the rest is largely a matter of vocabulary and idiom. But there is quite a lot of vocabulary and idiom in Welsh!
Which brings me on to Aran’s recent request for input on what further material we might like to see on SSW. I feel that in my case my ability to understand the spoken language still lags a long way behind my ability to understand the written, so I would certainly welcome any audio accompanied by a transcript. A short story would be good, for example – I find things stick more the more interested you are in what is being said. I have also been looking at the preview of the Neil Rowlands parallel.cymru site, and this is just the sort of thing I need for a painless extension of my vocabulary.
One question: at the outset I chose to do the South course; it was just a toss up really. Since my main motivation is to ‘get at’ Welsh song, poetry and literature in general, I am wondering whether it would have been more sensible to begin with the North course – I don’t want to start a civil war, but I have a vague idea that more in this vein has beeen produced, and perhaps continues to be produced, in the north than in the south. Of course, I can always do the North course as well, but perhaps it would be best to leave it a while till the southern Welsh is firmly rooted? – does anyone have experience of doing both courses, and how confusing did they find it?
Thanks for reading this far if anyone has!

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Welcome to the forum David :slight_smile:

Don’t let the “learn much more easily when I can ‘see what I’m saying’” get in the way too much. There are many learners who feel the same (I’m one!) but I think it’s more a case of habit - i.e. that’s the way we’ve always done it, and so it feels contrary to believe that we don’t need it. Having said that, it’s not a ‘wrong’ way of learning - the danger is that when you learn via reading without the speech element, you don’t usually come across all the quirks used in colloquial speech which then make you feel unequipped to join in conversations so you don’t get around to speaking it after all (but that’s just my theory based on experience!).

As for North v South … and it’s been said many times before here on the forum! … there really isn’t as much difference as people expect. Yes, there are some words and some constructions that vary, but they won’t prevent you from being understood if you’re speaking whichever phrase ‘at the other end’.
In my own learning journey (before SSiW was born),through circumstances I won’t go into now, I ended up learning both N and S almost simultaneously. Although I’ve been based in the N for some time (I’m originally from the S), I still find a southern word or construction will slip in from time to time (milk will sometimes swing between llaeth and llefrith within the course of a sentence!).
By all means dip into the northern course, as experiencing both will give you a really good footing in the variants of the language. For me, the confusion only comes from remembering which is S and which is N, but it’s a false confusion because you don’t need to - use whichever you’re comfortable with or whichever gets from brain to mouth first and I guarantee it’ll work! :smiley:

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I feel the same way and in fact had two unsuccessful attempts with learning Welsh using SSiW in the early days when there were no vocab lists or example sentences. This time I’m making good progress and I’m pleased to say that my aural skills have improved. I’ve noticed that in the Welsh class I attend, when we’re practising example sentences, I can remember what tutor said much more easily and no longer have to glance so much at the course book to remind me of the words.

However, I would dispute that all children learn their native language by listening. Obviously, for the first 6 years of my life this was so, but as soon as I could read easily, I must have learned far more English via reading than listening. A lot of my friends are the same. It does mean that you often don’t know how to pronounce words because of the vagaries of English spelling. For example it was relatively recently that I realised that the word “segway” (which I’d often heard on the radio) was the same word as “segue” (which I was familiar with from books)! It’s likely that bookish introverts like me are a minority, but we do find it much harder to learn via the SSiW method than “normal” people. :slight_smile:

Oh absolutely. When I was a young reader, I had problems with “procedure”. Somehow (perhaps mild dyslexia? - although I was considered a very good reader), I made this sound like "pro-de-sure. Then eventually I cottoned on to people saying a word that sounded like “pro-seed-yer”, and for a while, I convinced myself that this was a different word (because how could I -a “good reader” have been wrong about “pro-de-sure”??). Eventually, I had to admit that I had been wrong (about that, and several other words). It embarrasses me still to think about it after more than, er, 50? oh maybe more than 60 years…

Also if you only learn by reading, you are inevitably encouraged to believe that a particular letter combination is always meant to be pronounced in a particular way. This is probably not 100% true in the colloquial speech of any language, but it seems particularly not to be the truth in Welsh.

It’s possibly worth remembering that what we learn on SSiW will be either the dialect of Aran and Catrin, or that of Iestyn and Cat, and that in the wider wild world, there are other dialects out there. This is why we are also given the advice to listen to the speech of those around us (wherever we use Welsh most), and gradually adapt to that.

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Somewhere on here is an audio of a lady with a parrot speaking fluent Wenglish which I commented was what I got used to hearing from behind me on mid-Wales buses years ago. Mixing de and gog, English and Welsh is a life ‘hazard’ of the totally bilingual who all know what the others mean! So, join the club! I have been doing the gog version of ssiw and still preferentially come out with many southern idioms. And only learners get worried about throwing in the odd English word! As to how we learn. i remember learning how to make Dada come out of my mouth when i was inmy pram and I remember learming to read from my Mam reading to me. (I was a war baby and she had her mother cooking& cleaning, so she only had me to deal with! I know i learned words from books and said ‘mishap’ as ‘mi sh ap’ for years before i found out it was the same as a mis hap! (One example of many!) You have been doing very well and I totally agree with your basic conclusion about the need to build vocabulary. if i am to live the rest of my life here in Scotland, I really should give up fretting about speaking Cymraeg and go back to reading, and reading…and reading!

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Margaret there are different types of learners, and some of us do need to see things written down for them to really sink in. I like to look at the new vocab for each challenge, and write it down, then put it to one side and do the challenge. I get on with it much better that way.

If you’re thinking specifically of ‘learning styles’ here, that’s been widely debunked:

People’s individual emotions, of course, are a slightly different matter - it’s better to go with a less effective approach that you enjoy and will keep up than with a more effective approach that you hate and will give up on, for example… :slight_smile:

Welcome to the forum, Davids! That’s a cracking rate of progress - huge congratulations… :star: :star2: And thank you very much for your input… :slight_smile:

Yikes, no, very much not - it always puzzles me when people talk about SSi as being ‘the way children learn’, because it very, very much isn’t (since children don’t have access to a pre-existing fluent language).

But yes, we do recommend holding off on reading to begin with, because over the years we believe that we’ve seen it leading to a better accent and improved listening skills - but it’s not make or break, of course.

Yes, it usually feels easier with visual input as well - but easier isn’t always better - Dr Robert Bjork on ‘desirable difficulties’ is interesting in this area.

I pride myself on my honesty (Catrin tells me it’s one of my more irritable qualities) - so I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I haven’t met anyone who has done all our materials (and spent some time in communicative situations, like a week at Bootcamp) with whom I would dream of needing to speak English - because they’ve all been capable of maintaining a range of interesting conversations in Welsh.

If someone can maintain a range of interesting conversations in Welsh, and has no functional need to revert to English, I think suggesting that they’ve achieved 1% of the journey is a long way wide of the mark…:slight_smile:

Nope, not particularly - you’ll find you need to adapt to the more formal, written register in most cases (songs excepted), and it won’t make much difference whether you’re coming at that from a southern or northern base… :slight_smile:

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Many thanks for all the feedback, and in particular to Aran for correcting some wrong ideas I had. In particular, let me hasten to say that when I spoke of the first mile in a hundred mile journey, I was in no way meaning to devalue the SSW course. I would say it’s a matter of where you set the finishing line, except of course that when it comes to learning a language, there really is no finishing line. But I am sure that Aran is right when it comes to everyday conversation. I was setting my ‘hundred mile mark’ at the kind of fluency possessed by an educated and well read native Welsh speaker, able not only to speak with perfect fluency but to read the Welsh classics - novels, poetry, drama - with a full understanding and awareness of linguistic registers and resonances. Now that must involve a vast amount of knowledge: if it is like English, and I see no reason to believe that Welsh is any less rich a language than English, then for a start there is the difference between an active everyday vocabulary of perhaps 5000 words and a passive recognition vocabulary of more like 50000 words. Plus all the idioms, turns of phrase, cultural references and general background knowledge that is part of understanding a language properly, and that a native speaker absorbs through many years of linguistic osmosis. This is of course a much greater degree of fluency than most of us either need or can realistically aspire to: Aran is being practical, and I am being impossibly idealistic. But I am sure he will agree that there is no harm in always aspiring to become a bit better than you are, and seeing where that takes you. But I am definitely getting way ahead of myself. Will report back in a few months’ time…

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Thanks Aran, though I’m still a believer in learning styles. Science notwithstanding, I’m a pragmatist, and I am definitely helped by the visual.

@annemarcellarayment, I think visually. If I can’t picture something, I find it difficult to understand it. When I read a novel, I run a mental movie in my head, the words just serve as the instructions for the visual scene. When I want to understand concepts, I need diagrams, graphs etc. I also need time to reflect on what I’m learning so I can fit new knowledge into my existing knowledge framework (reflective, visual thinker and learner). I am very bad at taking in information verbally and failed my first attempt at doing a degree the traditional way but succeeded when I did OU years later as a mature student because I could work through at my own pace, engaging with the written materials and stopping to think about things before moving on to the next bit.

The Welsh course that was the break though for me was not SSiW (sorry Aran!) but a course that had parallel text, Welsh/English AND a CD of all the stories so we could listen over and over again between classes. In class we practised listening, speaking and reading, we mimed sentences to help the words stick. The tutor believed very firmly in teaching us to speak with as good an accent as possible.

I’m probably already a fluent Welsh speaker by Aran’s standards, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough. At least I became good enough at understanding Welsh so my Welsh work colleagues were happy to discuss work in Welsh around me, knowing that I could understand. My lack of fluent Welsh didn’t stop it from being a Welsh speaking work place and make everyone turn to English to avoid excluding me. They would speak Welsh and I would reply in English and it worked OK. But I couldn’t do my job as a lecturer in Welsh, though I would have loved to get to that stage. Ironically, now I’ve retired, I finally have the time and mental energy to push on and get to the level I want.

Having said all that, I would like to try learning a language from scratch with SSiW, just as an experiment. But for any other language, my goal would be set much lower because all I would need would be the sort of language needed on a holiday and casual chat with people you might meet while abroad.

Yes I think I’m exactly the same type of learner as you. At school I struggled with algebra until my teacher (who obviously DID believe in learning styles) turned 'a’s and 'b’s into alligators and babies and gave me funny little scenes to visualize. Like magic, the penny finally dropped!
I’m just doing this for fun, not work as I’m retired. I like languages and find learning them relatively easy. I’ve always loved the sound of Russian. I’d like to learn that one day, but for now, as I’m living in Wales, this is convenient as there are plenty of classes which I suspect must be heavily subsidized by government as they seem quite cheap which is handy if you don’t have much income.

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Just offering my opinion - not claiming it has any greater validity than yours (except where it relates to what my own intentions were or weren’t…:wink: )… :slight_smile:

Yes, it certainly does, and it counts me out for Welsh (although I’d claim to be there or thereabouts for that level of usage in English).

But when you talk about ‘full understanding and awareness of linguistic registers’ you sound to me as though you’re describing the kind of usage that, in English, I would see as requiring familiarity with thousands of texts - and that takes decades in any language. There’s certainly no harm in aspiration - but given how easily many learners are put off, and how quick they are to believe that confident conversational usage requires years of work, it’s probably important for us to emphasise that this kind of aspiration is to something above and beyond being able to speak Welsh… :slight_smile:

Belief systems are personal, so that’s none of my business… :slight_smile: But we do know that ‘finding something helpful’ and having improved results are not linked in a straightforward, causal manner - although I’d be extremely interested if you’ve done any detailed measurements of your language learning achievements with/without visual input.

Broadly speaking, everyone who is neurologically typical thinks visually - there are all sorts of ways that visual techniques can strengthen memory, and we clearly process visual memories in different ways to other memories - researchers have even identified what appear to be location-specific neurons in the hippocampus, which is probably why London taxi drivers who’ve passed the Knowledge have larger hippocamp…i? uses? than ordinary folk.

It makes sense in evolutionary terms, of course - location and parsing/recalling visual information must always have been very valuable for survival.

Language seems to operate differently - of course, people can use visual techniques to help with words that cause particular difficulties, and memory palace techniques for larger scale acquisition - but it also seems that these are not a prerequisite, and that non-visual language learning can be very effective - and possibly faster than visual approaches.

Please don’t misunderstand - I’m not engaging in this conversation with you to try and change your mind. I respect people’s right to their own beliefs.

I’m concerned about other learners on here - because a great many of our most successful learners came to us originally with the belief that they needed reading and writing and grammar and ‘learning styles’ to be successful - and found it difficult to let go of those concepts, but were very successful when they managed to (sometimes when they had not had previous success with language acquisition).

So while we’re always happy for people to discuss their own personal preferences and beliefs, we do also try to make sure that we describe the SSi alternative approach so that we don’t leave any of our learners to think they’re doing something wrong by following our advice… :slight_smile:

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This isn’t a ‘belief’ or part of a ‘belief system’ - that makes it sound almost religious! It is my experience. Belief and experience are two different things. Neither am I being prescriptive, just saying what works for me. I don’t expect it to work for everyone, I certainly am not suggesting your SSi approach is wrong or inferior, and it would be arrogant of me to suggest that only one approach to language acquisition is valid. I have made no comparative study of visual input vs non-visual, and although I managed to acquire A levels in French and Spanish using combined inputs, with relative ease, I attribute my success not to the learning method but to my own natural ability. I am completely open to the SSi approach, and don’t dispute your claims.

Wps, well, I must plead guilty to having promoted something like that theory from time to time. I do take your point about adults having access to a pre-existing fluent language. Nevertheless, I think there is still a grain or two of truth in the idea that the SSiW method encourages a more natural approach to the language, which has things in common with the way that children learn their first language.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter whether one believes this or not, since the method works, either way.

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For my dissertation for the BA Education degree I completed a few years ago, I did a case study on adults learning Welsh, mostly focusing on the Cwrs Llanllawen. I suppose I was hoping for some sort of “one weird trick” that would unlock the secret to effortless language learning, but basically what my study showed was that as long as they were using sensible methods, those who put in the most study hours learned the fastest and became more fluent.

It also revealed that different people had different goals. Some wanted to read Welsh literature, some even wanted to be able to write Welsh stories and articles. Most just wanted to be able to converse socially with neighbours and Welsh speaking friends while others wanted to be able to speak Welsh to get a better job. So for some SSiW would be enough, but for others it wouldn’t and a mix of resources would be needed because SSiW wouldn’t provide the reading and writing practice.

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I’m sure that’s true, with the proviso that there is a danger of “burnout” if one overdoes it. (Hence your reference to sensible methods). BTW, not saying e.g. 10-day intensives would lead to burnout. I’m more thinking about people who burn the candle at both ends and deprive themselves of sleep, etc.
(Been guilty of that myself occasionally, not necessarily in a language context though).

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There wasn’t much danger of that with the students I was studying! It was more a case of putting in a regular 30-60 minutes a day rather then doing nothing all week between lessons and expecting a 2 hour class once a week to lead to being able to speak Welsh with confidence.

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I know SSiW doesn’t directly teach writing, but do you need teaching once you can speak the language? With Cymraeg being pretty phonetic, you could just go through a few of the SSiW vocab lists to learn what you need in order to read and then read things to learn to write…

Not trying to say that a mix of resources wouldn’t help or that all non-SSiW resources are bad (I haven’t properly tried any, so I couldn’t even say). :smile: I just think you don’t really need courses and teachers and textbooks for every small thing :slight_smile:

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Yup, that’s a fair call - particularly the willingness to make mistakes, which I believe is one of the major advantages that children have…:slight_smile:

On the other hand, the common idea that children learn much faster doesn’t really bear all that much scrutiny…:wink:

That sounds interesting, and I’d enjoy reading it if you would be happy to share… :slight_smile:

I think the match between time and results is very important - one of the key things we do on the intensives is simply to expect people to spend more time studying than on other courses. I think there is also an impact depending on what you spend the time on - in particular, it seems to me that the act of hearing and then speaking is something that we can keep doing for much longer periods of time than some kinds of more traditional learning.

Yes, it’s true we haven’t focused on reading yet - largely because I tend to agree with Novem that people who are literate in one language will be able to adapt that to a new language comparatively easily, once their communicative skills are there. But we have certainly never tried to encourage people to use only SSiW… :slight_smile:

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That pretty much sums up our course on Gower!