The ups and downs of learning Welsh

I had a rare night to myself on Saturday and , to cut a long story short I ended up at a house party on Ynys Mon . Everyone there was speaking Cymraeg which was great apart from one big problem . As I listened to everyone talking I realised I couldn’t understand a single word they were saying ! Normally I can understand enough of what is being said to be able to chip in with the conversation every now and then. Admittedly I am never usually the life and soul of the party but that night , due to my refusal to be the only person there bringing the conversation in to English I stood there in near silence all night . As I watched everyone having a brilliant time partying through the medium of Welsh I got more and more frustrated as I thought to myself , all the hard work I’ve put in these last 8 months have been for nothing as these are the situations and people with whom I really want to communicate with in Cymraeg. Although they understood everything I said to them in Welsh one girl commented "you sound strange when you speak Welsh because we don’t say it like that "
On the way home the next day I felt so disheartened that for the first time I seriously considered giving up learning Welsh. I questioned the learning method , the point in learning Welsh and also if it is even possible for me to ever learn a second language successfully .
I’m glad to say that after the hangover had cleared on the Monday I woke up with a new determination that I wouldn’t be beaten. I had come too far to give up now. I got stuck straight back in to SSIW .
I’m glad to say that today has been in stark contrast to Saturday night. This morning I went for a panad at a local cafe and sat in there speaking Cymraeg for around half an hour . I understood nearly everything they were saying and the conversation was flowing quite naturally . I’m not sure if they even guessed I was a learner and to top it off I joined in with another Welsh conversation at the school gate .
My confidence , although still dented is starting to return . I’m not sure what happened on Saturday night where it literally felt like I had gone right back to the beginning . Is the Cymraeg spoken on Ynys Mon really so different to the Cymraeg I hear elsewhere ? One thing is for sure learning Welsh is one hell of a rollercoaster ride


Sam, your welsh is very impressive, so don’t be downhearted. I imagine if you did a test on communication you’d come out scoring well as a first language speaker.

A long time ago i was in Scotland and during a night out struggled to understand anything in English!!!


Diolch Pete but I am a million miles away from being considered as a 1st language speaker. Just to reach the level of competent second language speaker one day would be great

Try it. I came out as entry level 3…,nothing to shout about but your welsh is better than mine!

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Interesting test, but what on earth does the test result mean, no info at all on what you get right or wrong etc - I found it a bit of a challenge and definately got at least a few of them totally wrong, because I honestly didn’t have a clue and it said you may be working towards entry 3 - which means precisely what??.

This happens sometimes - it can be for a bunch of different reasons, from tiredness to new accents to several not-very-clear speakers in a crowd - it’s particularly likely to happen in noise circumstances where lots of people are talking at once (there’s no tougher linguistic situation than that!) - so don’t give it any weight at all as a marker of your progress. It’s a down blip.

The fact that you could speak Welsh easily for half an hour in a normal conversation is all the evidence you need to know that you’ve already achieved a HUGE amount. As Pete said, there’ll be nights when you find a group of people you struggle to understand in your first language - Catrin and I were watching Constantine the other night (it’s a silly tv show with people from Newcastle, demons and Americans) and I said I wished we could stick some subtitles on…

As time goes by, you’ll run into that kind of situation less often (because you’ll keep on getting better at dealing with different accents and predicting the bits of sentences that you don’t hear) - and the more conversations you throw yourself into, the faster that time will pass… :slight_smile:


Thanks for your advice Aran . I will of course put it down to a blip and just part of the learning process. I have to say that it’s nice having this forum as a place I can get the advice and encouragement I need from time to time. Onwards and upwards :slight_smile:


If you haven’t tried it, you might try watching “Rownd a Rownd”, which is made and set in Ynys Môn. I don’t know if the gog accents on the programme are authentic to the area, but they are definitely challenging. (There are some “southern” characters on the programme as well, but I think you would soon spot them).

On Clic, you can find both Welsh and English subtitles for it.


Diolch Mike I have seen Rownd a Rownd a couple of times and quite enjoyed it . For some reason I can’t get subtitles for s4c on my tele at all

8 months…SSiW is wonderful at bringing us up to a level to prepare ourselves for the real battle -understanding. There is no quick fix to understanding and it comes in waves. I mean this in the politest and most encouraging way possible - don’t be so hard on yourself!!! You will not be able to just flow after 8 months. After double that time and a bootcamp I am having conversations and understanding more and more but I’d be lying if I said it was every word and every conversation.
I watch Y Gwyllt with Welsh subtitles because my understanding isn’t quite at that level. I listen to the radio, it’s not every piece I understand. Far from it! It’s easier when I start a programme at the beginning. Our ears take training and what you did was jump into a boxing match after only a couple of rounds of sparring. No wonder you felt beaten up!!! The thing is, your brain is wonderful and will have started to adapt. Your understanding will have grown from that experience!


Thanks for your advice Anthony . Your right I probably got more out of it than I realised and I did make a couple of new friends there who I was messaging last night :slight_smile: . Understanding does seem to come in waves doesn’t it. Sometimes when listening to radio Cymru I am able to follow the conversation and other times I don’t understand a thing. I bet you got a lot out of the boot camp . I would love to do one one day. I have just booked a week off work for next summer’s Eisteddfod so am looking forward to immersing myself in that. I was speaking to a lady I know who has learned Welsh and actually won the Welsh learner of the year award .I asked her how long it took her to learn and she said that she was speaking and understanding fairly fluently after about 3 years so that is possibly something to aim for


I just nod and smile at parties even in English because I can’t hear clearly enough over the din of loads talking at once, music, background noise etc to make sense of it all!

I wouldn’t worry!


I was in the pub last night with my department (I’m a student at the moment) for end-of-term drinks. These are people I speak with all the time, and lecturers I listen to for hours on end and whose almost every word I can usually understand. For some reason, last night I had to ask people to repeat things over and over - I just couldn’t catch what they were saying. It might have been the noisy atmosphere or (more likely) the Guinness…

But it happens to all of us. Please don’t be downheartened. Most people who have been learning Welsh for 8 months can only manage a couple of greetings and perhaps ordering a panad. You’re doing brilliantly - keep it up!


This is what my less elegant post was trying to say. You’ve done so so so well to be conversing at 8 months. Also, you’re surrounding yourself with first language speakers. That’s a lot harder, but more beneficial, than dysgwyr circles (not a criticism of dysgwyr circles).


Thanks everyone for your advice . It is very encouraging and helpful :slight_smile: . I am very pleased with how well I am doing after 8 months and do sometimes surprise myself but do realise there will be a lot more hurdles along the way . Diolch eto . Much appreciated :slight_smile:


That, as always deserves the same response you’d give someone telling you off for using “daps” instead of “pumps”… Which will of course vary from “meh” if it’s a stranger, to a joking vigorous debate if it’s a best pal or anything in between :wink:

Makes no difference that it’s a second language - unsolicited grammar criticism is worth exactly as much as you paid for it…


I have lived in Scotland since 2003 and I frequently have to ask people if they can say something a different way as I don’t speak Scots. I actually live in Argyll, not a Scots hotspot. Heaven help me in Aberdeen. I failed to understand a single word from a taxi driver there! I presume you are doing the Northern SSiW, @Sam84. Clearly you are doing brilliantly in quieter environments. Maybe alcohol influenced everyone’s diction?


Sam, i’ve been doing a lot of vocab building of late along with the last lessons of each of the courses but recently have started going through the start of the old course three again.

I just dip in and out and find it a great help.


The thing is Sam, when we start out, 8 months ago in your case, 9 years ago in mine, we know nothing. Zilch. Zero percent of this strange and wondrous thing called Cymraeg.

In 8 months you have have learned a certain percentage of the vocab, and a larger percentage of the grammar. You can control what you say. I can control what I say.

What neither of us can control is what part of the language we hear and what those around us say. We understand other learners more easily than mamiaith speakers because as learners we have a smaller vocabulary, but it is drawn from the same, smallish pool of words, and we speak more slowly.

Go off to a party and there are all sorts of difficulties. Lots of people using their wider vocabulary and the grammar we haven’t learned yet. Lots of people speaking at once. Alcohol may loosen inhibitions in talking but I’m not sure if it helps in understanding more.

I find one to one conversations on the radio, in general, easier to understand than group conversations. Face to face is easier than phone conversation. Am I interested in the topic? Put me in a room of rugby conversation and I won’t understand much because I wouldn’t understand it in English either. Which is why Radio Cymru is sometimes such a disappointment. If I wouldn’t listen to it in English, and there is only so much Happy Birthday to Granny I need to know, why would I want to waste time on it in Welsh. That’s not to say there isn’t interesting stuff there, but there is quite a lot that simply doesn’t do it for me.

So the advice, if there is any I can offer, is pick your battles. A party of Mamiaith speakers is quite a battle. A one to one with someone you know and like, about things you share in common, with someone who is prepared to help, will help build your confidence. And confidence builds confidence. As your panad conversation the next day shows. Pick your battles, or at least go into them not expecting to understand much and then being surprised by what you do know.

Just think where you were 8 months ago and think about the enormous distance you have come. Da iawn a Dal ati.


Just to add to this Sam…i’ve done the first 17 lessons of old course 3 this week. Still not perfect but a hell of an improvement from five months back.

To be honest i had forgotten a lot that i haven’t been using but apart from the odd mix up it was so much better, both in terms of fewer mistakes and speed of translation etc.

I’m sure you will look back on this as just one of those moments that allowed you to refocus.