What advice would you give native Welsh speakers to help you with speaking Cymraeg?

Helo, sut mae pawb?

Dw i wedi bod yn meddwl. I’ve been thinking.

Speaking to learners of any language, especially those who have just started, is a skill.

I’ve often wondered whether there should be more made of this in Wales, a country in which the act of saving the language is always at the front of our minds and it would be in the nation’s interest to do as much as we can to help our learners.

I often hear from students, who’ve tried to have a conversation with a native speaker, that it wasn’t successful because of (enter a multitude of reasons, mainly to do with the fact that the native speaker just doesn’t know how to speak to beginners, although partly to do with confidence on the learner’s side too, which can be knocked down further after an unsuccessful conversation).

I am of the belief that there should be materials available to help native Welsh speakers (who are not teachers or tutors) to know how to encourage and help our Welsh learners. My dad, for example, hasn’t a clue how to speak to beginner learners and will drop into the most thick ‘Rural Cardiganshire Welsh’ that only the sheepdogs and some other local farmers understand, and of which I’ve grown more accustomed to by repeated exposure throughout the years!

The reason why so many native Welsh speakers turn back to English is that because speaking to a learner, if you’re not used to it, requires a different type of conversation skill that they’re just not used to. They want to exchange a message as fast as they can, and many people actually feel a bit rude speaking Welsh to learners as if they were putting undue pressure on them to perform.

There’s a lot more than this though - I think it runs deeper. In Aberystwyth, for example, we’ve been brought up to speak English first in shops in case the person in the shop doesn’t understand Welsh. This doesn’t happen in, say, Porthmadog, in North Wales, so the mindset is different there.

By the way, as you progress through the language, I think that it’s really important to converse with and to be exposed to all manners of accents, dialects and conversational styles, but my main thoughts here are with beginners and early intermediates.

What advice would you give to native Welsh speakers? Have you had any good/bad experiences? What would be helpful?

Diolch yn fawr i chi i gyd!

Mererid (tiwtor Cymraeg ar Skype ac yn y gymuned - and in the community).


Hurrah! Thank you Mererid for raising this topic.
I retired to Aberarth twenty years ago and went on an intensive course at Lampeter which I only managed for a week and got lost in lists of words. I tried to talk to native welsh speakers but only one would try to help and just as you say the local rural Welsh is not understandable to a Sais.
I got the feeling that some didn’t want me to learn Welsh as I was intruding into their private domain. I had a second attempt a few years later but again it was grammar, mutations and lists of words and not until I found SSiW did I feel I was making progress by which time most of my old welsh friends had gone. One old lady refused to use Welsh with me because “She could speak perfectly good English” . By the time I found SSiW she was well in her nineties less alert than she used to be.
Here is a challenge for Arun - a Welsh Learners Course for Native Welsh Speakers


Wow, Mererid, are you reading thoughts? :slight_smile: This is going to be my favourite topic of the year.
I think that the problem most native speakers of the world have is the problem of the choice of words. A learner’s vocabulary is very limited and I feel that this is why we and the native speakers don’t understand each other. Not everyone has the skill to reformulate quickly what was meant to say in simpler words and structures. And not everyone has the patience to do that. I’ve always felt that what we tutors really do is not “teaching” mainly, but providing conversational practice that is suited to the level of the learner and thus makes him/her firmly believe that he can speak/understand the language. It’s a matter of simpler structures and words and of the willingness to keep explaining until the person understands. It helps gain confidence enormously. But we can’t expect from a native speaker to repeat patiently a sentence in 12 different ways until you understand. This is very difficult for both parties.


Sadly in my experience what I get most often when I try to use my Welsh with people is laughter and resolute English. I don’t know if it’s me, my Welsh, or them.

I try to console myself by imagining that a lot of them have only learnt how to say “do you speak Welsh?” in Welsh, and when I reply they feel caught out.


Diolch yn fawr, Mererid! You’ve certainly hit an important nail on the head here.
I’m thinking you could probably lump native speakers into those who want to help and do, those who might want to help but don’t quite know how, those who haven’t really thought much about it but could be ‘nudged’ towards helping, and those who just can’t be bothered or, to be fair might be too busy at the time, to help - perhaps even there may be some who, for reasons of their own, are actively hostile to the idea.
One idea that occurs to me could be for the Comisiynydd y Gymraeg/Welsh Language Commissioner, for example, to promote a sort of ‘code of behaviour’ for those who want to or might be persuaded to help, with the aim of trying to encourage people to accept this as normal and desirable behaviour. I’m thinking of something perhaps along the lines of:
If you are in Wales speaking Welsh to someone who responds in English it’s the responsibility of the English speaker - and, indeed, even a matter of politeness - to make clear either that they don’t understand Welsh or, if they do, that they want you to speak to them in English.
Similarly, if you wish to speak Welsh to someone who responds in English, it’s your responsibility towards the language to start and continue to speak to them in Welsh unless they indicate that they want you to speak to them in English (this could also be relevant to the situation when two Welsh speakers, who might not be sure if the other speaks Welsh, so for convenience start and continue a conversation in English)
I guess some might think this is a bit ‘over the top’, but it does respect individual’s wishes with respect to the language they wish to use


Shwmae Mererid,

For me, working in Cardiff and living in the Vale, the main struggle is to find an actual Welsh speaker to speak to! Trouble is, here in the capital of Wales, people’s attitudes towards the Welsh language is largely negative. I am a bus driver here and I wear my orange “Cymraeg” badge every day. Only drivers have enquired about the actual badge and why I’m wearing it. They speak about how the Welsh language was forced upon them at school and they didn’t really pay too much attention to it, with only one of these drivers saying he wished he did now - not because he particularly cares about the language, but because he feels he wasted an opportunity. Sad really!

Of the passengers that do speak to me in Welsh, it’s normally just a “diolch!” as they get off the bus. The one time I did get a passenger say “bore da” I did respond to him with “bore da, chi’n iawn??” (my spoken Welsh is reasonably good). From this point, he reverted back to English! It is a struggle!!

I do think there are more actual Welsh speakers here than people care to admit, and it’s the attitude of others that dissuade them to use their Welsh more widely.

Slightly off-topic this is, but coming back on-topic, I do agree that there should be resources available for Welsh speakers who wish to help learners, or something that encourages speakers to support learners more. Maybe even to dissuade them from feeling intimidated by those with the negative attitudes towards the Welsh language by encouraging pride in their abilities at whatever level they’re at.
It’s just a matter of finding a strong, catchy hook to kick things off with…


Hi Mererid

You have posed a really important question here!

To any person who is trying to communicate in their own native tongue with someone who is not fluent in that tongue, I would offer three bits of simple advice. Firstly - SIARAD ARAF (speak s…l…o…w…l…y…!), pronounce all your words clearly (don’t “slur and swallow”) and last but not least, don’t use slang or anything similar!

I think this applies in all cases and all languages, and not just with Welsh!

An anecdote: I will never forget, a few years ago when I was in a Tourist Information Office here in England. In front of me in the queue were two couples (Spanish or Portuguese, I’m not sure which) who were looking for accommodation in the area where they would be together and not separated. They had very limited English, but were doing their best.

This is what the Tourist Information Officer came out with (delivered at about 200mph): “Ang on a tick and I’ll give this number a bell and see if they can manage two and two”. Poor tourists! - I ended up “translating” for them from gobbledygook into simple English, which needless to say, did not exactly endear me to the Tourist Information Officer!


A few tips from me:

  1. Don’t finish someone’s sentence for them. If they ask you for a word tell them what it is, but don’t anticipate what they’re going to say and fill in the rest. It makes the learner feel small, and doesn’t help them improve.
  2. Use your imagination. Sometimes a learner won’t get quite the right tense, or might pronounce a word slightly incorrectly. Try hard to work out what they mean from the context rather than just staring at them in confusion. If a learner feels that they’re communicating (even if they’re not getting it quite right) it will give them more confidence and will help them to improve.
  3. Don’t, whatever you do, stop the learner in mid-flow to correct said slightly wrong tense or mispronounciation (unless you have been specifically asked to do so). This is enormously counter-productive.

Simple advice from me would be:

PLEASE speak very slowly and clearly especially when asking learners a direct question when they will also have to concentrate on giving an answer!!!


Hi Mererid, what a great question!

I know that as learners we need to get used to different accents, different dialects and hearing speech at normal speed, but that’s an on-going aim. For an beginner learner, in the immediacy of an actual conversation it would help if the native speaker spoke more slowly and clearly and in as standardised an accent and dialect as possible, in order for us learners to gain confidence.

The other thing that would help is if they could somehow convey to the learner that they are patient - I find myself worrying about how long it takes to reply to something they have said because I have first to work out what they said and then come up with a response using a form I have learned, or work out how to communicate what I want to say given that I don’t yet know the right vocab. If they make me feel hurried or that they are not happy with waiting for me to respond, it really inhibits me.

BTW, I like how you write something simple in Welsh and then repeat it in English - it gives me confidence to see that I understood it correctly :+1:


Great topic @Mererid as you can see from the responses.

Coming from this as one who has no blood-family connection with Wales (and whose connection by marriage is fairly tenuous), I would add that perhaps Welsh speakers don’t quite “get” why a non-Welsh person would even want to speak Welsh.

I can remember on more than one occasion when trying to exchange pleasantries with a Welsh speaker and exchanging the usual stories of where I was born and where my family came from, and it transpired that the expected Welsh connection on my part was not forthcoming, a sort of sparkle went out of the person’s eye and we were no longer communicating as well as we had been.

I have almost been tempted to invent a hen-daid or hen-nain for the purposes of continuing the conversation, but it wouldn’t be any good. I’d be sure to be rumbled. I can’t even lie convincingly in English! :slight_smile:


Oh, how I understand you! And in my case the reason is quite peculiar, I must admit, one that only linguists can sympathize with - I want to know a Celtic language and I want to read ancient and Middle Welsh texts. When I try to explain it I get a feeling that people suspect me of lying to them. I suppose they would understand me a bit more if I said I’m planning to move to Wales or marry into a Welsh family or something, but I’m not very good at deceiving people!


I think this is an important and complicated discussion.

I’ve always felt that suggesting there is a special skill-set needed to talk to learners could be dangerously counter-productive. There are already plenty of first language Welsh speakers who would claim (entirely sincerely) that their Welsh ‘isn’t good enough’ to talk to a learner, or to record an exam conversation piece for a learner - if you add to that worry an awareness that you have to talk to learners in a particular way, I could easily imagine even more people becoming convinced that it would be wrong for them to talk Welsh to learners.

That’s why I’ve always seen this as an area where the learner needs to be in charge - a small set of phrases like ‘Please don’t speak English to me, I’m trying to practise my Welsh’ or ‘Please don’t correct my Welsh until I ask, because it puts me off’, coupled with a determination not to switch back into English, are all that’s really needed.

It’s also important, I think, for learners to be sensitive to situations - if you’re in a very busy café at lunchtime and you can’t remember the word for sandwich, that’s not the right time to expect someone to wait while you think for a while. This is why I always recommend getting regular weekly conversational partners, who are specifically setting aside time to help you practise, and developing your confidence and range in a safe and predictable environment before throwing yourself in at the deep end ‘in the wild’.

Having said all that, I think it would be hugely valuable if we could help spread the idea that when a learner speaks Welsh to you, it is damaging (to them and to the future of the language) for you to answer in English.

But I’d be very keen to see the skill-set kept to a bare minimum - maybe just ‘smile, be patient, and don’t correct.’


You could just say (entirely honestly!) that you have Welsh-speaking friends, and you want to speak their language with them… :sunny:


Thank you, that’s brilliant! A very believable (and flattering for me) explanation.


‘smile, be patient, and don’t correct.’

That would work for me. The smiling part definitely helps :slight_smile:


Wow! Logged off this morning, worked all day, came back on just now to find all these amazing responses, of which I’m going to start reading through now. Diolch yn fawr!


So true.

Dw i newydd orffen darllen nhw i gyd! I’ve just finished reading them all!

It’s so interesting to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks @aran for your input too - I agree with you on ‘student responsibility’. I like your ideas a lot.

Not that my Italian is great at the moment (dim amser i astudio - no time to study!), I do make sure that I stop anyone from talking English to me in Italy by telling them ‘I’m learning Italian and forgive me if I make any mistakes’ which immediately sets the tone and expectation that I don’t want them to speak English to me, and it gives them some time to adjust to me communicating as a learner, and them as someone who’s helping me, even if it’s just a one word response to my ‘where’s the toilet?’. If they turn to English, I continue speaking Italian to them until they get the message, or I just say, ‘no no no in Italiano!’. I’m also terribly cheeky sometimes and tell them that I don’t understand English… As you can tell, I’m quite shameless when it comes to speaking with Italians, despite making a mistake every second word… It works for me, though. People are usually happy to help. Not everyone of course - you get unfriendly people all over the world. I’ve wanted to scream at some Italians - ‘for goodness sake, I’m making an effort here!’, but luckily, those people are in the minority. Most people are happy to help after being told what to expect.

Another thing to add, and there are more but I’m probably a bit too tired to write them all in a sensical fashion just now, is that it’s hard to get to know people closely if you are communicating with them using a limited vocabulary. This might be another reason Welsh people turn to English in some situations.

I like the idea of there being some kind of awareness amongst Welsh people of how to encourage learners, and I like the idea about getting the commissioner for the Welsh language on board and there being some kind of media awareness or ‘hook’. ‘Smile, be patient and don’t correct’ is a good example, although the last point might not be relevant to everyone - some learners like to be corrected when speaking, although there’s a skill involved with knowing when and how to correct without breaking the flow of communication.

I’ve enjoyed reading all your anecdotes, keep them coming!


One more thing before lights out - have you had different experiences of speaking Welsh depending on which part of Wales you were in? I’m a bit shocked by what I’m hearing about attitudes in the South East towards the Welsh language. :disappointed: