Well, I found that speaking Welsh in Cardigan and the surrounding areas was a lot more encouraged by the locals - especially shopkeepers. Many of them were very patient with me (I was a third the way through the old Course 2 at the time) and some even thanked me for using the language - but then many of them were aware of SSiWelsh’s regular bootcamps taking place near the area, which at the time I was participating in!
Also, when I was visiting my grandmother in Swansea (who isn’t a Welsh speaker), I did once teach her a few words of Welsh over a coffee in Coffee #1, only to be overheard by another customer on the next table who then briefly chatted with me in Welsh asking if I was a speaker. At the time I was probably halfway through the old Course 3, but he was very pleasant - and in his early 20s he was too!
But Cardiff, the only Welsh I really get to speak is with the group I meet with each month at Y Mochyn Du. Shame really as I would love more opportunities to present themselves to me - especially as I’m normally really busy so actively finding these opportunities myself if difficult to fit into my schedule!
Cardiff Bay (where the Senedd is based, along with the Wales Millennium Centre) does have quite a few areas where you may find Welsh spoken, as does certain entertainment venues such as Clwb Ifor Bach in the city centre and our very own Y Mochyn Du. But these are places we would need to go to find Welsh being spoken. Unlike, say, Cardigan where you can walk into any shop and Welsh is spoken, or be able to hear Welsh spoken between locals on the street.
I guess, for me, I will need to find time to fit in the visiting of these places, and perhaps once I have met other people who are found in these areas on a regular basis, there will be more chance of our paths crossing everywhere else in Cardiff. I mentioned earlier that I do strongly believe that there are more Welsh speakers in Cardiff who don’t really shout it to the rooftops, reserving it only for people they know well and know that they speak Welsh also. I could very well be passing these people every day without knowing it!!
In the new year, we have our new Welsh Language Centre opening at the Old Library in the city centre, so there will be another venue where Welsh speakers can be found.
I think that’ll be great! I hope things will change for you with the opening of the new Welsh Language Centre. I’ll have to come down to have a look around! There’s one in Carmarthen now too. We could do with one in Aber!
This is why the so-called “language meetings” rarely turn into friendships and may leave people a bit bitter about the whole thing. It’s very hard to really get to know a person when you/they are at a beginner’s stage of learning, and you feel you’re stuck at discussing the weather.
I honestly don’t know what to do about it. I have some amazingly intelligent students who are just not interesting to the natives because of the limits of their vocabulary. It’s very sad.
This is a very interesting topic for me. I moved to Llandysul 18 months ago, primarily because I wanted to live in a Welsh-speaking area and be immersed in the language (plus I love the countryside and it reminds me of Aotearoa where I grew up )
I try to go to any opportunity where I know everyone will be speaking Welsh - the main one being Merched y Wawr. They welcomed me very warmly, but it’s taken 18 months for some of them to concede that I do actually speak enough Welsh for them to have a ‘normal’ conversation with me. Initially they all asked the usual questions - where had I come from? why was I learning Welsh? what did I do for a job? etc, etc - but after that it was as if they had run out of “learner’s topics” and they didn’t know what to say to me. I tried to join in the general chit chat but it was almost as if some of them were a bit afraid to talk to me, perhaps for some of the reasons that have been mentioned by others above.
Only now, that I’m into my second year of going along every month, I have detected a subtle shift in attitude. More of them just chat to me like I’m an ordinary member of the group, not their “learner” that they need to be careful with. I feel like I’ve stepped over some kind of invisible line and I’m now on the other side. I can’t really explain how it’s happened, and it has definitely taken time, but there is a difference I can feel and it’s a very nice feeling.
The most important thing for me is to be aware that every learner is different. A situation which is easy for one is hard for another, and no one learns in the same way and at the same pace. I always appreciate it if a Welsh speaker is willing to help me practice; I like it even more if they take a moment to find out how I like to be helped
Oh, and praise… praise is ever so important. It’s the fuel that gets me across the never-ending learning plateaus.
I like the idea of a brief code for helping learners, to raise awareness as much as anything.
But in a situation that can be complex on so many levels, I think it’s important for the learner to take responsibility and be clear about their intentions. This is a skill that we as learners need to learn, and which also improves with practice. (You need to be thick skinned about it on occasion too, if course!)
Living in a particularly Di-Gymraeg area of Wales, I’m a bit of an oddity being a learner with the (possibly unrealistic) ambition of reaching a level where I can slot happily into Welsh language situations without raising eyebrows.
On Friday, I had a lovely Skype chat with @mererid .(I’ve told her this story already!) All buoyed up from that, I went on to school to help with the PTA event, and had lots of successful mini-conversations, although we were also pretty busy. I try and make it clear how much I appreciate it when people speak Welsh to me, but it’s also a question of appropriateness - when there was a panic at one point to find the insulated cups, they all switched to English automatically!
Everyone was very positive and welcoming, except for one particular teacher. (Who is a bit of a misery to be honest!) I congratulated her on the choir’s performance, and she answered in English. So I said “Sori, dwi’n trio siarad Cymraeg nawr” and she literally rolled her eyes!! I think then she realised what she’d done and condescended to chat for another minute before making her escape! I don’t mind laughing about that kind of thing - but it’s always the learner who is initiating a potentially tricky situation, so we also need to be sensitive.
Also, there is a large variation in native speakers’ ability to adapt to learners. My German father in law speaks with a thick regional accent, and I remember an embarrassing inability to understand a word he said for years after being functionality fluent in the language! (Which he consistently failed to adapt to or even recognise. Now my kids have a similar problem…) I think never having had the chance to learn a foreign language and experience “the other side” makes it harder. My mother in law on the other hand can instinctively adapt her language to the level of the other person much more easily.
No easy answers - but raising awareness can only be a good thing.
Some people, perhaps, don’t understand how much courage it takes to start speaking a new language and be imperfect, slow and sometimes a bit ridiculous. I think we learners should take such things lightly as you did, but I can’t help but make some assumptions about the character of a person who can be rude to a learner.
I’m sitting here feeling I must have been incredibly lucky with the Welsh speakers in the vicinity because I’ve never had anything other than unflustered welcome and patience.
I’ve never had unwanted corrections -some of the more "learners savvy’ adopt an approach of “ignore the error/English but repeat back correctly”.
By which I mean if I say something like “Dw i’n mynd i’r… ummm… beach” I get back, “O? I’r traeth? Traeth neis yma ond yw hi?” It’s subtle and allows a very graceful correction witht interupting the flow.
No one I see regularly has persisted in speaking English with me - indeed I’ve been there when friends have been actively broadcasting the news to their mates that I speak Welsh.
I am an eavesdropper though - the reason everyone in local flying circles speaks Welsh with me now is beacuse I overheard on eof the pilots asking a visiting friend “ble mae’r sigwr” . I didn’t know before that that either of the spoke Welsh but leapt in with “Mae mwy o sigwr yn y cwpwrdd!” as quick as I could and know I keep getting greeted with “So and so says you speak Welsh”.
I think the only times people (all strangers) have kept on in English is because I’ve eavesdropped, started in Welsh, and I think they genuinely haven’t processed which language I wa using before responding, and so defaulted to assuming ‘it’s a stranger so I’m speaking English’. I don’t think it was to be bolshy at all. I wonder how often that happens and is misintepreted and puts people off.
I was reflecting recently that I’m very lucky to have a Welsh-speaker for a partner (who works in Welsh, almost entirely with other Welsh-speakers). Whenever we go to an event with her co-workers it will be almost completely in Welsh. I felt very awkward the first time when I didn’t know any and had to speak English, but now her colleagues know I’ve learned they just chat away to me without concessions. A number of our friends are also Welsh-speakers, so we’ll do the usual thing of having the conversation flip-flop from one language to another.
But it’s almost that I have a special dispensation for entry into this Welsh-speaking society because of who I’m married to. I get the impression that many other learners would like to find these sorts of opportunities to have ‘natural’ conversations with Welsh-speakers, and I don’t know how one would facilitate that (although certainly Menter Caerdydd seems to work very hard to try to organise things).
I’ve recently joined a choir here in Cardiff, and I’m finding out who the (few) Welsh-speakers there are. One woman now always starts her conversations with me in Welsh, for which I’m very grateful.
In England also. At the Bourton -o-water, Glos, U3A party I discovered 4 (out of about 50) other people who would like to join in a Welsh conversation group, simply by approaching them when I thought they might have Welsh connections. Two had learnt at school. How many more secret Celts are hiding in the woodwork ? I think we Welsh often tend to hide our Welshness; I would say to native speakers that to encourage a learner is to be proud of your language and your culture. Why wouldn’t you be?
I would start with helping the learner understand where the speaker is coming from. I have native Welsh speakers as friends they know which words to use, mutate where appropriate, use the correct tense for what they are saying - but they haven’t a clue about the grammar! Think about yourself and your native language do you think about the grammar? Do you say to yourself should I use imperfect or pluperfect tense…well I wouldn’t be able to tell you whilst I was speaking, I would just say what “felt” right. Most people you speak to (excluding tutors/Teachers) in welsh will be the same.
I have told my welsh speaking friends (and anyone else who will talk to me in Welsh) that they should always use welsh, even in company (with one lady I tell everyone what her statement or question was - then she tells them what I replied!) You would be surprised at how often the gist of the question and answer were correct but the miss-interpreted understanding in English can be hilarious! Now that has taught me not to be afraid of making mistakes or being laughed at/with - after all they needed a translation to understand!
If a Welsh Speaker asks me something and I reply correctly in English, then I obviously understood - even if I couldn’t formulate the reply THIS TIME in welsh. I ask them to keep talking to me in welsh (not switch to English) - I do not expect to keep up with them or them to talk in baby language just for me ( I worked out - my lesson time on Welsh so far totals a daytime equivalent of one year and just short of three months - so as a (language) child I am doing well for a one year old!). Obviously if my reply showed I hadn’t understood the question then they would tell me what they asked/said and give me the chance to reply correctly - preferably in Welsh. I used to ask them to repeat the sentence but found out they rarely said exactly the same thing when they repeated it! I gather there are at least 5 ways to say anything in Welsh!
I seem to remember a really excellent bonus lesson in Course 1 on this, including how to say “please speak more slowly - siarad yn arafach”.
We have the same challenges in France and Italy. Repeatedly telling people they can help you most by responding in French or Italian, as the case may be, does work in the end. Eirwen and I often had to smile and be determined to press on in the local language.
After exhausting ourselves in France making people respond to us in French we started out in Italy doing the same in Italian. Except this time the Italians instead of responding to us in English responded to us in French!!!
So the conclusion is if you want people to speak to you in French go to a market in Italy just over the French border and Hey Presto.
I’m sure that the challenge is magnified in Wales because so many people do speak English as a matter of course. That’s a shame.
The positive was on a boot camp this summer and only being allowed to speak Welsh I found Welsh speakers to be very positive. When confronted with a group of what must have appeared a rather crazy bunch refusing to speak English they rose to the challenge.
The negative starts with George Borrow in his book called Wild Wales written in the mid 19th Century. He had learnt Welsh but came across Welsh speakers who would only speak to him in English. Is it any different now?
Unfortunately Welsh learners will not save the language, only Welsh speakers can do that. My advice to native Welsh speakers would be for them to want the language to survive. If they do they will speak to us in Welsh, if they don’t then they won’t.
I think that @Deborah-SSi’s post is very telling. It tells us that we need bags of commitment and bags of staying power. Anyone who has met Dee knows that she is a fabulous (or should that be “fahblus”? ) Welsh speaker. However, it could be that being a good speaker in itself isn’t quite enough … enough to be accepted by first-language speakers (or at least people who have grown up speaking a lot of Welsh). Dee has made a commitment to Wales and a commitment to the community she lives in, but even then, it took some time. Those of us who can only go to Wales as tourists, even though we may be able to manage a certain amount of passably fluent Welsh, can’t necessarily expect to be welcomed with open arms by every first language speaker we come across. To them, we will be here today and gone tomorrow. Why should they expend any energy on us when it’s simply easier to switch to English?
I’m not meaning to be negative, and I’d be as frustrated as anybody to get the “switch to English” treatment, but we (as learners, hoping to become “proper” speakers) also have to be realistic and understanding - and certainly try not to give off the “vibe” that “we are doing you a favour here by helping your language to survive”.(I must confess there was a part of me that did use to think a bit like that at one time, but time and experience has taught me that that is not a good attitude, and I try to banish it now).
Gosh - the more I read, the more I realise how different your experiences are depending on geography. The characters in some of your stories above are quite unrecognisable to me, I must say. Every single Welsh speaker I know, whether they’re vocal about or not, wants Welsh to survive. The issues around turning to English around where I live is more to do with wanting to be polite, not realising that it would be politer to ask what you’d prefer. Nobody that I know of has not spoken Welsh to people out of not caring for the language, but I live in an area where it’s quite normal to hear a mix of both Welsh and English on the streets.
You know those ‘Dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg’ badges that you get? Maybe they should extend to say 'a dw i moyn ymarfer (SW) or ‘a dw i isio ymarfer’ (NW), (and I want to practise) or something of that nature! A call-to-action on your lapel!
@netmouse - I couldnt imagine a Welsh-speaking teacher rolling her/his eyes at anyone who says they’re learning Welsh here in Aberystwyth. You’d be applauded and encouraged by most, if not all, I’m sure.
@JustinandEirwen - funnily enough, I get mistaken for being French when I speak Italian in Italy too! I’ve been told that I make the same common errors that French people make, like saying ‘più di cafe’ (mwy o goffi) instead of ‘più cafe’ (more coffee). While it clearly shows that I definitely don’t sound Italian (yet - I live and dream…), I was happy that my accent was at least moving a few countries closer!
Oh, thank you for being so honest about it! That’s an attitude that is so very common in learners who are trying to speak endangered languages, this certain complacency, as if we were doing some great deed. I felt I was, at the beginning, a bit vain (vanity is, in general, my big problem) about learning something this rare and thus, as you’ve said, “helping the language to survive”. But really, if you think about it, we have the privilege of learning a language so ancient, that has luckily not changed too much to make it impossible to access even very old texts. We can read the legends and the ancient poetry in the original. We can add nothing to the beauty and the richness of the language, but it can certainly make us richer. When I get thoughts like “oh well, what if I don’t get this thing here right, surely all speakers are valuable” I just try to think about that and put things into the right perspective again.
As for the “native speakers-learners” issues, I’ve been thinking about that a lot and I think that it helps enormously if you have common interests. If someone tells me something extremely interesting in bad Russian, I will be listening gratefully, and I’m sure that if you have interesting things to say and you stubbornly refuse to turn to English, native speakers will not mind your mistakes or your accent.