Which Welsh to learn?

In the last three years I’ve tried SSiW (South) three times and had to give up. This last time I worked through all the challenges of Level 1 and started the Level 2 challenges, but it was so confusing - and even stressful - for me that I have had to cancel my subscription. I live in Manchester and am doing the WJEC Welsh for Adults course via Skype, and with occasional weekend and summer courses in South Wales. I’m now at level Canolradd. I thought SSiW would be an extra learning tool. I could do SSiW level 2 fairly easily this time because I had studied the grammar formally. But I have had to give up again because the Welsh of SSiW is that of ‘Pobol y Cwm’, and not what I am being taught and in which I am learning to chat with various people, both inside and outside Wales. Doing SSiW was like learning two languages at the same time, and having to translate between them. I am ever so disappointed. Can you explain why this form of Welsh was chosen for SSiW?

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I am sad to hear of your disappointment…

Every language has many registers.

What is the language of Eastenders? Well, predominantly South Eastern English. It won’t be found in a textbook, and sadly unlikely to be taught orally. Lots of colloquial forms of English are in the Eastenders mix. Lots of registers, too, but not much representation of aristocrats or Oxbridge educated folk.

What is the language of Coronation Street? Well North Western English. Ditto to the above on registers/representation of aristos and academics.

SSiW South Walian course will prepare you better for most speakers in Pobol y Cwm than for Rownd a Rownd, for which SSiW North is a better match.

SSiW is a really good start for attuning yourself to realistic conversation, and that will also allow you to access Radio Cymru, light or otherwise, and S4C, including quite formal registers, such as you’d find in grammar-based books. Formal registers, mixed in as they are nowadays, with vox-pops or more informal colloquial touches by presenters who wish to build a relationship with their audience will bring your skills learnt from formal study into their own. I can envy you that: I have no formal learning in Welsh.

I have not got beyond halfway through level 3 in my 22 months of learning, but now I am reading literature, where - guess what? - much local, informal & colloquial speech, and all registers are ‘in the mix’.

I have not (deliberately not) gone for formal classes. (Even if I could find them in the West Midlands, I can learn formal language well from books or newscasts).

I am sad that you have felt disappointment, shock or surprise. I hope you can find a way through Level 2. I however am glad that SSiW offers a complementary style of and range of syllabus to the standard academic fare. My way through Levels 1& 2 was on the 6 month course. After a rest I’m going for extra support at Level 3 via the Deep End. The Slack workspaces offered on the structured courses (6mws, 6 mins a day & Deep End, + WSP) are really, really valuable to me.

Many Welsh speakers with mam-iaith Welsh are quite bemused by standardised language being spoken, just as has happened with the English of the BBC not really starting to represent ordinary folk until the 1960s and 70s (except as some sort of specimen to be studied/catalogued as a dying breed).

I do have to translate/interpret local English speech here in the Midlands (Black Country) to those who come to Britain knowing only the English of textbook and BBC. As you say, it is like learning another language (or two, or three) entirely, at first.

SSiW has enabled me to understand local speech (just as Sur le Vif, and Kontakte - BBC MFL courses - taught me colloquial, local speech of diverse class background in French & German) to complement my school studies c 1970-78.

I hope my answer is helpful. I can empathise with your confusion and dismay, but I have had a different expectation, a very different introduction to Welsh and no disappointment. I have used a little of the South Walian course, but settled in the end on North, for now.

I hope others can offer comfort, or philosophical insights, different to mine. Pob lwc! Dal ati!


Hi Megan!

So sorry that you are feeling disappointed.

SSiW has two versions. A Southern Welsh version and a Northern Welsh version. Both based on fairly informal spoken Welsh.

The methodology has been developed (based on how the brain responds to language learning) to produce confident speakers quicker than traditional courses and we discourage reading, writing and grammar study in the early stages. We find that as learners progress through our courses, reading and writing then develop naturally - this is exactly how children learn language, they listen to informal spoken language, repeat, mimic sounds, learn patterns, begin building sentence structures, then once they’re conversational they begin to connect symbols to sounds and so on, learning grammar rules at a later stage.

We usually encourage users to choose the version of dialect they have had most experience with. For instance, if you are learning because your grandparents came from the valleys or your mother was raised in Builth, then we would recommend the Southern Welsh version. But if you’ve holidayed on the Llyn Peninsula, or your aunt lives in Llangollen, then we would recommend learning with our Northern Welsh course.

Of course within South Wales and North Wales, there are many different dialects. You’ll find, as with any other country, subtle variations in words and phrases as you move from one area to the other. We’ve aimed to choose the most common forms of language spoken within North and South Wales. But what our learners find, once they become conversational id that they are always understood, whichever variations they’ve used.

I hope that this gives you more insight in to the nature of SSiW and I hope that the rewards from your learning journey soon outweigh the stresses and frustrations. Pob lwc. :slight_smile:


Hi Megan, the answer to your question can only come from those who did the course, and I see it’s already here.

However, as a fellow learner, I don’t completely understand what you mean here.
I had no previous knowledge of Welsh language, except a few songs.
I studied only with Say Something in Welsh, and when I went to South Wales everybody could understand me and I could understand them (of course in proportion to my general level - improving everytime!).

I can guess courses may teach a more formal or academic Welsh. But what kind of problems did you find talking to people?

Pob lwc with your learning whatever method works best for you!


Thanks Lorna. You do understand what I’m saying. It’s a choice of sticking to a colloquial Welsh (pobl y cwm) or the slightly more formal Welsh of DysguCymraeg. If I lived in Wales, I would adapt to the local dialect, but as I live outside, I am better off sticking to the more formal version. Adaptations can come later. Thanks again.

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I do understand clearly the nature of SSiW and the many many variations within the Welsh language and dialects. My question was about why you chose to propagate the ‘pobl y cwm’ version.

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Apologies for misunderstanding your question. :slight_smile:


Thanks Gisella. I am full of admiration for your progress. My question was not about problems in talking to people; I manage to do that quite well. It is about the particular version of SSiW, which is in conflict with what I am learning formally. Thanks anyway.


Ok,thank you for your clarification. From my experience I would like to add just one thing, which might in part be an indirect answer to your original question:

One thing native speakers usually told me is that I don’t sound like a student, I sound natural and speak Welsh like they speak (even if a basic version for my lack of vocabulary).
I guess that’s the point of SSiW. Helping learners from anywhere in the world to go out and undrstand people in everyday situations easily, be confident and sound natural. Which is something that’s often lacking in regular courses (from what I hear, and actually experienced learning English)

While if someone needs Welsh for professional or academic reasons, it’s probably better to stick to traditional courses and lesson.

My impression at least!


Helo @MeganManchester,

my understanding of SSiW is that it is a more natural method, similar to the way children learn their mother tongue. From my experience with learning other languages in different ways it’s the method that provides the best base to continue learning the language - reading, writing, grammar rules, the more formal registers, anything that strikes your fancy! Being able to talk to people pretty much right away is a strong motivation to go on.

I am genuinely interested how long it takes people from your Skype courses to start chatting in Welsh. If it’s much longer than with SSiW, then maybe herein lies the answer to your question: two different courses have different aims, the formal one focuses on formal structures (so you need to learn more in the beginning to be able to start talking), the informal one leaves out the structures and the perfect formal Welsh but you can start chatting right away.

If learners in the formal course can speak Welsh similarly soon, then the courses don’t have a different aim, just the register taught is different. But there’s no “better” or “worse” register in a language so the creator of the formal course can be asked the same question - why pick the formal register?


Thank you Irina, yours is an interesting answer. The exams for DysguCymraeg involve speaking practice, and my ‘chatting’ started very hesitantly about eighteen months in. As a grammar buff, I enjoy the fact that a lot of it is now grammatically correct and I can be fairly adventurous with the range of themes, helped but not limited by the themes of the formal course. I found that for the month that I went back to SSiW, some of what was expected was ‘lazy grammar’ and not what I could use in exams later. Admittedly, in coloquial speech in any language we use ‘lazy grammar’ all the time, children and adults. It all boils down to what the need is. My need is to chat, the same as SSiW. Same aim, different methods. Which brings me back to my original question, why did the originators of SSiW choose coloquial Welsh instead of the Welsh being promoted in schools and colleges throughout Wales?


I have lived in Wales for over 40 years and really struggled for decades to learn to speak fluently. The courses I was following were (by today’s standards) somewhat old-fashioned and used a form of Welsh that was supposed to be a compromise between the very formal literary Welsh and the colloquial Welsh “as she is spoke” on the streets. However, I had no luck speaking with locals who would say, "Oh, you speak such good Welsh. Eventually I realised that this was not really a compliment because it meant, “You sound like a book.”

It wasn’t until the early 2000s when I did a course called “Cwrs Llanllawen” which was based on colloquial Welsh and then found SSiW that I broke through the barrier and became able to have natural conversations with native speakers.

There is no right or wrong here, but if you want to have conversations with native speakers, then it really really helps to sound colloquial. Like Pobol y Cwm, as you put it. If your main focus will be reading, then the more formal register is fine.


Just to pick up on your point about the Welsh taught in schools, my granddaughter (aged 12) says that Welsh at school is “boring” and much prefers the Spanish lessons. The reason is probably too much focus on being grammatically correct – whatever that means.

I don’t think you said what your reason for learning Welsh was. In my case it was because I live here and want to be able to join in with culturally Welsh things, like Merched y Wawr, enjoy the Eisteddfod and just be able to talk to first language Welsh people in Welsh so they don’t have to change language when I’m present.

If you want to study as an academic discipline rather than just use it as part of normal life, then SSiW is probably not the right course for you.


I learnt Welsh through Cymraeg i Oedolion because at that time SSiW didn’t exist and it was the only course on offer. However, when I would chat to first-language friends they would often say (some not as gently as others) that it sounded too posh and that no-one actually spoke like that - and sometimes some wouldn’t understand some things at all because I was saying ‘by the book’ words that they always shortened and so took time to recognise the ‘proper’ form.
Although I haven’t done the SSiW course, I speak colloquially now because I’ve picked it up from living in a very Welsh-speaking area for 20 years.

The course I learnt from did get me through a degree in Welsh, including spoken tests, but it didn’t get me sounding like a natural speaker. I believe that is the main reasoning behind SSiW’s choice - to get people sounding like natural speakers first before the hunger for grammar and more formal Welsh sets in and therefore avoiding comments such as the ones I experienced potentially leading to discouragement.


Thank you for your explaination!

I guess that maybe DysguCymraeg can be seen as the next step after SSiW? Maybe it helps to be a Welsh speaker before one starts learning grammar in earnest because one has more context for the rules?

If I may digress to provide an example. German is the last language I learned to fluency (so far) and I actually did it your way: I learned the grammar, I learned to read and to write. Already after 3-4 months after moving to Austria as adult I was more literate than some Austrians (some adult friends and I actually took a dictation, for fun). But it took me about 18 months (or even two years…) to start speaking, too. Now, many years later, I still speak high-register German I learned from books, and the locals I chat with 1) feel immediately that I’m “not really from this valley” and 2) some of them struggle to speak in the same register then get frustrated - because nobody speaks here like that.

But I am a functional speaker, I sat my exams and got my degree here. So my version of German is fine, even if it’s awkward for some locals. A tiny catch for me was that I understood some of the rules fully only after I started speaking the language.

I also observe the mirrored situation. Local kids learn the local dialect first (it differs in vocab and grammar). They are perfectly functional speakers before they go to school. Then in school they learn the formal register in addition to the local dialect.

The latter is maybe more of the SSiW approach - people can speak soon and can continue to learn more formally if they want. The former, my more traditional approach, is the way you went with Welsh. I think that both are fine, just provide different results at different stages…


For some reason, I find it kinds funny thinking of you speaking posh. Doesn’t quite seem your style! just like it’s not mine, but I might have spoken a bit queenish myself first time I went to England!) :grin:


This reminds me that the experience of learning a language at school can be very different - depending on the course/teacher/class style.

By the way I had the chance to participate to one Welsh language evening class in Cardigan (because I had been in touch with the teacher via internet). I actually enjoyed it!

It was way more lively, “practical” and colloquial-oriented than language lessons at school, even though of course it also included explanations of things like grammar, correct spelling etc.

Still, not having academic goals about Welsh, in general, I’m more proud of having first-language speaker (who can’t remember how to spell words himself) tell me that I must have Welsh ancestors to speak like this, and in a fairly short time! :star_struck:


Because I’ve seen too many learners try to use formal Welsh in a social setting and become very disheartened by the results… :slight_smile:


And there, I think, is your answer: after six months of SSiW (preceded by 1 of Duolingo) I was chatting in Welsh to someone who asked when I had started learning - when I said “in March” I got the surprised reply “March this year!?” However, three years into the process, I still feel that I am catching up with grammar a bit.
So it’s (partly) a question of priorities: I’m enough of a grammar buff/linguistics nerd that it probably strikes people as one of my defining characteristics, but I have never, ever built conversational fluency in a language as quickly as in Welsh with SSiW - but I do still have gaps (some, perhaps, quite basic) in formal grammar.


Thanks Richard. I think you’ve pinpointed my present and future relationship with SSiW. If I lived in Wales, where I could constantly ask questions, SSiW would maybe suit me, but I’m not sure. I am one who can only learn with the formal method, needing the skeleton of grammar to support me. As DysguCymraeg is the language of exams, books, papers, Radio Cymru and most of S4C and also of most of the people I speak Welsh with, I’ll carry on without SSiW. But when I feel that I have enough fluency, I can come back to SSiW for a colloquial variation. My one month of going through Level 1 and into Level 2 was quite interesting. I still wish SSiW was based on ‘formal’ WJEC Welsh, but I do understand the rationale.