Your journey to fluency (or near fluency)

Not looking to step on the toes of the ‘your story’ thread but I’d be interested to hear from people who have become fluent (or near fluent) in terms of how they went about it. I guess I’m thinking of those who knew only a little or no Welsh and have progressed to a stage where they can do most things through it. The main questions I’m thinking of are:

How much Welsh did you know at the outset?

How long did it take you to get to your current level?

What courses (if any) did you do?

How much time each day were you devoting to study?

Was there a particular structure to your study? Maybe, apart from course books, aiming to watch a certain amount of TV, aiming to master certain subject areas through vocabulary books etc.

Any other tips for others looking to follow in your footsteps?


I’m happy to share my journey, if you like.

I started from almost nothing - I could count from 1 to 10 because of a tea-towel my grandmother used to have. That was it. When I met my Welsh partner I started to hear her speak the language with her family, and picked up a few words from her. Then I tried to learn some Welsh from teach-yourself books but didn’t get very far (we were living in England at the time). I was able to watch a bit of Welsh TV on the internet, with English (not Welsh) subtitles so I was beginning to learn about the sounds of the language.

When we decided we were going to move to Wales I thought I’d better start putting some effort into learning the language (that was in September 2013). So because I couldn’t get to a “proper” Welsh class, I cast about on the internet, found SSiW, and thought that would at least give me something to do over the next year while we were getting ready to move. (ha! Little did I know!!)

Once I got my teeth into SSiW I started doing at least 1 session every day - sometimes I would repeat the one from the day before and then do the next one. Some would need more than 1 repetition! By the time the year was up and we moved, I had finished the SSiW course and was wondering what to do next. I had missed the sign-up window for the Dysgu Cymraeg courses, so I found other ways to help myself learn (at least 1 of these things every day):

  • conversation groups, like “Clonc yn y Cwtsh” every week in Chapter (and other spin-offs that came from that)
  • vocabularly learning via Memrise
  • grammar learning and practice with Gareth King’s excellent books
  • TV with Welsh subtitles
  • Radio Cymru on in the car and the kitchen whenever possible
  • Lingo Newydd every month
  • reading all the official bilingual written material that came through the door (Welsh first, then English to see if I’d understood it)
  • learners’ novels
  • starting to try to use my Welsh with our friends and neighbours here in Cardiff.

At the beginning of 2015, I went to a Dysgu Cymraeg weekend course in the Uwch 1 class - I was one of the few people who tried to stick to Welsh in the breaks outside the classes. Then in the May I did the SSiW bootcamp, which was a bit of a turning point for me.

I had a few sessions with a personal tutor, who suggested that the following autumn (2015) I joined the Dysgu Cymraeg Gloywi course, so I started doing that once a week. Then in 2016 I sat the Uwch exam as an independent learner, which involved reading some novels and doing some writing.

In autumn 2016 I started an MA in the School of Welsh here in Cardiff, and after I graduated from that, I started in my first Welsh-essential job with the Mentrau Iaith in the autumn of 2017. I now work for S4C and use Welsh all day every day.

So from almost nothing to a Welsh-essential job was about 4 years. For me - everyone will be different. But here are my tips:

  • trust the process - SSiW is quite a special thing!
  • make it part of your life - have something every day (even if that’s just having the radio on in the background)
  • don’t beat yourself up - learning is not a consistent process and sometimes you’ll feel you’re not getting anywhere, but you are (see: trust the process)
  • perfection does not exist, so don’t chase after it
  • become comfortable with being uncomfortable - that’s where the learning happens
  • focus on what’s important to you - if you want mainly to be able to chat to people in the pub, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t feel that you want to be reading novels, say

Sorry - that’s almost a novel in itself! I hope there’s something useful in there somewhere?


That’s an interesting story. Like the tea-towel. :grinning: Looking at your learning advice, I definitely try and do something every day. Being able to watch S4C is good because it means that even when I get one of those days when my head will explode if I pick up another book, I can watch a programme instead and hopefully pick up some new words and phrases, as well as improve my listening. You’re right about perfection not existing as well. Listening to ordinary people speak in programmes like Pobol y Penwythnos, Am Dro, Grid etc on S4C is encouraging in a way because it doesn’t make your target feel that unattainable and less afraid about lobbing in the odd English word to help you complete a sentence rather than thinking, I can’t say this entirely in Welsh so I won’t bother.

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I started from a smattering about 30 years ago when I lived with some Welsh speaking friends who threw me in at the deep end. Then in my fifties I was spending a lot of time in Wales so was determined to crack it.

  1. Mynediad course at Nant Gwrtheyrn
  2. Course notes from above
  3. SSIW - struggled a bit at first but then went with it never looked back
  4. SSIW boot camp - brilliant
  5. Canolradd at Y Nant
  6. Duolingo daily
  7. Worked through all of SSIW old and new
  8. Welsh for learners books - with difficult
  9. Meanwhile all through talking to neighbours and friends and when brave enough in shops
  10. S4C with subtitles sometimes in English and sometimes in Welsh
  11. Audio tapes
  12. SSIW advanced
  13. Going back over SSIW lessons
  14. Got all through Duolingo and then deleted it because it got annoying!
  15. Radio cymru
    Ac yn y blaen! Pob lwc!!

I’ve lived in Wales since 2000, working in Glangwili hospital in Carmarthen, where I heard a lot of Welsh, and being a member of a church where the prayer books were, are, bilingual, for 7 years before actually actively doing anything about learning Welsh. Once I joined the nurse bank and could be more in charge of my shift pattern I started by going to Mynediad 1 in the Botanic Gardens up the road, 2 hours a week . In the first summer I did Mynediad 2 over three weeks and a three day refresher course at the end of the summer before starting Sylfaen, 4 hours a week, but in one session. Instead of doing 60 sessions over the year we only did 40 and I didn’t feel confident to go onto Canolradd. At the three day refresher course that 2nd summer I heard about this new online course, Say Something in Welsh, and may even have registered for it, but I didn’t start to use it. So, my 3rd September (2009) I registered to do Sylfaen 2, the second half of the course we hadn’t really finished the previous summer, back to 2 hours a week.

And then, all change.

In December I broke my leg. 5 months off work No courses of any sort. But I could sit at home in front of a computer, which is where my SSIW journey started.

2010 was the first year of bwtcamp and I toddled off to Tresaith, (I can’t remember if I still had my crutch) where they were then held, for a week with several other learners and Aran. Revelation!

At some point I used Memrise a great deal and introduced it to my brother living in China who used it for learning Mandarin Chinese vocab.

And from September 2010 I started going to 2 conventional classes a week. One in the evening, one the next morning, so as still to be free to work my shifts. Back to Sylfaen 2, but also Canolradd 1. So I was revising something old and learning something new. This pattern continued for several years, taking the exams as they came along and going to bwtcamp 5 times over 6 years.

Alongside this was, is, listening to Radio Cymru, and starting a SSIW conversation group in Carmarthen, going to another conversation group in Llandeilo. This was put on hold in 2017, when I was abroad for several months, but even then I inflicted myself on several learners in Europe and a native speaker in Japan. 2017 was the last time I went to a conventional class, but in September 2018 I found a local Welsh tutor and we had a monthly date whereby I would write a fairly lengthy piece of work, email it to him, he would correct it and we would go over it together over a couple of hours in a cafe. Everything went to pot when I broke my wrist in January 2020, and Covid came.

But there’s a conversation group nearby which started just over a year ago so I go to that most weeks.

I’ve volunteered at 3 or 4 national Eisteddfods staying pretty much in Welsh the whole week.

I don’t think I ever did finish SSIW level 3, but I’ve found a level with which I’m comfortable. Not perfect, but good enough. When leading prayers in that same bilingual church, and we arrive at Gweddi’r Arglwydd, the Lord’s Prayer, I invite people to pray in the language of their heart (not choice, as some of my colleagues do) and I always say the Ein Tad version.


How much Welsh did you know at the outset?
Started from zero in my early twenties.

How long did it take you to get to your current level?
Well, one is always improving of course, but I suppose about three years to be really REALLY fluent. But the Wlpan (see below) helped with that.

What courses (if any) did you do?
I attended the last six weeks of the eight-week NLU’s Cwrs Wlpan in Llanbedr Pont Steffan - I had already learnt the (very!) basics by then, so I could skip the first two weeks.

How much time each day were you devoting to study?
Variable - not too much actual book-study or similar, more a case of hanging out as much as possible with Welsh-speaking people in Aberystwyth and surrounding cefn gwlad.

Was there a particular structure to your study? Maybe, apart from course books, aiming to watch a certain amount of TV, aiming to master certain subject areas through vocabulary books etc.
Not particularly - listened to a lot of Welsh-language speech-radio, read lots of magazines and novels.

Any other tips for others looking to follow in your footsteps?
Keep at it, try and maximise social contact with Welsh speakers and Welsh-speaking communities. Live in a very Welsh-speaking area out in the sticks if you can, like I did.
Share a flat with a bunch of vivacious and extremely talkative girls from Meirionnydd and Sir Fôn if you can, like I did.
Buy and cherish the very VERY best grammar (etc) books you can find.


Oh, now that sounds like fun! Is it too late for me to try that one…?


This reminds me I still haven’t answered to the “your story” thread, but this is a good opportunity to start putting the pieces together by answering your questions:

  • How much Welsh did you know at the outset?
    When I tried 4 or 5 Duolingo lessons and, right after, started SaySomethinginWelsh I had never been in Wales and had never heard anybody speak the language. All I had heard was a few records by the band Datblygu and just loved the sound of it.

How long did it take you to get to your current level?
I tried my first Duolingo and SSiW lessons in July 2018. So about 5 years.

What courses (if any) did you do?

  • July-August 2018: SSiW “new” course Level 1 and 2 in about six pretty intensive weeks!
  • July-August 2019: started and finished SSiW level 3 and did all Level 1 and 2 again once
  • March -December 2020 started and finished Duolingo Course
  • October 2021-June 2022 Dysgu Cymraeg class Level Uwch 2 rhan 2 (why that level? Because I was invited by a tutor to just try a lesson, I liked it and managed alright so I stayed!)
  • September 2022 - June 2023 Dysgu Cymraeg class Level Uwch 3 rhan 1 and Gloywi

In between, and in addition to those:

  • I kept on listening to Datblygu a lot and occasionally other music
  • watched S4C
  • listened to some radio and SSiW advanced material (didn’t really understand much, but helped getting a feel of the language)
  • hung out in this forum and asked questions
  • participated to on line chat groups and a few on line sessions (like Sadwrn Siarad, Duolingo groups, a few random lessons)
  • read books (mostly for learners) and articles on line
  • studied some grammar on Gareth King’s books
  • did some Memrise and Wordwall exercises
  • visited Wales for a total of about 3 weeks before lockdown and about 3 weeks after lockdown, trying to use what I had learnt = big boost of confidence and enthusiasm every time!

In the meantime, I passed the speaking tests level Sylfaen in June 2021 and Uwch in June 2022 (on line from Italy). Then the remaing Level Uwch tests in June 2023 (in Crosskeys).

How much time each day were you devoting to study?
Well…the one thing that I have never been able to learn is devoting a certain amount of time every day to studying. I swear I have tried and tried but always failed, since first day of school to…today and at this point I doubt that I will ever change! :sweat_smile:
So it was all ups and downs according to inspiration. It could be 3 or even 3 hours for a few days or weeks and then zero for a month or two.
Sometimes an hour or two every day for a week or two, and then just listened to Datblygu and did nothing else for a week or two.
Sometimes I watched S4C every evening for 3 weeks, then not at all for 3 months.
So can’t really tell. But one sure thing is that Welsh language was often in my mind: especially since the lockdown it was really a very important way for me to focus on something positive and relax…so I believe that very much helped filling the gaps in some even mysterious ways!

Was there a particular structure to your study? Maybe, apart from course books, aiming to watch a certain amount of TV, aiming to master certain subject areas through vocabulary books etc.
Not sure “structure” can be used for my style of learning. :grimacing:
But goals…oh yes, my success in learning is probably all about goals, if I think about it.
For example: learning to sing one song by Datblygu, understanding their lyrics, finishing SSiW level 1 before the free month ended, and level 2 before the end of my holidays, being able to follow Beca Lyne-Pirkis recipes on S4C, speaking some Welsh in the wild while in Wales, finishing a book, finishing Duolingo course, passing an exam, being able to tell how I started learning Welsh in a BBC programme writing a travelog (ooops! I have to finish this one, but got carried away by other things)…and so on.

Any other tips for others looking to follow in your footsteps?
My main point was to make sure to always enjoy myself learning - unlike when I was studying English and French and a (completely unsuccesfully) German at school.
So, of course, there must be a certain amount of self discipline and dedication if you want to reach any results. But goals can often be reached by following a more customized and enjoyable and creative path, and having fun instead of boredom and stress.
For example: my main tool for practicing my listening skills was: Gogglebocs! I used that with subtitles to become more familiar with different accents and it worked great! :rofl:
Chatting with friends and people, best way to practice speaking!
And this can be done for every skill, and following one’s own taste and preferences.

And well, when I come to Wales people understand often understand me better when I speak Welsh than when I speak English (that I studied for 10 years at school and used almost every day ever since) so I would call this a lazy way to success!


Thus is it written in the sacred texts, Sara: It is never too late for Meirionnydd and Sir Fôn input.


How much Welsh did you know at the outset?
Absolutely nothing. I had visited Wales once and seen “Araf” written on the roads, but never heard it spoken.

How long did it take you to get to your current level?
It’s hard to say as I didn’t get a lot of practice in the beginning. I was living in Cardiff and had no Welsh-speaking friends, but I would say I was comfortable speaking Welsh after 3 years. My “current level” is still evolving. As I no longer live in Wales, I have to work on keeping my Welsh up, so I spend some time each day reading, studying, and expanding my vocabulary.

What courses (if any) did you do?
I started with the online Catchphrase course when I was still in Australia, which taught me enough grammar that I could fudge a multichoice online assessment with Dysgu Cymraeg (Welsh for Adults at the time) and start 3 evenings a week in a Pellach (Canolradd) course in Cardiff. That was 2008. I understood absolutely nothing in the class and couldn’t speak a sentence, but I quickly grasped anything new that was taught and functioned just using that.
Then I found SSiW as it was just being released and I devoured each new lesson as it appeared, doing them all several times while I was waiting for the next one. That gave a rocket boost to my ability to speak and understand spoken Welsh, so once I got to the end of the Pellach course, I stopped formal lessons and just continued with SSiW until I reached a point where I was happy with my conversational ability but wanted to improve my knowledge of formal Welsh. I joined a Uwch 2 class and passed the exam at the end, then did Gloywi online with Swansea University.

How much time each day were you devoting to study?
In the beginning, probably 2-3 hours, but once I was just using SSiW I did a lesson on my morning commute, and repeated it on the way home. Then, while waiting for a new lesson, I skipped back doing earlier lessons while I was doing things like ironing or washing up.

Was there a particular structure to your study?
Only the commute routine above - apart from that I varied it, reading a little, studying grammar, listening to the radio, and quite often watching the previous night’s episode of Pobol y Cwm while having breakfast.

Any other tips for others looking to follow in your footsteps?
Vary your learning as much as you can, and if you’re not from a Welsh-speaking part of Wales, get as much exposure to spoken Welsh as you can. It takes time to “tune your ears in” and that is so essential for taking part in conversations.