On being a Dysgwr Cymraeg

‘Dysgwr Cymraeg’ means Welsh Learner.

I’ve been plodding along, on and off, for about 8 years, ever since the husband decided he’d like the kids to go to Welsh medium school – which means that they receive all their education through the medium of Welsh, and become effectively bilingual. Choosing Welsh medium education for our children, when we are both first language English speakers, brings a whole set of challenges and worries, which at some point I’m sure I’ll post about in the future. In the meantime,  because it’s all about me, yeah, I’m just going to bore you with the trials and tribulations of being a Dysgwr Cymraeg.

And here’s number one – did you notice there that it was the husband’s idea to choose Welsh medium? Of course we researched it and looked into the pros and cons together before deciding, but it remains his idea. SO WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE LEARNING?

Number two – my brain is broken. I used to be able to pick stuff up so quickly when I was in school. I mean, I worked hard (not much else to do when you’re a bit of a misfit) but it was never a struggle to get reasonable marks. Now, it’s a different story. Literally nothing sticks.

Number three – everyone tells me to practise on my kids. Which would be great, if they could understand my efforts. And even when I do manage to make myself clear, with much effort and signing and brain squeezing, the responses I get range from pitying looks to mild hilarity. From a five year old and a seven year old. Thanks a million. Now I feel REALLY good about it all. And it’s only a matter of time before the three year old joins them.

Number four – the language is changing quicker than I can learn it. When I started learning, I was taught to say ‘Rydw’i eisiau’ (I want). A few years on, and that’s only taught for written Welsh and I should now say Dw’i eisiau. And my kids all say (including the three year old) ‘Fi eisiau’. STOP! It’s hard enough being forty one and having to learn this stuff, without it bloody EVOLVING around me.

Number five – mutations, those effing, blinding mutations. If you have studied Welsh, even briefly, you’ll know what I mean, If you haven’t, you just need to know that you change the first letters of certain words, after certain other words, in certain situations and weather conditions. And there’s not just one mutation, there’s three different types, each for three or six or nine letters, and about one hundred and seventy six reasons why you might use one, two or more mutations in any given 10 word sentence. FFS!!

Number six – ‘one day it’ll just click’. That’s what everyone says. Everyone. Well, if that one day could just come quite soon please, I’d be eternally grateful!

Number seven – yes. oui. ja. da. si. ano. sim. There’s seven thousand different words for ‘yes’ in the world – one for each language. Well, if you include the Welsh yeses, there are seven thousand, three hundred and sixty three ways of saying ‘yes’. I’M NOT JOKING. And they are NOT interchangeable. Kill me now.

It’s not all bad, by the way. It’s a lovely language, and I’ve met some great people through my lessons. I know from experience that when I’m getting a reasonable amount of practice, my spoken Welsh improves dramatically – when I had time to go to class twice a week, I even managed a couple of interviews in Welsh. I can’t imagine being that confident – or having enough vocab in my crumbling brain – to do that now. I keep setting myself little tasks – ‘learn 10 words a day!’ ‘listen to Radio Cymru!’ ‘only look at the Welsh road signs!’ ‘tweet in Welsh!’ but the reality is that I have so much going on at the moment that it is a struggle even to get to class once a week. To be honest I’m feeling quite close to putting the fiddle in the roof (that’s Welsh for throwing in the towel).  Though if I did that it’d be just one more thing to feel guilty about, given we’re sending the kids to Welsh school. And on balance, given the choice between more parental guilt and more Welsh lessons, I’ll take the Welsh. Oh well, dal ati as they keep telling me!

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13 thoughts on “On being a Dysgwr Cymraeg

  1. Tzevai and I have just started learning for the same reasons – we’re hoping to send our (as yet hypothetical) children to Welsh schools and neither of us are Welsh speakers, so… Altho at least he learnt it in school, being English I had very little exposure to the Welsh language before moving here!

    Tze has used the ‘say something in welsh’ iPhone app/podcasts and I must say that even for me as a complete beginner they’ve been very easy and useful. (Plus one of their rules is ‘don’t write anything down’ which appeals to me 😉 )

    Good luck with it, anyhow. Tze is always looking for people to practice with so you can always tweet him in Welsh! 🙂

    1. I started learning in 2001, stopped in 2004, whilst happy with my progress, and I’ve only restarted this year, having found the SSiW lessons and having received some badgering from Els to pull my thumb out. I have to agree with Sarah. They’re excellent (I’m on lesson 18 atm) and even though I deem myself fluent, I’m still learning stuff from it all the time.

      As for mutations, well they can do one. If you speak with any 1st language person (or learner) they won’t give two hoots if you miss a mutation here, there or everywhere. They’re very much the cherry on the cake. SSiW are great at making this clear.

      How about we only speak in Welsh from now on in the yard?

  2. Great post. Interesting to read about the challenges of learning Welsh. I am a native Welsh speaker and have written two articles on the history of the language and my relationship to Welsh, growing up in a predominantly Welsh language speaking region. I would love your feedback!

  3. Great post. Interesting to read about the challenges of learning Welsh. I am a native Welsh speaker and have written two articles on the history of the language and my relationship to Welsh, growing up in a predominantly Welsh language speaking region. I would love your feedback!

  4. A fellow blogger has just pointed me in the direction of this post, after posting my own early experiences with Welsh language education (even English medium, Welsh terrifies me). Even after 12 years living here, anything more complicated than Gwasanethau leaves me in a states of blind confusion . A fab post, and you’re very brave learning!

    I was about to say something about why there are so many names for toilets in Welsh, but realised there’s just as many in English, but we don’t think about it like that.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it – and thank you for commenting – it’s good to know that I’m not the only one struggling with it! A friend has introduced me to the Say Something In Welsh podcasts which are pretty good – and no writing, just speaking so good for practise!

  5. Really enjoyed reading this, I could really identify with a lot of what you were saying. It took me ages to get my head round the number of different words for yes and no and at times I almost wondered if people were asking me questions to find out my opinion or test whether I knew the correct words for yes and no. One thing that I’ve found really helpful with learning the language has been to find a couple of TV programmes that I like and follow them. I never miss the football on Sgorio and used to follow Rownd a Rownd with similar devotion, in part because I used to live in the village where it is set. There’s a Radio Cymrupodcast that I used to listen to that is basically a selection of the week’s highlights for learners. Here’s the link in case you’re interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radiocymru/safle/pigion/ Hope learning the language is going well, I’ve found it to be a battle at times but well worth making the effort.

    1. Thank you! I like Pigion, and I do try and watch S4C when I can – I enjoyed Gwaith/Cartref recently. It’s a practice issue isn’t it – even 10 mins a day seem to make a difference. It’s just finding 10 mins!! Have resorted to reading my son’s Henri Helynt in the bath as it’s about my level! Good luck with your ongoing efforts, sounds like you are a bit further along the road than me! Michelle

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