As someone who was born and grew up in North-East England, with no connection to Wales at all, unsurprisingly, I never expected I’d end up learning Welsh. At school, I often said, “Languages aren’t my thing” and (embarrassingly) I don’t think I even really knew Welsh was still being used. Even when moving to Cardiff to study Psychology in 2015, I was aware of the bilingual road and supermarket signs, but I still didn’t often hear Welsh around me. I can clearly remember someone answering her phone in Welsh and thinking she must be an international student – that's how limited my exposure to Welsh was!
After I graduated in 2019 and started having more friends who were Welsh speakers, I began learning the odd word here and there. One car journey I asked someone to teach me the numbers to ten but struggled so much to pronounce “chwech” (the number six) that I quickly gave up. But seeing appreciation from runners at Parkrun after I said “da iawn” (well done), while volunteering, gave me a bit more motivation. Additionally, I have a close relationship with a Basque family, who I lived with while teaching for a month in Northern Spain. Experiencing their passion for keeping the minority language of Basque alive, also gave me a further desire to learn more Welsh.
Imy with some of her Basque family (Nora (left), Iñaki (middle) and Amets (right)) in the Basque Country wearing traditional Basque outfits for a fiesta.
I started with Duolingo, which was great for learning vocabulary, but I wanted more explanations and to practise speaking too. Especially as I was struggling to pronounce people’s street addresses in my public-facing work role. Around this time, the Learn Welsh/Dysgu Cymraeg courses were promoting free Welsh classes for under 26-year-olds. Knowing I was turning 26 soon, and my longstanding inability to turn down a freebie, I signed up for the in-person classes at Cardiff University – going back to where my introduction to Wales started over seven years ago.
In September 2022, I began the Entry (Mynediad) course. I’m not going to pretend it was always fun and easy giving up two hours on Thursday evenings to learn Welsh. I definitely asked myself ‘Why am I learning this?!’ more than once. But in March 2023, my organisation, at the time, wanted someone to open an anniversary event in Welsh. With lots of practice and help from my Welsh class tutor and friends (and after just five months of learning) I managed to speak Welsh in front of about 100 people. A slightly nerve-wracking experience but one that meant my newfound language learning had already come in handy, which gave me the extra motivation to keep going.
An unexpected consequence of the event was that a video I tweeted of me speaking in Welsh somehow went slightly ‘viral’ getting 46,500 views.. I received lots of encouraging replies, including some saying they wished they could do something like that or that I was an inspiration. They were lovely comments but made me feel a bit of a fraud – I still couldn’t even pronounce the number six! But feeling like your Welsh isn’t good enough seems to be common amongst Welsh learners and even fluent speakers. The encouragement from that event helped me slightly overcome this feeling and start attempting to use Welsh in conversations.
Looking back at the past year, I’m surprised and never expected how much learning Welsh has impacted on my life. There are big things, like making friends from Welsh class or that I’ve set up a “Cinio Cymraeg” group at my new work for people to practise Welsh. But in some ways the smaller things have had more impact. Such as listening to Welsh music on Spotify, starting my weekly to-do lists with “wythnos yn dechrau” or coming up with a Welsh name for my relay team at a local running event (sadly, as the name suggests “Yma am yn Picnic” didn’t win). I’ve also become more interested in Welsh history and culture, learning about the Welsh Not, Cofiwch Dryweryn and the Eisteddfod - bring on Ponty 2024!
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