By Kate Evans. July 2023.
My journey to learning Welsh has been a long one. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my Welshness all my life. I can remember being in school and hating Welsh, and anything to do with Wales. I was strictly British, decorated my room with the Union Jack, tried consciously, even back then to reduce my accent.
Even as a child, I knew the implications of sounding Welsh. I was the first year in Wales to do compulsory Welsh from age 4. I grew up in a very Anglicised area of Wales (Newport) I didn’t hear Welsh as a child other than in Welsh classes, school Eisteddfods or holidays to West, and North Wales. I resented the fact growing up that we couldn’t get English Channel 4, and we could only get the far inferior (in my mind) S4C.
Welsh classes in the early noughties, were not great. I went to a very 'rough' school in Newport, and Welsh was overwhelmingly the doss class where the kids ran riot. I was a talented language student, I loved French. In year 9 I got to experience German and loved it. A natural affinity for languages and, having to learn a language I did not want to learn, Welsh, was an interesting experience. I got my A* in French, and my C in short course Welsh, C being the highest grade you could get at Short Course. It seemed a bit of a waste of time to me, given that I had studied it since the age of 4, and had better French that I’d started at 11. I did my A levels in French and German, and was accepted at a prestigious university to study languages. Unfortunately, I realised very soon into my university career, that I loved the performance nature of learning languages. I was a performer not a linguist. I loved the characters I would create.
And so I went to university to study English and Drama. A small town in Surrey. Full of Oxbridge rejects. I was one of the very few Welsh people and the snubs and jibes just kept coming. It was clear; Welsh people were inferior: the joke. The uneducated peasants from the provinces. Even studying English Literature it was apparent. The imbeciles in Shakespeare to be laughed at. No depth of character. We existed in literature solely to be mocked.
I went to Drama School and was told that I couldn’t enter Carlton Hobbs (a radio competition) with a Welsh accent; I would need to lose it. I studied Received Pronunciation as those of us with a regional accent would be held back from roles outside of drama school.
Kate on stage.
Having graduated and acting professionally, the fact still remains, a Welsh accent limits you. You are seen as a comic actress. You are a clown. It has lit a fire under me, that wants to champion Wales and Welsh stories. I want to showcase Wales and its amazing people. I have never known kindness like that of Welsh people, and it was evident living in London for 10 years, that the sense of community and unity that comes with being Welsh is rare.
Feeling separated from Wales, and homesick, I started researching Welsh and Welsh stories. Learning about the Welsh Not, learning that my own relatives faced this in schools and the reason why I did not speak my own language. I left London in March of this year. Struggling as an actress, and not being able to feed, or house myself with the rising costs. I have now signed up to the Learn Welsh Foundation course starting in September. I’m also doing bits and bobs in Duolingo (so I know a lot about parsnips).
My feeling now is that if I don’t learn Welsh, the English that first colonised us, and the English government that beat the language out of our children win.
For me, it is now about connection. Connecting my tongue with my brain. Connecting my body with the place I was born.
I’m writing and hope to create Welsh plays, and hopefully a Welsh sitcom. I want to tell positive welsh stories. Stories that are more than being a joke. Stories where Welsh people are the main characters. I also have a Welsh Drag King who is about embracing Welshness, and write and perform stand up based on being Welsh. I’m just so sorry that it’s taken me 35 years to connect to my heritage.