Rough notes on using social media in one’s second language

My emphasis on this blog has changed over the years. It’s interesting to read back over old posts where I documented my progress with Welsh. Later on I was pretty uninhibited about blogging through the medium of Welsh on here, as a means of practising and as a method of seeing more stuff in Welsh online. Although very beneficial for me I guess it’s uncommon to practise like that in public. There were/are quite a few non-standard grammatical formations in my posts as well. Or, in other words, mistakes.

A few people have asked me recently about my experiences using social media in Welsh as a second language – especially blogging. Someone was asking me today about the experience and challenges as part of her research project.

So here’s a copy of some notes I sent as I figured they might be of interest to people who read this blog.

In hindsight it took me a while to get to a standard where I thought I had anything to say. There are blogs out there where people practise the very basics – which is obviously fine – but I think I wanted to do something more expressive. I think writing to be understood (which was an aim) is a challenge. There were a whole load of things to accomplish before even considering that as an option. I think I considered it for a fair while before actually doing it.

That said, as opposed to blogging, tweeting in Welsh was something I started quite early on I think. You could liken it to a child gaining confidence in learning to speak (or walk, etc.).

The first thing I tried on a computer was emailing in Welsh – even just greetings and valediction around an email in English. I made loads of mistakes with that but it was a key learning experience.

One thing to mention is that Facebook is not always the friendliest place for practising Welsh. It’s common to receive comments from ‘friends’ who are not comfortable with seeing Welsh being used. For example people have said things like ‘did a cat walk on your keyboard?’, ‘that’s easy for you to say’ and also some quite blatant expressions of disdain/displeasure at seeing Welsh being used. It’s funny how very few people say ‘I don’t understand your message, would you be able to give me a translation or a summary in English please?’, which is surely a more courteous way of answering. I’ve heard that that these attitudes cause problems for people who are learning, particularly the more timid. I’m a pretty confident person but even I sometimes feel a bit gun shy about using Welsh on Facebook. Interface is irrelevant here – it’s about existing friend group and expectations. Maybe this point counters the hypothesis that fluent Welsh users are judgmental about informal Welsh and bratiaith. That is, in my experience by contrast it has been the non-Welsh speakers who cause problems.

Twitter is better for confidence because it’s not predominently based on offline relationships for many people. There is a lot of freedom and variation in the way it’s used. There is a more of a sense that people can experiment, be individual and also that those who don’t appreciate it should just unfollow. And then blogging offers the best feeling of a space you control yourself where anything goes, at least in my experience.

These notes are incomplete and are based on personal experiences rather than data.

The 24/7 digital café for Welsh learners

I’ve been thinking about this idea for Welsh learners and I can’t get it out of my head.

What if there were a way to fire up Skype now and have a spoken conversation in Welsh with somebody?

At the moment you could fire up Skype for a chat (substitute Google+ Hangouts for Skype if you prefer) but what if you don’t know any other Welsh speakers? What if you do know some but they’re not online right now? What if the timezone you’re in doesn’t help? What if you’re a bit shy and you’d rather start practising at home before venturing out?

The core of the idea is a way to solve those problems, a 24/7 digital café if you like. You would visit this site and declare: I am online at (say) 7PM on Monday night GMT and then people could meet you online for a chat at that time.

You could also also list your skill level if desired, and your interests like mountaineering or literature or Hollywood or cooking or whatever.

In the short term it could start with a few conversations here and there. The aim is to have people having Welsh conversations 24/7 so there are always people online to chat with. If you didn’t have such a great chat then you bid the person hwyl fawr and then move on. It’s a bit like Chatroulette but less random.

The speaking and listening part is important. I know there are people on IRC channels (text-based chat) and there are blog posts and other articles you could read in Welsh online. You could start your own blog. But this is about speaking and listening.

People around Wales and beyond who are learning the Welsh language usually do so by means of courses – some of which are predominantly online like BBC’s or SaySomethingInWelsh, some of which are predominantly offline like those of Acen or Cymraeg i Oedolion and some of which are probably a bit of both.

But a course on its own is not enough to learn. You need to practise. You need to make heaps of mistakes in a variety of registers and contexts. You need to talk about things you care about and move beyond hoffi coffi and dw i’n dod o

Has this idea been/being tried? What about other languages? I’d welcome comments from anyone.

Is anyone interested in being part of some tests? Are any of the above companies/institutions interested in being part of something like this?

Comments are open.

Google Translate is now instant. But still fun (and dangerous).

Google Translate has already accelerated my Welsh learning. It helps to decipher a daunting piece of text.

Now Google Translate is instant. They changed the interface slightly and it flashes up the equivalent translation as you type. Boy.

In other words you get the same flawed “translations”, now even faster!

Try it for Welsh to English.

Example phrases:
Dw i’n cyfieithu.
Defnyddia yn ofalus.
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri

I wish there were a proper online Welsh-to-English dictionary that did instant look-ups. It would take some of the friction out of reading difficult books. Just leave the laptop open, type a difficult word and get the meaning NOW.

Having to click is too slow a method because it breaks the flow of the book. Reaching for a dictionary is even worse. The look-up needs to be as near to the speed of thought as possible.
🙂

I say “proper dictionary” because Google still gets words wrong y’see. It’s based on statistical translation and uses the “most likely” translation based on a corpus of text equivalents in both languages. It also seems to have a limited vocabulary.

And a reminder…

Don’t use it for roadsigns! But you can use it to check the gist of a professional’s translation…

Bilingual blogging in a Google Translate world

OK, just done a blog post on here in Welsh. It’s not my first use of Welsh online. I’ve emailed and used Twitter and commented on other blogs and things in Welsh. But a full blog post. Boof. It took ages to write!

I wanted to jot down some assorted observations and lessons learned.

Google Translate was a fun toy to use at the end. I enjoyed that. There was a surprise application – it actually picked up several typos. Example: I saw the word “penderfyny” in the result and was able to fix the spelling to “penderfynu” (decide) and so on. I suppose I could have got this from a dedicated grammar checker like Cysill.

Some things you think are obvious come out wrongly. “Dyn ni’n gwybod” becomes “Man we know”. And before now I’ve seen it render “Caerdydd” as “Bridgend” which is totally wrong. These are byproducts of its statistical approach. If it had a few cheeky rules in there it would be a killer.

Oddly when it translated “Islwyn Ffowc Elis”, a person’s name, it rendered it as “Elis Islwyn Fawkes”. I had a moment of mild disgust where I assumed it had got this from data originating on Wikipedia. It turns out “Guto Ffowc” is what the Welsh call Guy Fawkes. In theory this data could have been taken from any source in both languages. I don’t think it’s using Wikipedia, let’s hope not…

Some of it came out ultra-cryptic. It could be partly my Welsh as well as the translation algorithm. Occasionally it has a poetic quality.

I’m particularly fond of the intro

This is my first post in the old language. First post is usually quite difficult. She felt as a step in the new domain.

Although I think the ambiguity of the following, in relation to use and abuse of technology, is unfortunate.

They see abuse and will see good things.

For the WordPress freaks – and because it is such a fantastic piece of software, there are only non-users and freaks – I am using a plug-in called Basic Bilingual by Stephanie Booth for the summary bit. This automatically inserts HTML language code and allows you to tweak your design through the CSS. It gives you an extra admin field for the summary bit. Mine was an English summary for a post in Welsh but you can do it with any two languages. It worked for me first time.

[UPDATE: actually I just lost the summary for some reason, after fixing a typo and saving. So I’ve reverted just to pasting it into the post. It might be fixable with the plug-in…]

I had a minor quandry with tags and categories. (The quickest way to explain the difference is an analogy with a book. Tags form your index page and categories are your contents. Kind of.)

I have a back history of tags and categories here. My blog has an English-language interface, with most posts in English but now some posts (OK, one) in Welsh. In the end, I decided to stick with the English language categories. For tags I have used Welsh language and tagged again with English translations.

For proper names like Google I’ll be retaining them, rather than using things like Gwgl, Trydar (Twitter) and Gweplyfr (Facebook). Which I have seen in use! These recall a comic tradition apparently popularised by playwright WS Jones.

Here’s the problem. If you click the “Google Translate” tag you’ll see all posts that relate to it. If you click “blogging” you’ll see all posts that relate to that. But if you click “blogio”, you’ll only see posts in Welsh about blogging. I’ll see how it goes. I can always go back and re-tag (the joy!).

There’s always search, that will work.

(Incidentally don’t you think “blog” itself, the very sound of the word, fits very neatly into Welsh?)

I think I’ve covered everything except comments. The visitor comments here are a mixture of English and Welsh, which is fine by me. (Elsewhere on the web I suppose it could be good etiquette to comment in the language of the post – if in doubt. But that’s a possible guideline not a rule.)

This is a personal blog. I’m a human being and want this to be reasonably spontaneous, like talking to your face.

My blog, my way! If anything, blogging is about freedom.

FREEDOM.

So feel free to comment below. Or set up your own blog and comment there in the language of YOUR choice.

In which the monoglot looks at the bilingual baby

Contrary to some inspirational self-help guff out there, there is a time when one should quit. But like Edison and his lightbulb and Moses in the wilderness, this ain’t it. Despite the clear lack of any other similarity between me and those guys, this post is about that. Today’s blog post is about carrying on.

People often ask me “how’s the Welsh going?” and it’s good that they ask. When I started learning in 2007 I decided to fully commit. Part of that decision meant telling anyone who might care. I wanted to signal to Welsh speakers that I welcome them to try addressing me in Welsh and expect to get something back. I also ended up enlisting the indirect support and pester power of my friends, family, peers and colleagues at large, to progress this thing.

So I told people. I was interviewed by a newspaper about my (then) work at My Kung Fu, so I mentioned the Welsh and they printed it. I told more people. I even wore the badge.

It turned out to be a good tactic. Enlist the crowd to hold you to a decision. You will limit your options to just two – to carry on with the project or to quit. And the quitting would be of the most public and humiliating kind. So it gets you through.

So how is the Welsh going?

Kindly permit me a tenuous analogy about the world of open source software releases. If my ability in Welsh were an operating system, right now you could say it was almost at the alpha stage. It’s messy, it’s buggy and the user interface is far from sorted. You will encounter crashes and blank stares if you give me unexpected inputs. Nevertheless the will to progress and develop the product is there and experienced people can test it (by speaking to me in Welsh). You can even expect some useful and worthwhile output as long as you have a bit of patience. If it all goes wrong you can boot to a different partition and use another operating system (English) which has been fully installed and tested.

Much as I like a tenuous analogy, the software one is weak because we’re not here just to function. To be sure, Welsh to me is a useful language: a language of business where you can get things done. But it’s also a language of self-expression. I want to express myself in it and I want to understand other people more fully when they express themselves. Whatever the language, in this world we understand each other merely approximately. Therefore I can try to reduce the distance of that approximation.

Ample research has suggested links between acquiring a second language and various kinds of wellbeing or something like that. If you want to read about that, you can probably find a study. However true any of it might be, it’s not enough of a strategy or day-to-day motivator to keep going – not for me anyway.

I’ve mostly been trying to stop trying to be clever and just think like a BABY. When I started the wlpan course in late 2007, I figured I was a grown-up in English and a baby in Welsh. This amused me but it was totally wrong of course. I’m a grown-up in everything. Not long after starting the course I was attempting to describe the weather and my day job, which are things babies rarely do.

I don’t envy much about the lifestyle or appreciations of your average baby. (He has no equivalent of beer – nor jazz.) But the way a baby learns a language is superb, just mapping words directly on to things. The language becomes set and the mapping of words to things never fails, except for the possibility that he becomes a structuralist philosopher later in life.

Thing – word, word – thing.

Peth – gair, gair – peth.

It’s babies who are exposed to yr iaith Gymraeg who I envy the most. Not only do they acquire Welsh without hardly caring, they also learn English and map both languages separately and directly on to thing-space. The fact I know, say, the word “investment” and its Welsh equivalent (“buddsoddiad”) while they probably don’t is not really any consolation.

Each time I learn some Welsh, I map it on to the English equivalent, which then maps on to the thing or concept or meaning. English is the middleman which is clumsy at best, but try doing it any other way. And the whole thing falls apart regularly for prepositions (“to”, “on”, “over”, “for” and the like) and which verbs they relate to. And also for things like verbs and possessives (dw i’n dy garu di and all that weirdness), I still struggle with that.

Different languages will not map directly on to each other. This is a truism about languages which also happens to be true. Welsh doesn’t map to English. The phrasebook can only be an aid. It’s mental scaffolding.

“Hwyl” does not mean “fun” or “good times” or “mood” or “fervour”, those are just rough guesses. “Hwyl” means “hwyl”. The only way to understand “hwyl” is to go out and experience some genuine hwyl. Preferably in Caernarfon, I might add, with an assortment of local characters. And so it goes for every other word and utterance.

In Welsh you don’t really say you own an object. You don’t say “I’ve got money”. In place of that, as a southerner, you might say “Mae arian gyda fi” which roughly translates as “There is money with me”. So ownership has a different perspective embodied in the expression. It could be a healthier and less greed-prone concept of relating to stuff. That’s a maybe. Anyway, it’s different. A truer understanding of the insights within will only come if one lives in the world of “Mae arian gyda fi” for a while. These are just examples and it’s enough to make a point.

The other method of language learning is to get magically zapped in the forehead. The downside to this method is it doesn’t happen. But even if it did you might miss the life bits.

The product is the process. So even if I can’t think like a baby anymore, I shall continue to walk like one.

Pidgin Stryd

There’s a scene in Alan Bennett‘s semi-autobiographical play The History Boys where two teachers are discussing the English language. Hector, played by Richard Griffiths, remarks to his colleague that he loves language. Not merely “words”, he says. “That would be so… Welsh!”. They both chuckle.

I wasn’t able to quote that one exactly as I watched it on TV back in Christmas 2007. But disregarding for now the possibly that Hector might not know an englyn from an awdl, there seems to be a grain of truth in that comment.

It’s also my warning shot for what follows. This post has more of my highly personal perspectives on learning the Welsh language, following my first post on that theme. Below contains PIECEMEAL DISCUSSION OF INDIVIDUAL WORDS. If you’re a Welsh speaker, I guess you should substitute “warning shot” back there for “bait”. Words? You LOVE IT.

If you don’t love it, start your own blog because I’d like to read more Welsh language blogs.

Anyway. I got through wlpan and am now on the pellach course. Despite my shortcomings, language is a general interest of mine. I often think and talk about the English language. It’s one of my favourite subjects. But Welsh speakers totally rule on this one. They talk about their language A LOT. And now, it’s starting to feel like my language too in some ways – so I gladly follow suit.

“But Welsh is such a difficult language to learn”, people tell me. They’re right in some ways. ALL languages present difficulties; Welsh has its own. Written Welsh uses the Latin alphabet which can be deceptive – it’s immediately familiar but rendered differently. Comparisons to English are inevitable and understandable. If English is all you have in your toolkit, of course it’s going to look strange. That’s what the learning stage is all about.

English is a pretty versatile and useful language. I like English. Actually I love it. Although I imagine it’s a right bitch to learn as an adult. Irregular verbs, wonky spellings, arbitrary plurals, bits of Saxon, Greek, Latin and French all mashed together. Fortunately I started learning English as a baby and freely enjoy all the benefits it brings, with none of the confusion of, say, whether to use “bring” or “take”. Or what exactly the word “it” means and to use it.

So right now I’m missing the word “it” because my brain fibre seems to have wired itself around the word. So I’m in a process of unravelling some of that and wrapping it around Welsh, which uses different structures.

Check a Welsh-English dictionary for the “it”-shaped hole.

Neither can I say “I don’t mind if I do”, one of my stock phrases when offered, say, a chocolate digestive. All I get is blank faces or laughter if I use “dw i ddim yn poeni os dw i’n wneud“.

Well, it’s nice to be of some amusement.

“But aren’t the dialects in north and south Wales, like, TOTALLY different?”, I hear them cry. No, not at all. It’s one language. Although some of the Gwynedd and Ynys Môn folk have put my confidence here through some rigorous testing, it must be said.

For a few days into wlpan last year I thought I was learning south Wales dialect. Fine. I live in south Wales. My dad’s parents were from Cwmaman which is perhaps where I could be if they hadn’t moved to Slough in the 1940s to find work, along with countless others. South Wales dialect? Here’s my 400 quid. Bring it.

Then I gradually realised it’s partly some kind of bizarre learner’s dialect with bits of schoolly official words that you hardly ever hear (sglodion and micro-don are two examples from the kitchen of nobody I know) and “proper” phrase structures.

But mainly, because I’m in Caerdydd, Y Mwg Mawr, I’m over in Dempseys / Mochyn Du /  Clwb Ifor Bach and picking up Welsh words and phrases from all points of the compass. As my tutor remarked, purely in reference to Welsh and not even in jest – Cardiff is VERY cosmopolitan.

Each of my carefully plotted utterances could involve a word choice, such as teisen/cachen (cake), becso/poeni (worry), nawr/rwan (now) and llaith/llefrith (milk). The latter is an age-old shibboleth which verges on some miniature holy war at the breakfast table. My inclination would be just to adapt and pick one for the situation, in the same way I’ll just say cellphone to Americans like some accomodating chameleon. Everyone’s mate, see. Kindly pass me the milk and let’s get on. Dim siwgr diolch.

The only current exception is losin (sweets). That one’s hyper-regional and I’ve heard not only that but pethau da, fferins, da-da and melysion. And rumours of minciag, neisis, tyffish and pethau melys. How many of these are valid moves in Scrabble Yn Gymraeg?

But other than regional stuff, personality is a big one. In any given tongue, everyone tends to have their own personal micro-dialect, as it were. Part of the language learning process is finding it – refining your personality in the NEW (to you) language. Linguists might have a proper term for this. And it includes individual word choices (UPDATE: The word is idiolect.)

I resigned myself to being known of and thought of as a dysgwr (learner). Although at the very beginning I did entertain fancies of privately learning and emerging as a fully formed siaradwr Cymraeg, there’s no way it could happen like that. So I have to blunder about in public parading my peculiar accent, being all wonky, getting words wrong and enduring the laughs. Actually I like the laughs.

This included an interview for the Deffro’r Dinas column in Y Cymro (a newspaper) and a spot on Uned 5 (a TV show) to talk about Sleeveface in my clumsy pidgin Welsh.

A couple of times I’ve been told I speak like a public warning sign.

Also, drud (expensive) and rhad (cheap) used to get mixed up, as did gwr (husband) and gwraig (wife) – not helped by their proximity in my course notes. If I were the kind of guy that gets embarrassed, this kind of thing would be a problem. Particularly when I casually referred to my female tutor’s child as FY mab (MY son).

But if I was going to be a blundering learner I could at least pick words that sounded ultra-Welsh. So why would I say lico or licio when I could say hoffi (like)? That’s “like” as in “like”, to enjoy or approve – not a kids-overheard-conversing-on-a-bus like… As much as I might amuse myself (and probably myself alone) to pepper my discourse with “fel” or “megis” as I suspect Quentin Tarantino would if he were ever to learn Welsh.

Unlike some, it wasn’t an aversion to loanwords or some romantic notion of “pure Welsh”. That might mean cutting out words like cefndir (background), which smell slightly of English too. (That was just a hunch, but it seems a bit like the thing where “secretary general” smells of Anglo-Norman.) No, I never struggled with these things. Language has always been a mishmash. What are you going to do, cut out the Latin?

Hey! Some words are almost the same all around Europe now. Which is old news. Siocled (chocolate) springs to mind.

It was more about trying to squeeze as much new and exciting Welsh knowledge into a sentence as possible. Thus, warming to my new policy, I dredged up partly forgotten placenames like Trelluest (Grangetown) and Caerliwelydd (Carlisle). And zoomed into saying things like cyfaill (friend) and cyfeillion (friends) instead of ffrind and ffrindiau.

Hey everybody, I’m speaking the Welsh! You can’t get Welshier because I just cut ffrindiau right out of there. Almost literally – thanks to my new found zeal. I eventually chilled out and started using both. I’m told cyfeillion is a bit formal, like the kind of word you’d use in a speech. That’s OK for me. It sits comfortably as I have a personal fondness for the uncommon, the archaic and the perverse. That goes for any language. It’s in my DNA.

When I was chatting at the Eisteddfod I heard someone conjugate lico to make Licwn i (I would like) – albeit not while onstage in the main pavilion. Ergo new outlook. Besides licio is OLD, I heard that they use it in Patagonia, which is a yardstick of OK for these matters. Heh!

One personal trait which runs deeper is that I cannot abide any trace of twee. If there could be a trump card for Carl Morris it would have a rating of 0/10 for tweeness. If the name of the game is twee, then I lose – but I figure I gain so much more. So whoever cooked up popty ping (microwave oven) must feel highly deserving of some kind of award. But not from me. Unless I’m giving an award in recognition of their massive twee face.

In English, I have trouble with “bubble and squeak” for the Bank Holiday Monday breakfast meal. It’s tasty but I cannot allow this ghastly set of sounds to grace my lips. Similarly “I like to cook spag bol in my des res with all mod cons.” is an example of a sentence I would never use. I consider myself a self-respecting human being and only quote it here in mockery of the non-self-respecting.

Obviously it’s not for me to prescribe how anyone else should use language. But neither is it for me to prevent anyone talking like a douchebag.

In among other subjects, I think I’ll MUTATE next time. Ngh!

Mmmmmutations. Don’t hate them. Love them.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Heniaith

The last year has been a bit of a language learning adventure for me. I was preparing a massive post but it’s rapidly expanding into several posts.

So I want to blog about the Welsh language, for these reasons:

  1. I love it
  2. I’m learning it
  3. To offer my perspectives
  4. Recording my thoughts for a year’s time

As I’ve just started this blog, there are no posts from my first year – of doing the wlpan course, as it’s known. The learning system is based on an Israeli method for intensive teaching of Hebrew, which is also the source of the word wlpan. Other than the fact that Hebrew is also an old language, there aren’t many other parallels.

Until last year, my language learning experience was confined mainly to school and was in some ways typical for somebody born in the UK. Many people have lingering memories of frustration with languages at school and a quick straw poll of my friends echoes this. While it’s generally acknowledged that other languages can at least be useful, we can be inclined to think learning remains an academic pursuit for the dedicated. It’s formal and it involves drudgery.

Obviously there are exceptions where people have learned languages to fluency, in the school system. But they’re gifted or at least different to the rest of us – right?

Years before wlpan, I did get some experience of Welsh. I was subjected to Welsh language classes during the first three years of high school, for maybe two hours per week. Being a kid with very little life experience, I was a very reluctant learner. It didn’t interest me and I didn’t pay much attention as I never thought I’d use it.

Actually, I hated the feeling of being coerced into learning it.

The Welsh GCSE exam wasn’t compulsory until the following school year, to my relief. I would just sit it out, daydream and then move on.

Another memory was an invitation to a school trip to a residential centre in Llangranog, west Wales – for karting and exciting outdoor pursuits, plus some Welsh learning. Although some of my classmates went, I can clearly remember not taking up the invitation and staying at home for the weekend. It smelled of indoctrination and the fun stuff was quite clearly there to draw kids to the language classes. You know, to sweeten the pill.

I’d been living in Cardiff suburbs since the age of nine-and-a-half. I’d seen Welsh on road signs but otherwise assumed it to be dead, outdated, parochial, sentimental. Even if I were to visit north Wales or maybe Llangranog, there would be no monolingual Welsh speakers – they can all speak English can’t they? (These are comments which would irk me if I heard them now!)

In hindsight these were good opportunities. It was a teenage reaction in some ways. At the age of 13 nobody had really showed me any benefits to learning Welsh. I wanted to learn sciences and seemingly forward-looking subjects. Towards the end of year three of high school, I was obliged to take one modern European language at GCSE level. So I dropped Welsh for good (it seemed) and continued with French. Now unfortunately, a decade later, my knowledge of French has been remotely filed away in the cobwebs of my mind, buried by pop trivia and funny facts.

Things have definitely changed. I’m sitting in my living room in Cardiff, where there are visible signs of someone with a rampaging curiosity for all things Welsh. On my table:

  1. Y Cymro, various issues (newspaper)
  2. Golwg, Barn and Cambria (magazines)
  3. Siarc Marw and Y Selar (music/culture fanzines)
  4. Welsh Roots and Branches (extremely useful guide to words, for learners)
  5. Y Dinasydd and Tafod Elai (paperau bro, meaning ultra-regional papers listing community events, newborn babies, church and school news etc.)
  6. Welsh to English dictionary
  7. Cymdeithas Yr Iaith magazine (and other bits picked up from the National Eisteddfod, a giant cultural jamboree perfectly timed to arrive, almost at my doorstep, in August)
  8. A History of Wales by John Davies (very detailed book)
  9. Neighbours From Hell by Mike Parker (awful title, good book especially chapter on Welsh language misconceptions)
  10. Tu Chwith literary mag is not here but would be if I could track it down
  11. Print outs of essays, speeches and documents found online

An example of the latter is the rather ace transcript of English and Welsh by JRR Tolkien. He talks about his particular fondness for Welsh in some detail. You’re dealing with a guy who devours languages before breakfast, as well as inventing his own.

Back to the table of paperwork (which my friend Anwen jokingly calls the Bwrdd Yr Iaith), some of the periodicals like the papurau bro are not always immediately relevant to me, but I’m going for total immersion here! It’s helping with the language learning and plugging gaps in my political and historical awareness.

So what happened in the intervening years? If I could summarise, I would say that I was drawn to Welsh rather than being pushed into it.

Not long after I thought I’d parted ways with Welsh, it came back on the radar. It would have been when Super Furry Animals emerged on Creation records. They had a few Welsh language tracks on b-sides and then their Out Spaced compilation came out when I was doing my A-levels. I would have discovered that through BBC Radio 1 on the John Peel show. Later of course I heard about the Mwng album (possibly through the Session in Wales as it was then) and I knew that was a big achievement. I also remember hearing Patio Song by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on Mark and Lard’s breakfast radio show when it came out, a bilingual song.

I can clearly remember a couple of situations where I overheard people speaking Welsh when I reached Cardiff University. It seemed quite exotic to actually hear it being used by real people, despite my school experience. It might sound ridiculous but it made me feel slightly uncomfortable and some internal dialogue was necessary to calm myself down. University is a great time for having your preconceptions remoulded.

In my first year of university I also got myself a Clwb Ifor Bach membership card which allowed me admission to their diverse and excellent venue on the condition I was either a Welsh speaker or had made a commitment to learn the language. Neither was the case. Incidentally, it’s very common for members’ clubs to have specific membership criteria. Clwb Ifor Bach were relaxing this policy anyway and it was revoked not long after.

Over the years I then met people who happened to speak Welsh. Knowledge of the language never seemed a prerequisite to polite conversation (aIthough I can’t say with certainty what everyone really thought of me). Of those who became my friends, I never felt any kind of pressure from them to learn Welsh.

But gradually I felt some kind of higher plane of mutual understanding was possible. It felt a little impertinent, maybe, to converse with them in English. These were people who’d write their shopping lists, get their schooling, sing, pray and do whatever else people do – in Welsh.

It’s like going to Japan and opting merely to shake hands with people. When in Japan, it’s probably better to bow – if you can.

For me, working with Welsh musicians was another little pull in the direction of the language. I was promoting sublime tunes of Welsh origin, sometimes with lyrics in Welsh. A couple of these musicians offered some gentle encouragement when I mooted the idea. I also noticed my younger brother making good progress with the language.

In September 2007 I started attending daily classes – which involved getting there for 8AM. And paying perfectly good money.

This isn’t a dig at compulsory education. I should also say that teachers do a great job. As if to labour the point, some of my friends are teachers. Education was good to me and I did pretty well in the subjects I cared about. But there are certain subjects in which it’s very difficult to instil enthuasiasm in a pupil. Languages in general are one. (For some, mathematics is another.)

How should languages be taught in school? Without any formal training in education as a discipline, I can’t answer. I’m only an expert in the literal sense of “one who has experience”. Maybe I just wasn’t ready. Or maybe it was the timing.

I might have to revisit this one. But now if you’ll excuse me, I have some homework to do.