When I first became curious about language learning, I admit that Welsh wasn’t my first choice. I was a starry-eyed seventeen year old in Canada, obsessed with Japanese pop music, and all I could think about was immersing myself in the Japanese language, travelling to Japan, and perhaps one day even moving there for good. Welsh wasn’t even close to being on my radar.
Another seventeen years later and my life has taken a very different path. After spending two years in Japan (and realising it wasn’t for me) and six years in Italy, I decided to move to Wales, a country my younger self had pigeonholed as “the place my family goes for a summer holiday.” As of this September, I will have been studying Welsh for four years and I couldn’t be happier here!
So, why did I start learning Welsh in the first place? I don’t have Welsh ancestry. I don’t have Welsh-speaking family members or kids who might whisper Welsh jokes behind my back. My job doesn’t require me to learn Welsh. In fact, I could probably get by just fine without it, especially since I live in one of the most anglicised towns in Gwynedd. Well, it turns out that I have quite a few less obvious reasons for learning the language, as you’ll find out below!
Meeting new people
Learning Welsh has given me the opportunity to meet so many interesting people from all walks of life.
I attend weekly language courses with other learners, take part in a local walking club whose members are more than happy to speak to me in Welsh, organise conversation sessions at our local cinema, and participate in online forums and Facebook groups about the language. I even went on a week-long Bootcamp with the Say Something in Welsh crew in June. And you know what the best thing is? Many of the people I’ve met through these activities have gone on to become some of my best friends.
Had I not started learning the language, my social circle certainly wouldn’t be as rich as it is today!
Respect for the country I call home
In modern day Wales, it’s true that the majority of fluent Welsh speakers are also fluent in English. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t at least try to learn the language if you decide to move here. Not only does it show respect for the people and culture of Wales, but more often than not, the locals will admire and applaud you for making the effort. I cannot count how many times someone has said to me “Diolch am ddysgu ein iaith,” (thank you for studying our language) since I started learning!
Keeping the brain healthy
If there is one motivator that will keep me working on my Welsh even into my golden years, it is the good it will do my brain. According to a recent study, people who speak more than one language have stronger connections between certain areas of the brain and this helps to delay the onset of dementia by around five years!
Gotta keep those synapses firing, right? 🙂
Keeping the language alive
I was recently chatting with a Welsh tutor who said something that surprised me. She believes that the future of Welsh lies not so much in the hands of the youth but with learners – those passionate enough about the language to promote and nurture it despite its uncertain fate.
After reflecting on what she said, I have to say that I agree with her. It’s true that minority languages require native speakers but they also desperately need champions in the form of musicians, poets, writers, actors, presenters, and yes, enthusiastic learners.
If my studying Welsh and encouraging others to do the same will help keep the language alive, then I’m all for it!
The “secret” language
Imagine this. My husband and I are walking through Lyon-Part-Dieu station in France, chatting in a mix of English and French, when suddenly we notice a pushy street salesman making his way towards us through the crowd.
Rather than trying to avoid him, we immediately switch over to – you guessed it – Welsh as soon as he comes within hearing range. He pauses. He stares. And he moves on to another unfortunate couple, allowing us to continue walking in peace.
I know, I know – this is more an advantage I discovered along the way than a trigger that got me studying the language, but I still think it’s worth including! 😉
Making him proud
I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t have any Welsh family connections but this isn’t entirely true. My grandfather’s cousin was born in Mid-Wales to an English mother, Daisy, and a Welsh father, Evan, who is buried up on the hill not too far from where I live. Despite not being a blood relative and having died many years before I was born, I still consider him family.
Whenever I drive past his grave, I cannot help but wonder what Evan would think of me learning his language. Would he be proud? Would he be cheering me on? I’d like to think so.
Admittedly my love affair with Welsh wasn’t instantaneous but it has grown exponentially over the years thanks to all the wonderful experiences I’ve accumulated through studying and using it in my day to day life. Today I couldn’t really imagine my life without it!
How about you? What spurred you to start learning Welsh? I’d be very curious to hear your story in the comment section below! 🙂