If you go about learning a language in the right way, you may be surprised that you can get off the ground and make more progress than you probably think.
If you’re interested in Welsh, I’ll do everything I can to encourage you to learn the language yourself.
That said, learning a language well is a real commitment. For many good reasons, you may not be up for it.
There are many other things you can do, though, to help the Welsh-speaking community flourish.
They range from the easy (and maybe more symbolic) to the more substantial.
If enough of us do some of them, it’ll make a difference.
1. Give your kids the lingo.
Perhaps the biggest thing you can do is to send your kids to a Welsh-medium school.
Starting with a toddler playgroup or at primary level means they’ll learn the language in a natural way (and, of course, still have English). Remember, bi- or multilingual education is nothing unusual if you look wider than the confines the Anglo-centric worlds.
Even today they are, scandalously, fewer Welsh-medium than English medium schools in Wales.
It depends where you are in Wales but, overall, supply is far below demand: about a quarter of pre-11 schools are Welsh-medium and fewer still secondary (11-18 school). This despite surveys suggesting that at least 40% of parents want their children to have this opportunity.
Still, if there’s a school near you, and they have a place, get your kids in there.
Either way, give your support to the parents’ campaigning and resource group Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg/Parents for a Welsh Medium Education
If your kids have already started education in another language, check out whether there are immersion programmes run by your local authority to enable older children to transition into a Welsh school.
The young ones will pick up and be encouraged by a positive attitude towards the language from the older generations. Make sure your kids see you taking the language and its culture seriously. Grandparents too can play a great encouraging role.
The Welsh Government has an extensive info site: Cymraeg for Kids.
2. Wield the power of names
There have been too many cases in recent years where the beautiful names of Welsh farms and houses rich with history and a sense of place have been replaced by random, generic English ones.
Retain and use the traditional names when you can and point out their value if you see somebody trying to erase them.
Learn the Welsh names for places throughout Wales and use them…even in your English.
If you still write letters, address them in Welsh – to Abertawe not Swansea, Aberdaugleddau not Milford Haven.
If you can’t remember these, at least refuse to use the pathetic Anglicised spellings. Write Merthyr Tudful not Merthyr Tydfil. Llantwit Major for Llanilltud Fawr? I mean really?
Maybe most important of all, give your kids Welsh names.
That’s what my parents did, and the rest, as they say, is “hanes” (history).
3. Choose the “Welsh option”
Choose the “Welsh option” whenever you can.
If you can’t speak Welsh, the Welsh versions of official websites or online forms may be a bit much.
Still, you could also have a go with some interactive Welsh when you already know the drill.
For example, when you’re shopping or withdrawing money from a hole in the wall.
If you’re learning to drive, you can display a Welsh “D” plate (for “Dysgwr”) instead of a lea”L” plate.
4. Embrace Welsh tat
Send Welsh greetings cards.
Get some mugs sporting Welsh for your kitchen or one of those bread bins with “Bara” on the side.
Don Welsh clothing….a hoodie or t-shirt emblazoned with a Welsh slogan.
Is it going to save the language? No. But it’ll help with a sense of pride and a sense of place… It could also be a conversation starter…
Plus, it can be fun.
I’m talking giant blow-up leeks and those daffodil hat arrangements 😉 Naff nationalism….? Bring it on!
5. Call out anti-Welsh prejudice
A more serious point: Welsh speakers and their culture are still the subject of derision and denigration.
It reflects the insecurity of some.
For others, it a disciplining move to keep the Welsh “under the hatches” so long as they insist on living their lives in their own language.
You see, there are supposed to be “too few” Welsh. The country is “too poor” and the Welsh community is supposed to be grateful for “goodwill” from the English-speaking majority and the largesse of the “English taxpayer”.
Funny, isn’t it, how countries like Iceland and Estonia, with a fraction of the resources of Wales, with fewer people and with harder histories, somehow manage to run the whole of civic and state life through the medium of their “useless” little languages?
Of course, there was a time when the Danes and the Russians didn’t approve (check out the Anti- Welsh Bingo graphic below for their reasons).
The prejudice can be quite subtle, such as the implication that Welsh-speaking communities and culture are somehow inherently more “inward-looking” and even “racist” than English ones.
The British socialist left and liberal “progressives” of the type who frequently write in “progressive” London press – are masters at this sort of thing. The popular “progressive” Daily Mirror, meanwhile, can whip up a baser anti-Welsh hysteria with the best of the right when it needs to.
Bullies should be confronted, but don’t forget to make fun as well.
How about playing anti-Welsh bigot bingo? (it works for all minority languages)
Don’t forget to call out those all-too-numerous Welsh (Welsh-speaking or no) who have a bad case of Stockholm syndrome when it comes to their language and culture.
The roots of the problem nowadays really are in Wales. It doesn’t actually matter what anybody anywhere else thinks.
6. Favour businesses which respect the language
For centuries, Welsh was banished from the field of business and commerce.
Old attitudes die hard, though things are slowly changing for the better.
You can help.
Much of the campaigning regarding Welsh in business and commerce has been focussed on large companies (usually run from outside Wales).
Yet if Welsh business owners made more use of the language, the atmosphere of Wales could be transformed quite quickly.
If you run your own business, use Welsh signage and put some Welsh on your packaging and website.
Ensure you and your staff have “service Welsh”. If they’re too thick to learn to meet and greet and thank customers, you’re probably not going to be business for much longer anyway.
If your neighbours or relatives have businesses, ask them to start using the language in just the same way.
We do still need legislation to require large business to treat Welsh-speakers equally, though.
Why should Welsh-speakers have to campaign again and again every time a large shop is opened or refitted without Welsh signage? The big businesses want to take Welsh money and have no problem with bilingualism in other markets.
Until the law changes (and on that see next section) exercise the power of your pocket or your “punt” (“pound” in Welsh, pronounced “pint” as in “pin” + t, not as in a “pint” of beer).
Social media makes it easier than it’s ever been to call out large companies who’ll take Welsh money while treating the Welsh with contempt. We’re talking about the likes of you, First Great Western.
7. Support Welsh language pressure groups
There’s been a centuries-long campaign to replace Welsh with English in Wales.
The status of the language has improved in recent decades, but there’s still lots to do.
Welsh communities are still under threat due to planning decisions which don’t take account of the linguistic landscape and can alter the linguistic balance over night.
When official bodies do adopt some Welsh, this is often skin-deep tokenism.
It doesn’t involve any structural changes to the internal working language of the institution.
As a result, the level of provision is often less extensive than the English and sometimes made deliberately hard to access (so that then a lack of take-up can be blamed on a lack of “demand”).
In many important domains, such as the armed forces or prison service, meanwhile, Welsh still has hardly any role at all.
Welsh-speakers still don’t have individual language rights. They can’t sue the state for the failure to provide Welsh education for their children. They can’t demand to be tried by a jury of their Welsh-speaking peers. They can’t take action to prevent employers for trying to ban them using Welsh in the workplace.
So, hassle your MP, AM and local council, yes….
But….to go the extra mile, join a campaigning group (or at least get on their mailing list).
They’d love your support even if you don’t speak the lingo.
The are two main ones:
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg/the Welsh Language Society. All they campaign for is bilingualism (for Welsh speakers to be treated just equally to English). Even that, though has often caused the English establishment and its Welsh hangers-on to have fits of the vapours.
Influenced by Gandhi, Cymdeithas do have a policy of non-violent direct action against property (spraying over English-only signs, occupying buildings) and its members always own up for their actions (and many have been to jail). As a member or supporter, you don’t have to do any of that yourself, if you don’t want to.
Dyfodol yr Iaith is the more “respectable” in that it does not take direct action and is more of a policy and lobbying group.
8. Learn the pronunciation
I’ll never forget how weirdly magical Welsh sounded when I first heard it spoken.
The fact is, though, Welsh pronunciation is not difficult.
If you speak English with a Welsh accent, you’ll already be a good part of the way there.
There are three new(ish) sounds: “ll” (a bit like “thl”), “ch” as in Scottish “loch” (not the “ch” in “church”) and “rh” which sounds like the “r” in “perhaps”.
Remember to roll your “r”, if you can.
Welsh spelling looks very exotic but it’s actually simple: phonetic and more logical than English.
Fist, note that “w” is a vowel (“u” in English).
“Ff” is like English “f” as in “off”. “F” is a “v” sound, in English “of”. Then there’s the double “dd” which is the voiced “th” as in “that” (as opposed to the “th” in thing, a sound that you have in Welsh too).
Stress is usually on the second from the last syllable.
There are one or two further complications, but that’ll get you a good part of the way.
It’s all you need to know to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngochgogerychwyrndrobwyllllandysiogogogoch like a native 😉
Relatively simple though it is, BBC announcers and hacks still don’t have to get it right. It’s cos they is too “world class” to worry about the parochial Welsh. It’s all about power, is it not Mr Dimbleby?
9. Spice up your English, go Wenglish and Anglo-Welsh
Many English-speakers who’ve grown up in Wales do a good line in “Wenglish”. If that’s you, keep it up!
Wenglish is sometimes used to mean Welsh heavily influenced by borrowings from English. Here, though, we mean English heavily influenced by the underlying rhythms, accent and even sentence structure of Welsh.
Wenglish can include Welsh words, such as “twp” (stupid), “ych a fi” (to express disgust, for example when you discover a decomposed sandwich in the fridge), “cariad” (literally “love” used to address people), “bach” (literally “small”, also used to address people affectionately) or “cwtsh” (cuddle)).
It can also involve using the English equivalent of Welsh words, but using them “as if” they were Welsh.
So, “perthyn” in Welsh means “to belong” but it also means “to be related to”. If you hear “Does Dafydd belong to you?” maybe the question is whether he’s your relative, not your slave. Look out for the more flexible sentence structure of Welsh in English too: “laughing I was” means “I was laughing” (where English uses emphasis Welsh often changes the sentence structure).
Ask your Wenglish speaking mates for some help or consult a Wenglish “textbook”.
If you’re from somewhere else, you may not feel so authentic adopting a “full valleys” accent.
Still, you can get using some Welsh words by trying out “bore da” (good morning) “diolch” instead of “thank you” when out shopping. Only use “bore da” in the morning, though. Otherwise, try out “prynhawn da” (good afternoon) or “noswaith dda” (good evening) as greetings. “Good night” is “nos da”.
Don’t forget either that there’s a rich body of “Anglo-Welsh” literature, is written in English but in a Welsh context.
10. Take part in Welsh culture
Welsh has a rich culture and you can get further than you’d expect in exploring and supporting it even if you don’t speak Welsh.
Many Welsh-language events provide information to make proceedings accessible to non Welsh speakers via simultaneous translation.
The biggest annual cultural event is the National Eisteddfod, the peripatetic cultural and social festival. There are people on “y Maes” (the field) who can offer guidance in English and as you enter one of the tents to attend an even, just grab a wireless headset.
Sometimes plays or operas put on by bodies such as the Welsh National Opera, or Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru put on Welsh-language shows with English surtitles.
The Welsh language television channel is called Sianel Pedwar Cymru (“S4C”).
Yes, I’m afraid there’s only one, it was only won after a great struggle. Even today, some anti-Welsh politicos seem to think they’re doing somebody a favour in permitting it.
Dear me, I just don’t know how these multi-channelled Icelanders, Estonians or Basques do it….
But I digress: the point here – S4C has an English language website and many of its programmes have optional English subtitles
Welsh has a one of Europe’s oldest literary traditions.
For centuries, poetry and song dominated but in the last hundred and fifty years many, many novels and plays, essays and factual books have been added to the patrimony.
If you’re Welsh it’s your heritage and you can explore so much of it in translation.
The Welsh music scene is also rich, from the obvious hymns and male-voice choir staples, through folk to rock and rap.
Although English language broadcasters in Wales are too, erm, narrow and inward looking, to broadcast much beyond the Anglo-American mainstream, you can tune into Welsh language radio for a live flavour or exploit online streaming of your (soon to be) favourite songs.
An exciting recent development is Ras yr Iaith. It’s a mass, sponsored relay race which takes place every two years on a different route through Wales. You can sponsor a mile or five….Anyone can take part. You don’t have to speak Welsh. The money raised funds grants to promote the use of the language in the community.
See? There are so many ways that you can enrich your life and make a difference…even if you don’t speak Welsh.
If I’ve missed any, let me know in the comments below.
Meanwhile, if all that action does just whet your appetite, there’s a great, free online Welsh course offered by my friends over at SaysomethinginWelsh.
You can also sign up for my free five-part video course all about how to get of to a firm start as a self-directed adult learner.
Ready steady, Welshify! 🙂 🙂