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  you don’t speak Welsh
by Sandi Thomas

Every language student recognises that feeling of having just too many words in your head. Sandi Thomas knows only too well how it feels to have Welsh words jostling with English ones, Welsh words that you ‘own’, as she puts it, and Welsh words that you think you ought to know, but don’t. Not to mention the English words that suddenly mean nothing because you’re trying to pronounce them as if they were Welsh!

Enrolled on the month-long Wlpan course in Aberystwyth, Sandi takes us on the course with her, day by day, and through her eyes we are reminded of our own (ongoing) struggle to get a grip on the Welsh language. She and her classmates have to deal not only with conjugating ‘bod’ but also with the different dialects and accents of their tutors, a confusion that many weren’t expecting.

But it’s not all hard work - Sandi finds time to go up to the Miri Madog festival in Porthmadog, where she sees her hero Dafydd Iwan perform and, to her astonishment, gets to meet the man himself. Imagine how disappointed she is when she cannot say even one word of Welsh to him. Yet despite that set back, she starts to find herself at home in Wales, the north especially, and realises that one month in Aberystwyth is merely the beginning of her journey along the very Welsh road set out before her.

You Don’t Speak Welsh is a great book, an essential book for learners to read - it reminds you that you’re not alone, that no matter how long or how hard you’ve been trying to learn Welsh, there are plenty of others treading the same path, experiencing the same failures and the same successes.

It’s very easy to sympathise with Sandi, when she feels dazed and confused by the sheer hugeness of the task she has set herself, when the weather turns foul, when the words just won’t stick in her memory. Every learner has been there. But equally, every learner has experienced those little triumphs that prove that you’re getting somewhere, like saying ‘diolch’ instead of ‘thanks’ in the corner shop, or being able to understand a whole sentence in Welsh.

More than anything, though, You Don’t Speak Welsh is a book full of humour, happiness and a blossoming passion for Wales and the Welsh. It’s good to know that this delight in ‘Welshness’, this need for an understanding of the language, the culture and the people is not something confined to a few deep valleys, but something bigger, something without borders, something capable of captivating 'even' a Californian!


You don't speak Welsh
Sandi Thomas
Y Lolfa
ISBN: 0862435854
Publication date: 26 June 2001



© suw charman 2002, 2003 unless otherwise stated

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