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 dont.
Not to mention the English words that suddenly mean nothing
because youre trying to pronounce them as if they were
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 werent expecting.
But its 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 Dont Speak Welsh is a great book, an essential
book for learners to read - it reminds you that youre not
alone, that no matter how long or how hard youve been trying
to learn Welsh, there are plenty of others treading the same path,
experiencing the same failures and the same successes.
Its 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 wont stick
in her memory. Every learner has been there. But equally, every
learner has experienced those little triumphs that prove that youre
getting somewhere, like saying diolch instead of thanks
in the corner shop, or being able to understand a whole sentence
More than anything, though, You Dont Speak Welsh is a book
full of humour, happiness and a blossoming passion for Wales and
the Welsh. Its 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
Publication date: 26 June 2001