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learn Welsh subliminally

Learning any language is a big undertaking, and when you first start the task ahead seems insurmountable. In truth, it’s not as Herculean as it seems - it’s just a matter of persistence, perseverance and perspiration.

Enrolling on a course of an evening classes is the logical option for some learners, but many don’t have that choice. The easiest alternative for them is to buy a course book/tape to work through, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Colloquial Welsh by Gareth King (ISBN: 0-415-10783-0). The best approach to take is to do a little bit every day, instead of a big chunk once in a while. Ten minutes may not seem like much, but you’ll take in more than you think you will.

Unfortunately, even the best books can get a little tedious and dry if you’re having to work through them on your own, so here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve collected whilst trying to get my own head round Welsh, which might help you with your learning, even if you’re doing it on your own in the middle of Mongolia!

post-it notes
They’re great - you stick them on, you take them off… They’re so great, in fact, that you can stick them on everything you own to display the name of that thing in Welsh. Cyfrifiadur, desg, cadair. Then, once you know that you know the word for computer, desk and chair, you can just take them off and move on to llun, drych and blodyn – picture, mirror, flower. Just don’t try this on your cath.

If you’re a list-maker, try making all your lists in Welsh. Your shopping lists will soon teach you the words for the food you like to eat, and your ‘to do’ lists will soon have you organising yourself in Welsh. To start off with you might like to make bilingual lists - there’s nothing worse than getting all the way to the supermarket and suddenly thinking ‘Now, what did madarch mean again?’.

read your dictionary!
Getting a good dictionary is a must - the Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary edited by Gareth King is fantastic (ISBN: 0-19-864531-7). It includes comprehensive usage explanations and examples, and makes life much easier for the learner by clarifying the subtle nuances in meaning that different words have. Its only shortfall is that there just aren’t enough words in it, so you might also want to get a bigger dictionary for those that it doesn’t cover.

Of course, once you’ve got your dictionary, you’ll be able to spend happy hours reading it. And I’m not kidding – flicking through a dictionary every now and again will make you familiar not just with lots of words, but also the different forms of words. Seeing the way that pobl (people) lends itself to poblogaeth (population) and poblogaidd (popular) will help you remember those three words. You’ll also start to tell the difference between nouns, verbs and adjectives, like defnydd (n. material, use), defnyddio (v. to use) and defnyddiol (a. useful). Spotting different endings and understanding what they mean is a big step towards understanding Welsh.

Listening is probably the most important thing you can do when you’re trying to learn a language, and there are several Web sites (including CMC) that provide you with audio files to download and the corresponding text to read through at the same time. BBC’s Catchphrase is an excellent site which provides both half-hour Real Audio lessons and scripts to help you understand what you’re hearing.

books on tape
There are several Welsh books available on tape, including some by Bob Eynon who writes specifically for learners. It might take a bit of a search but they are out there! It can be quite a bit of work to translate a whole book, even if it is quite slim and has the vocabulary at the end of each chapter, so sometimes it’s nicer just to listen to the tape and get used to the sound of Welsh before you start work on actually reading the book.

Learners in Wales have access to Sianel Pedwar Cymru - S4C - but if you live anywhere in the UK and have access to certain cable/satellite digital tv packages you can get S4C Digidol, which is free although you do have to register with them first. Whether you have the terrestrial or satellite version you can learn a lot just from having it on as background noise - you’ll be really chuffed when you’re listening to it one day and suddenly realise that you understood that the next programme will be at half past twelve, or ‘hanner awr wedi hanner dydd’. S4C Digidol has more Welsh-language content than the terrestrial channel, and happily they seem to be endlessly repeating episodes of Talk About Welsh, their programme for Welsh learners.

Radio Cymru is available in Wales, and if you can handle their choice of music, which depends entirely on your taste, you can get to hear a lot of Welsh. If you’re not too worried about your phone bill, you can also listen to Radio Cymru on the Internet.

browsing the Internet
You can get a Welsh language pack for the Mozilla browser if you’re feeling really dedicated! Download Mozilla via the Gwelywiwr Mozilla web site, install it, go online, then go to ‘View’, then ‘Languages and content’, then ‘Download more’ and you’ll be able to download and install the Welsh language module. Mozilla is based on the Netscape browser and so is pretty easy to use. The only problem with being a Welsh learner with a Welsh browser is that all dialogue boxes come up in Welsh and sometimes you end up taking a flying guess as to which button to press… which perhaps isn’t the wisest way to browse the Web!

use Welsh in your head!
I use huge amounts of Welsh in my head, more than I ever speak on a daily basis. I have even managed to dream in Welsh, which surprised me no end! But however loopy it sounds, it’s a good idea to start translating things into Welsh in your head because that’s where the biggest change will happen as you start to get fluent - when you start thinking in Welsh instead of English you will know that you’re getting somewhere. So instead of moaning to yourself that you’ve got to wash the dishes, moan that you’ve got to golchi’r llestri instead.

mutter a lot
If you’re alone, and the neighbours aren’t eavesdropping, try talking Welsh to yourself, just to get your tongue round the sounds and see how they feel. Don’t just think ‘rhaid i mi olchi’r llestri’, say it as well! Then go do something more interesting…

remember - you are not alone!
There are a huge number of Welsh learners, all battling with the same problems, all learning the same words, all getting frustrated over the same mutations. Never feel like you are the only person to deal with all this - find yourself a good discussion group, (and of course I’m going to recommend CMC's group!), and get stuck in! You’ll make friends, you’ll learn loads and you’ll be able to support other learners at the same time! Bargain!!

If you’ve any tips or tricks that you’d like to share, please email us with them!


© suw charman 2002, 2003 unless otherwise stated

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