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The Western Mail - March 03

Suw Charman chatted to David Williamson of the Western Mail, and this is what was published in the 'Online Wales' section of the paper on Mar 12 2003.

Successful web course in Welsh run from England

David Williamson David.Williamson@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales

ONE of the internet's most effective Welsh-learning tools is run by a former Melody Maker journalist in Berkshire who confesses to being "addicted" to the ancient language.

Suw Charman grew fascinated with it while studying geology at Cardiff University and during her years as a fan of Welsh rock group Super Furry Animals.

Now Ms Charman designs and distributes a weekly crash course in Welsh which is used by subscribers in the United States and Europe.

For £35 a year, users receive a weekly worksheet featuring guides to pronunciation, vocabulary, games and exercises.

Half of the subscribers come from Wales, 30% from England, but Ms Charman is astonished at how many people in different countries want to learn Welsh phrases for the pure enjoyment of learning a language.

She said, "The Europeans seem to be much more interested in languages. It doesn't seem to be that big a deal, but in England it is."

The success of the film versions of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga has also prompted new interest in Welsh. The dialects of the elf characters are acknowledged to be partly inspired by the author's study of the language.

Ms Charman said, "I get people e-mailing me saying, `I want to learn Welsh because of Tolkien.'" But while her two main websites, www.clwbmalucachu.co.uk and www.getfluent.co.uk, are becoming the hubs of an enthusiastic internet community, attempts to win the support of Wales's Welsh-speaking establishment have been less encour-aging.

She thinks her irreverent humour and the fact she is based in Reading may have alienated some people. Yet she is convinced her practical guide to the language - which includes a popular survey of swearing - is the type of material needed by adults keen to pick up basic words and phrases.

"People seem to find it hard to understand why an English person would be interested," she said.

"The premise it works on is you have got to make learning easy. The Welsh language is dependent on the continued learning of Welsh by adults.

"Unless you've got an atmosphere where Welsh is used for leisure purposes outside schools, it will become the language of officialdom and schooling."

Through the use of songs, short stories and features, learning Welsh is designed to be as painless an experience as possible.

Ms Charman would like to gain funding from the Welsh Language Board and Elwa, but has so far been unsuccessful in attracting major sponsorship.

Elwa has helped fund the BBC's Welsh language website on the grounds that it has the largest numbers of users.

An Elwa spokeswoman said, "When deciding on the most appropriate way of tackling this project, we recognised that the key was to make the material available to as wide an audience as possible as quickly as possible.

"The BBC website currently receives the highest number of visitors for Welsh learning materials, with up to 39,000 page impressions per week, ensuring that we have the significant ready-made audience we are looking for."

Last year's Eisteddfod was particularly disappointing for Ms Charman. About £800 of her stock was stolen.

She said, "I went to the Eisteddfod but that was a bit of a wash-out. It seems the secure pavilion wasn't so secure."

Despite these setbacks, her websites have attracted fans. Among the most enthusiastic is Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik.

He said, "Different languages are just a way of seeing things in different ways. Get Fluent doesn't make a big deal out of this.

"It just makes a good deal out of helping you do it. There's no magic in the process, but it does lead to magic results.

"And, while you still need to decide you personally want to learn, once you have, the Get Fluent website will help you generate the momentum to see it through in a way that feels like a hobby, not a learning duty. Give it a go and you'll find out within minutes if it's the sort of thing which works for you."



© owned by or licensed to Trinity Mirror Plc 2003

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