I wrote a post on our forum the other day about the remarkable generosity and love in the SaySomethinginWelsh community.
It should perhaps have been on the blog – it was certainly long enough! – I’m just a little hazy about what’s best suited to the forum, and what’s best suited to the blog. I sort of think that stuff about the community is forum material, and stuff about language learning in general is for the blog, but of course there’s overlap. Confusing overlap, for the easily confused, and I’m definitely one of those…:-)
If you’d like to read it, thanking all our volunteers and most recently the heroes and heroines who’ve taken over importing our sound files into the lesson software, and Karen and Crispin who drove up from Dolgellau to make sure our trampoline wouldn’t blow away in the expected storm, it’s here:
But life refuses to settle down to anything resembling normality.
I’m sitting here at the moment with a Welsh learner from Wrexham downstairs in the living room laying a new wood-style laminate floor. Yes – he helped us source a phenomenal bargain that we’d never have been able to afford otherwise, arranged with Catrin to get it over here, and then pitched up today with his entire family and his beard in tow to set it up properly, out of the kindness of his heart.
For those of you who haven’t already figured it out from the beard reference, we are of course talking about Geraint (Gruntius on the forum) – and his wife and kids have been off with my wife and kids watching matinée films in Pwllheli while Geraint turns our living room into something straight out of an Ideal Homes exhibition. With some help from Catrin’s nephew Dafydd, who has a three month old baby and a new job but wanted to say thank you for us having treated him like a skip by throwing dozens of black plastic bags full of baby clothes at him.
And I sit up here, feeling faintly guilty about not being able to help (and, if I’m strictly honest, slightly grateful that I’ve got a bad back (for the very first time) because I’m certainly not a natural when it comes to, well, work, really).
But I can’t find the words to express how grateful I am, and how remarkable I think Geraint and Tracey are to drive two hours, work all day, and then drive two hours home.
It feels amazing but sort of normal too, by now – and I’m increasingly convinced that the way in which people in the SaySomethinginWelsh community care for each other is a really important model for how we ought to be trying to get all our communities to work.
I would certainly cheerfully choose any 650 members of SaySomethinginWelsh in the comfy seats at Westminster, and they would do a damned sight better job of running Britain.
It’s not just home improvements, though, it’s entertainment and debauchery as well.
Yesterday afternoon, a Welsh learner from Shropshire (Andy, who’s a-jay on the forum) called past just before three o’clock to drive me down the hill to the Glyn-y-Weddw pub, buy two pints of cider for me (which quite frankly is probably the most I’ve drunk in the five years since Angharad Lliar was born) and introduce me to his genuinely delightful family: his wife Sharon, son William, younger daughter Maddie and elder daughter Hattie – and look, I remembered everyone’s names, despite promising not to!
They had a look of fear I’ve grown to recognise over the years when I arrived – ‘Oh dear, here we go, our insane father/mother’s obsession with Welsh has now reached the point where we are face to face with his/her Welsh teacher, who’s probably going to speak Welsh to us, and then mark our pronounciation.’
Once they’d realised that I could speak English, though, they looked a lot happier, and I was too – it was an absolute joy listening to William rabbiting away like a non-stop word machine, watching Maddie rolling her eyes, trying unsuccessfully to correct him occasionally and showing a worrying interest in my De Efteling-inspired stories about how real fairy tales involve children who either die or win by burning adults alive. Meanwhile, Hattie was stuck halfway between wanting to join in with her mother, father and me talking about (no, no prizes for guessing!) language learning, and needing to help keep half an eye on the younger two, like a spare parent.
If it’s any consolation, Hattie, there probably isn’t a 16 year old in the world with a younger brother and sister who doesn’t end up spending some of her time wondering if she’s meant to be a parent or a child! That particular confusion will be over for you in about ten years, but don’t worry about running out, because there’ll always be enough confusion about other stuff, for the whole of the rest of your life…:-)
For context: she’s an extremely gifted young lady. Her dad showed me a water-colour she’d done of the view from Aberdaron, and it was absolutely striking – easily good enough to be in an exhibition. If Andy’s kind enough to email me a copy, I’ll put it up here and you’ll see that I’m not exaggerating. [Good work Andy! Here it is – not very high resolution, of course, but you can see what I mean about the talent, can’t you?]
That’s not HER fault. She’s got a neural structure that can turn a view into a work of art, and she can talk, she can have conversations with adults – so she’s got a neural structure that could let her talk Spanish as easily as she speaks English.
But she’s spent FIVE YEARS in boring, pointless, unsuccessful lessons that have completely wasted her time, and convinced her that she’s no good at Spanish. That is the school’s fault – and whatever their constrictions are in terms of time and money, that failure is unacceptable.
Hattie and I have got a deal now.
I’ve promised her that she isn’t bad at Spanish, but that her school was useless at teaching her.
I’ve told her if she registers on our new site and gets her dad to let me know her username, I’ll give her access to all our Spanish lessons – and if she feels like playing around a bit with them at any time (and ONLY if she actually feels like doing it), I would love to hear what she thinks of them.
Andy tried to talk about paying us for this, of course – after buying me two pints of cider! He’d have had more luck trying to get me to agree to dress up as a goose and run up Snowdon for charity.
I hope it’s not too late for Hattie to realise that she has a brilliant ability to speak two or more languages.
I really hope I hear from her, and I really hope she enjoys our lessons enough to end up having fun speaking Spanish with people.
Andy and Sharon will be back on holiday in Aberdaron in the spring, and we’ve agreed to have a beach and barbecue day – if Hattie feels like speaking any Spanish to me on that day, it will make my month.
Oh, and we’ve promised Maddie that we’ll try and get a move on with some German lessons, too! And William seems to be doing terrifically (as is Maddie!) with the Welsh lessons that their dad clearly makes them listen to when he ties them up in the basement at night.
But what about all the other Hatties?
What about all the other children with neurons shooting away like fireworks who get stuck in classrooms that drain all their natural brilliance for languages right out of them – who get convinced that they’re ‘rubbish at languages’? – who get convinced that other languages are boring?
What about them?
We have GOT to find a way to help them.
We can’t just leave them like so many Hansels and Gretels stuck in the witch’s cottage of rubbish language education – we have GOT to help them get free and throw that witch in the oven.
P.S. No witches were harmed in the writing of this post.
Hattie, Maddie, William – witches aren’t real. They’re just a way for people in charge (who are usually men) to blame women (particularly if they’re not ‘pretty enough’).
If somebody’s face doesn’t make you want to smile, look at their mind instead – because if they’re a kind person, every single mind is stunningly beautiful – yours and your parents amongst them – and a small part of that huge beauty is that those minds (your minds!) can enjoy playing around with a dozen different languages, if they feel like it.
So the only thing we actually throw in the oven is the idea of boring language lessons, and boring lists, and boring grammar rules, and all that stuff you don’t enjoy, okay?
And if you meet any old women who don’t look like airbrushed supermodels, talk to them – they’ll probably be kind, they’ll probably have beautiful minds, and they might even be able to help you play with another new language…:-)