How far would you travel to practise your Welsh conversational skills?

[For Margaret, the answer (so far!) is: Slovenia!  In this entertaining article, you can read about her trip to meet Tatjana and speak Welsh in a number of different places in Slovenia.]


Do you remember coming back from your holidays to go back to school and having to write an essay?…What I did on my holidays. Well, this is an account of what we did on our holidays.

(Margaret) Tatjana, I believe you like rugby.

(Tatjana) Yes, I do like rugby very much. I got to like it about 8 years ago when I was invited to join an on-line forum for teenagers. I have to confess it’s a long time since I’ve been a teenager myself. When the British and Irish Lions team started a tour I had to write about it because everyone else was on holiday. Since I didn’t know anything about it I had to do some research. As I live in Slovenia, where rugby is not very popular this was a challenge for me. I started to follow rugby and to fall in love with it.

(Margaret) Did you get to see any games?

(Tatjana) I didn’t. I could listen to them, but only in Welsh because of the BBC restrictions on broadcasting sport abroad. So I thought, I have to learn Welsh to understand what they are saying.

(Margaret) I believe you made a promise. Can you tell me about it?

(Tatjana) Yes. First I thought I should learn Welsh but then later I started to follow the 6 Nations and made a promise that if Wales won the Grand Slam I would start to learn Welsh.

(Margaret) And what happened?

(Tatjana) In 2012 Wales won, so I had to fulfil my promise! I had already learned a very small amount of Welsh, but I’d also made a promise to write a blog, in Welsh.

And how did you, Margaret, come to learn Welsh?

(Margaret) Well, I moved to Wales from England for work., with no family or historical connections to Wales or the Welsh language. Although I knew there was a language called Welsh I hadn’t heard it and didn’t really hear it until my patients (I’m a nurse) started talking it, or when I heard it it in church. I’m lucky enough to live in the Gwendraeth Valley which is a hotspot of Welsh.

(Tatjana) Did you start learning straight away?

(Margaret) Well, no. It was several years before I started learning ‘officially’, but I did have the chance to hear the cadences and rhythms and flow of Welsh before I started going to classes, in 2007.

So how did you, Tatjana, go about learning Welsh? I can’t imagine there are night classes in Ljubljana.

(Tatjana) Well, first of all I bought some books with CDs and tried to learn from them but I don’t think it went very well. So then I searched in a library in Ljubljana for books with written exercises and I found some, along with Welsh music so I started to learn a little more.

(Margaret) But you know a lot now. How did that come about?

(Tatjana) I tried very hard to Tweet in Welsh and I even tweeted Radio Cymru several times. Someone saw these tweets and suggested that I learn with Say Something in Welsh, an online course.

(Margaret) Well that’s funny, I learn with SSIW as well.

(Tatjana) And how did you start with SSIW?

(Margaret) Well, I went to classes for a couple of years, not a problem if you live in Carmarthenshire, and at the end of the second year, when SSIW had been going for few months, someone told me about it. I joined up, but didn’t do anything more about it for a few months until I broke my leg! No classes for 9 months. But I could do the SSIW lessons.

So, Tatjana, it’s time to tell those who don’t know about SSIW, how it works. How does it work?

(Tatjana) It works on listening and trying to repeat what you are hearing, in Welsh. You are given sentences and words in English, and in Welsh, and you try to say the sentences and structures in Welsh before the silence ends.

(Margaret) I think it’s really important to say that it’s all about Saying Something in Welsh and not at all about reading, writing or even understanding Welsh grammar.

Is it expensive?

(Tatjana) No, I was really glad about that to start off with because of the money I had spent on books. In fact I was surprised to find that the first course, 25 x half hour lessons, are free. And after that it’s less than a fiver a month. They offer 2 more levels and lots of listening exercises. And the chance to learn other languages as well, by the same method.

(Margaret) And after you’ve done the first level you can go to Bootcamp. I’m afraid that isn’t free, but it’s worth every penny. I went when I was recovering from my broken leg, but in fact I’ve been five times in 6 years. Again, no grammar, no formal lessons, no reading, writing, and, most importantly, no English. It’s not about learning new stuff, it’s using what you already know.

(Tatjana) So how was your first Bootcamp?

(Margaret) Well, to tell the truth, it was a bit stressful. But if you can end up explaining about when somebody died, 20 years previously, and how you felt about it and what you did, in Welsh, by the end of the week then yes, you have progressed from Learner to Speaker.

So, what am I doing here in a kitchen in Slovenia with you, Tatjana? How did I get here?

(Tatjana) Well, SSIW has an excellent and very supportive forum, where I posted a lot about my difficulties with Welsh, and finally had the courage to ask for conversation partners on Skype. You messaged me with a suggestion that we should talk via Skype and that’s how we met, on line.

(Margaret) I try not to fly so when I went to Santiago de Compostela last August I went by bus, which was fairly uncomfortable. When I decided to go again this Easter my husband suggested an inter-rail ticket, but then I wondered what to do with those free travelling days. What about going to Slovenia to meet my favourite Welsh learner here/there? By the way Tatjana is convinced she is the only Welsh learner in Slovenia.

(Tatjana) I was very surprised when Margaret sent me a private message on the forum that she proposed to visit – if that was OK with me. But I was very happy to say yes and so things started to move.

(Margaret) What does your husband think about it – or is it better not to ask?

(Tatjana) He was delighted at first and then began to worry about he would be involved in all this. I, Tatjana, don’t drive and rely on him to some extent for transport.

(Margaret) Well, when he’s with us we speak some Welsh, some Slovenian and some English, which we all understand. And in fact he understands more Welsh than he admits to. And when he’s not around, a lot more Welsh. I have to confess it hasn’t been totally in Welsh – but Tatjana has never spoken so much Welsh in such a short time!

And what have we talked about, in Welsh, on our holiday?

(Tatjana) Weddings, Christmas, eyesight, Slovenian history (I don’t know as much as I thought), plants and the natural world, our friends on the forum, food and drink, a bit (not a lot) of Welsh grammar, and too many other things to remember.

(Margaret) Tatjana is now the proud owner of a Welsh T Towel which is doing sterling service as a Welsh flag. Her husband put it up on the wall within minutes of it getting home – and I have a book about Slovenia’s attractions and a T shirt with Slovenia written on it. Perhaps we should start a Welsh/Slovenian society.

(Tatjana&Margaret) And we toast our long suffering husbands who made all this possible!


[Diolch yn fawr iawn – thank you very much! – to Tatjana and Margaret for this lovely and entertaining story.  I’m particularly tickled that someone would promise to learn Welsh if the rugby team won another Grand Slam – maybe that’s something we need to explore in the future…;-)

Do you have a story about your experiences learning Welsh?  Would you be willing to share it?  If so, please email us at admin[at] – we’d love to hear from you!]

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