Before it became real, Welsh had a kind of mythical quality for me – a bit like something out of Narnia or Middle-earth – thanks to my grandparents.
My grandfather – Taid – was from Pen Llŷn, and a first language Welsh speaker – he eventually lost most of his English after his last big stroke. His sister, my Anti Nid, was probably the first person to suggest to me that I ought to learn Welsh, for which I’ll always love her. I promised to write to her in Welsh as soon as I did, and I’m still sorry I didn’t learn in time.
I’m certain it would have delighted her, though, to know that my children are growing up as first language Welsh speakers.
My grandmother – Nain – was from the Rhondda (so just the fact that she was Nain rather than Mamgu shows you who wore the linguistic boots in that family). I don’t remember ever hearing her speak Welsh, apart from the few words that were part of her (and then my) English – tyrd yma, aros, cau drws, that sort of stuff.
But she was from a Welsh-speaking family, who’d provided – in Uncle Edgar – a member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet (although the Antis were renowned for not being willing to put out the best china for ‘that old goat’!). The family had been going through that slow journey to seeing English as the language that gave you success in the world, and Nain lost her mother when she was very young, and somewhere along the line it must just have stopped being her natural way to communicate.
When I was born, Nain and Taid were living in Cwm Cynllwyd, nestled above Llanuwchllyn on the southern reaches of Llyn Tegid (the lake that runs south-west of Bala, which has its own monster and possibly a unique species of fish).
Now, this will sound odd to anyone who’s spent a lot of their life in the north of Wales – but for many, many years I didn’t really know where Bala or Llanuwchllyn actually *were*.
I could remember the sharp turn to go up Cwm Cynllwyd, coming out of Llanuwchllyn – I remember the house and the farm next door, and the field in front of the house – but if you’d put me down in Aberystwyth and told me to drive there… well, until I was in my early 30s, I’d just have stared at you, or maybe gone tentatively north.
Beyond that, though, just mist.
They were memories, not places, for me.
Cwm Cynllwyd was the place where – if my parents could just have stayed STILL for long enough – I would have grown up as a Welsh speaker, without ever having to feel that something was missing – that ‘weird mild guilt’ that Jed mentioned in the comments on another post.
And that almost made me want to stay away – it was a bit too raw.
But one day – after learning Welsh to the point where I could genuinely maintain a conversation – I went back.
It felt like a cross between exploring Africa or going through a wardrobe to Narnia.
When I saw that the impossibly sharp turn out of Llanuwchllyn genuinely honestly WAS an impossibly sharp turn, I started choking up.
And then, a few minutes later, I was having tea in the kitchen with Liz Tŷ Mawr – and to my baffled amazement, she looked exactly the same as I remembered (my mother explained later that Liz had gone grey when she was still very young).
We talked about Nain and Taid – about her memories of me playing with her grandchildren – she even, kindly but with clear evidence of hearing loss, told me that my accent had a hint of the Cynllwyd accent to her – which I will always cherish, even though it’s just Not Actually True.
She thought I ought to move back to the valley, and I was sorry that it wasn’t going to happen.
But she gave me something I will never forget.
She gave me the closing of a circle – the chance to sit and talk Welsh to someone my Taid had only spoken Welsh to – almost, in a link by link kind of way, the feeling of having shared some Welsh with Anti Nid.
The feeling of having managed, eventually, to come all the way home.
I can’t put into words how much it meant and mattered and still matters to me.
But I can keep on nudging other Welsh people, or people with Welsh connections, and letting them know that you really can find your way back to it all – and however hard the journey, it is utterly, utterly worth every step.
And now it feels a little shabby to put a link to our courses – but I can say with my hand on my heart that I designed them to be a bridge for other people to share the experience that was so deeply precious to me.
Our intensive, challenging 6 month course is at:
Our more leisurely but still powerful and effective 6 minutes a day course is at:
And if you’re almost there – and just need those conversations to become easier and more natural – then our intermediate/advanced material might be right for you: