So, my family started to lose the language with my Nain and Taid, and that became a done deal with my mother – so my story is about reversing that pattern.
I think I’ll need to do it in two parts – my life without the language, and how I turned it around.
By the time I was born, the language was long gone for my mother, and she’d married an Englishman (it took me a long time to figure out why I’m Welsh and not English, and the truth doesn’t exactly cover me in glory – but that fits better in tomorrow’s post!).
So I had a little time in Cwm Cynllwyd and then y Felinheli while my father did a teaching certificate at Bangor Normal – a very brief exposure to the language which may become important later on – and then we were off to Surrey, of all places.
For about two years or so – then it was Germany, then Portugal, then a year with Nain and Taid in Tre’r Ddôl, then Sri Lanka, then Malaysia, then back to Aberystwyth for a degree in English literature, and then off to Zimbabwe, and then Dubai.
That was my life without Welsh – and every step of that journey, I had a nagging itch at the back of my mind – about who I was, where I came from, where I might possibly belong.
I remember being held down in the gym when I was 12, by a big, freckly Scottish lad (I’ve forgiven the Scots since then!) who told me that since I wasn’t born in Wales, didn’t live in Wales, and couldn’t speak Welsh, I was either going to say in front of everyone else that I was English, or he was going to choke me to death (I couldn’t breathe at that point, so it seemed more plausible than it should have).
When he let me breathe, I said ‘You’re going to have to kill me, then, because I’m not English.’
In hindsight, that wasn’t one of my more carefully-thought-out decisions.
I’m still glad I was that stubborn, though…;-)
And yet – why *was* I Welsh?
I couldn’t change where I was born – and even the time I spent living in Wales didn’t clear things up entirely – so I always knew that at some point, I needed to be able to speak Welsh.
I first tried while I was still at university in Aberystwyth – I started wading through a Linguaphone course, all about a family from Patagonia coming to Wales on their holidays – who immediately seemed more Welsh than I was, damn their eyes.
That whole ‘who’s more Welsh?’ thing is so ridiculous, isn’t it?
But so hard to shake off entirely – I guess that’s a bit of practical post-colonial theory right there…
And, apart from my failed flirtation with Linguaphone and brief obsession with listening to Sara Edwards read the news in Welsh, I tried to learn other languages.
Wherever we went.
Each new language was a new test: will I, one day, be able to learn Welsh?
And the results were crystal clear.
No, I would not.
I have zero natural flair for languages. I left school convinced, as are so many other people, that I was just ‘not good at languages’.
And now I live my life through the medium of Welsh, I’ve retained most of my English 😉 and I can have a cheerful social time muddling through in either Spanish or French.
So what changed for me?
That’s tomorrow’s post.
Full disclosure: it’s not entirely unconnected to some of the stuff you’ll find in our own courses, about which you can find out more at:
Oh, and if you have a taste for the mostly light-hearted, there’s a bunch more of this ‘journey to Welsh’ stuff in my self-published book ‘Some Sex and a Hill: or How to Learn Welsh in 3 Easy Pints’ on Amazon: