Trigger warning: gradually increasing methodological detail ahead…

Okay, time to get to the methodology details…;-) [That’s my version of a trigger warning!]

So, I’d become a Welsh speaker, and I’d spent 6 months in a pub (only part-time, unfortunately) and could hold a conversation in Spanish – and this after FAILING to learn GermanFrenchPortugueseSinhalaMalayDutchShonaArabicThaiANDItalian…

And I’d noticed something.

Whenever I felt as though I was getting somewhere, it involved either pain, alcohol or both.

So – with wild ambition – I started to write a Spanish course. And it didn’t go very well, and then I shelved it.

And then… finally… feeling like a walking embodiment of imposter syndrome…

I started to write a Welsh course.

I’d done two things first – I’d checked that Catrin would record for it and help make sure that none of it sounded wrong to her first language speaker ears…

And I’d asked Iestyn if he’d adapt it to a southern version and get the recordings done for that.

Catrin, sitting on a wickerwork sofa in our converted pig-sty bedsit, said ‘This is it, you know – this is what you’re meant to be doing’ – which set my heart on fire (yes, in a good way).

Iestyn, with his usual energy and enthusiasm, said ‘Sure, no problem’ – and I’m very glad he couldn’t foresee just how many problems we WOULD have over the next ten years. Maybe he had some faint sense of them, because he almost immediately set off on an 8 month tour round Europe. I like to think it wasn’t *just* to avoid me.

And I got down to work.

Course 1 – what we think of now as the ‘old days’.

I knew I wanted to do two main things.

I wanted to force learners to speak in Welsh – because I knew that was the most painful thing of all, and I was increasingly sure that pain meant value.

And I wanted to build as many memory techniques as possible into the course, starting with the fairly standard (but often sloppily implemented) notion of spaced repetition.

I also – and this turned out to be more important than I realised at the time – wanted to force learners to use their new words and structures in different combinations all the time.

That was all I really had at the beginning – so it was luck as much as anything that I was pointing in what would later turn out to be a useful direction.

Then I hit my first brick wall.

Where to start?

So I made a list. I cringe to think of the simplicity of it now.

I wrote down all the words I could think of that naturally fitted into lots of other words – and then I focused mostly on the verbs – and then I decided that we wouldn’t drill for ‘I, you, he, she, it, we, you plural, they’ – we’d just focus on ‘I, you, he, she’ to begin with, and leave the rest for later. That was a lucky call, too.

Then I hit another wall.

Should I start with the long form or the short form of the verb in Welsh?

That was where I made my first mistake. I decided to go with the long form (dwi’n mynd, not af i) – and I’ll explain later what was wrong with that.

Then, with those basic guidelines in place, I started building. I had some notions about how often new pieces of language should be repeated at first, and how often and when they should be revisited, and I stuck to them most of the time, apart from when I just forgot.

And it felt faintly artistic – a bit like writing an odd kind of short story, or a peculiar poem – and some of the characters started demanding a bit too much space for themselves, like our old dog and our yellow cat (but I’m enormously glad now of all the old dogs and young dogs, because they were all Caleb Alban, who we still miss dreadfully:

And then we started recording – in a variety of strangely unsuitable locations, ranging from the world’s coldest recording studio at Tu Hwnt i’r Gors to the agriculturally noisy background of Bodeilias – counting out the space between the English and the Welsh by hand, and waving wildly at Catrin when it was time for her to start speaking, and often collapsing in fits of giggles or wondering how much trouble we’d get into if we just killed the bloody cockerel.

And then, when we had 15 half-hour-ish lessons ready, we published them on Facebook, and said ‘help yourself, folks’.

That’s when the methodological journey started to get really interesting.

But I think that’s for next week (I might have time for an instalment on Monday, but then I’m off to Oxford for a couple of days, for a interesting meeting with Routledge – yes, please keep your fingers crossed for us!).

2 responses to “Trigger warning: gradually increasing methodological detail ahead…

  1. This is fascinating, Aran. Can’t wait for the next instalment. I have happy memories of chatting on about the old dog etc when I was starting with Ssiw.

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