This is an incredibly common question – and a horribly difficult one to answer!
Let’s try a thought experiment…
If ‘intermediate’ means that you can hold a conversation, and understand most of the responses, but it all feels like hard work…
And if ‘fluent’ means it feels easy, and you can understand almost everything you hear, in conversations and on radio and TV…
Then there are only actually TWO steps you need to solve to get from ‘intermediate’ to ‘fluent’.
First, you need to solve for ‘feels easy’.
Second, you need to solve for ‘much larger vocabulary’.
People usually imagine that you need to solve those two points the other way round – that you have to slog away at building your vocabulary, and eventually it will all start to seem easier.
In my personal experience, though, and as a tutor to a lot of Welsh learners, that’s simply not the case.
You can reach the point where it genuinely feels easy while you still have quite a limited vocabulary…
And there’s only ONE thing you need to do.
You need to have an hour’s conversation – once a week – with ONE other person.
Now, a LOT of people go faithfully to some kind of group meeting every week, and expect that to push them on from intermediate to fluent – and it just doesn’t work all that well, because it’s far, far too easy to sit there for an hour or two and only say a handful of sentences.
Even worse, some people hope that they’ll kick on to ‘fluent’ by using Welsh a lot in their daily life.
That sounds promising – but unless it actually involves real, detailed conversation time (which most of us struggle to find in our normal lives), all you’re really doing is becoming more confident at the quick exchanges: ‘How was your weekend? Got a lot on this week? Looks like more snow on its way, oh and please God don’t talk to me about Brexit.’
It feels good being able to do those quick exchanges – but they don’t, won’t, in fact CAN’T take you on to fluency.
A one-on-one conversation – with no hiding places, where you are fully focused the whole way through – for at least an hour, every week – is a completely different creature.
Commit to that hour, every week, and the ‘ease of use’ piece of the jigsaw will be solved for you in just a few months – sometimes even quite a lot less.
But one-on-one conversation can’t solve the other step for you – the need for a much larger vocabulary.
It’s a bit like Catch-22.
Conversations don’t give you a much larger vocabulary, because once you’ve got 80% of ordinary, conversational Welsh (enough to have a conversation, but NOT enough for you to understand radio or TV as easily as you want to) you’re into diminishing returns.
Those last 20% just take longer and longer before you meet them, and then before you’ve met them often enough to learn them from context.
That’s why the usual advice at this point – just keep on listening to radio and TV – is unintentionally cruel.
It will – eventually – work.
But it is so painfully slow, it can be incredibly disheartening.
A far better way forward is to find a source of natural conversations WITH transcripts and translations.
It’s a bit like the difference between a shotgun and a rifle with a laser sight on it.
If you listen once, then read the transcript, listen again, read the translation, and then listen one last time – you’re giving your brain a golden opportunity to bring the new material under control far, far more quickly than the shotgun approach of just listening to radio.
I know, I know, I said there were just two steps, and I was telling the truth.
Step 3 is just understanding the journey.
When you start learning, you feel as though you’re improving quickly (if you’re on the right kind of course!) – you know 10 words, you learn 10 new words, you’ve doubled your Welsh!
But when you know 1000 words and you learn 10 new words, you don’t notice the difference – and you feel as though you’re not getting any better.
This is a real problem – and the solution is to focus on the process, not on outcomes (which isn’t usually something we’re naturally good at).
If you commit to 1 hour a week in a one-on-one conversation, and to listening to ONE half-hour conversation 3 times each week (reading the transcript and then the translation in between)…
You WILL be on the right track, and you WILL reach a point where it will all feel easy, and you’ll have a MUCH wider vocabulary (by then, you’ll probably have changed what you mean by ‘fluent’ – we like to beat ourselves up, but that’s a story for a different day).
Commit to the process, and you WILL get there.
And if you MUST measure outcomes, then this approach also gives you that – just revisit a previous conversation 2 or 3 months later, and you’ll get some real clues about how much you’re improving.
The only problem
It’s tough to find a regular one-on-one conversation partner – but it can be done, if you’re determined – or you can collect a range of people so it’s not the same person every week. If you don’t have enough Welsh speakers available in real life, come along to http://www.saysomethingin.com/wsp and ask for an invitation to our free Slack group.
But the real killer is finding conversations (which give you a far wider range of the vocab you really need) WITH transcripts and translations.
Which is why we’ve taken someone on – hi Beca! – to produce EXACTLY this kind of content for you.
When you sign up to our ‘advanced content’ subscription, you’ll get immediate access to 15 half-hour conversations, each of them with transcript and translations – and you’ll then get one entirely new conversation every single week – for the price of a weekly coffee (and no need to fork out for the chocolate cake that you really ought to be bribing your 1-on-1 conversation partners with…;-)).
You can find out the full details, see what other people think of it, and sign up here: