So why are English people interested in learning Welsh?

It seems to break down into 3 general reasons – one a bit more unexpected (to me, at any rate!) than the others.

First of all, there’s the obvious – when they move to Wales.

I was going to say ‘when they move to a Welsh-speaking area’…

but English people who are interested in other cultures – who pay attention to the language right next door to them – will often learn Welsh even if they move to a part of Wales where it ISN’T the community language.

[Actually, this can make things a little tricky for them, sometimes – it can be a bit of a strange sore spot for Welsh people who don’t speak the language – but that’s probably complicated enough to need a different post.]

I’ve said previously what I think about this kind of English person – who moves to Wales and learns Welsh – they’re pure gold, so please send us more of them as soon as possible… 🙂 ❤

The second main reason – which was a little surprising to me when I first encountered it, but seems pretty normal now – is when they have some kind of family connection to Wales.

This usually either means that they have Welsh relations in the mix somewhere, or that they spent holidays in Wales as a child and have happy memories of it, and a sense of nostalgia (perhaps even a sense of hiraeth!).

When people like this start to learn Welsh, it can be a powerful sudden flowering of connection – they can go (in a matter of months) from feeling that they just want to learn a few words to starting to have actual conversations with their family in Wales, or with people they meet when they come back to Wales on holiday – and the enthusiasm and excitement that generates can be an absolute joy to witness.

***

But finally (unexpectedly, interestingly, even a bit challengingly) there’s an entirely different kind of English person who learns Welsh.

***

They don’t have any family connections (at least, not that they know of, although they often find later on that there is some faint connection in their family tree)…

And they don’t even go to Wales on holiday (at first) – either they never have, or only very rarely.

So why on earth do they learn Welsh?

They feel that Wales is part of Britain, and they feel British as much as they feel English, and it seems reasonable to them that being British means having an interest in the bits of it that aren’t England.

And for some of them, that means finding out about the languages – or starting with one of them, and choosing the one ‘right next door’, as I’ve heard it said often.

They find it baffling that other people think there’s no point learning Welsh.

I can be in Wales in less than an hour,’ a friend told me once. ‘So I can use my Welsh every weekend, if I want to. How often do I bloody go to France?

[Okay, he didn’t actually say ‘bloody’, but my daughter’s home from school with a nasty sore throat, and watching over my shoulder as I type this, and her English is definitely good enough to follow what I’m saying by now…;-)]

The first time I encountered an English learner like this was such an utter surprise.

He said hello on our forum – and as I used to do often in the early days, I asked how he’d found us – and he said ‘Oh, on Google.’

Okay, I said, but how exactly – it would really help to know what keywords you were searching for about learning Welsh!

Oh, I wasn’t looking for anything to do with Welsh.’

Eh? What? Were you looking for something to do with visiting Wales, then? Or something to do with rugby?

No, no, I wasn’t looking for anything to do with Wales at all.

He’d found our Welsh course because (apparently) he was the world’s WORST user of a search engine.

I never found out what he WAS looking for – he said he genuinely couldn’t remember – but by that stage, he’d finished the whole of our first course, and just wanted to say thank you because he could have conversations in Welsh, and he’d never really expected that to happen.

Just. Too. Bafflingly. Entertaining.

***

It’s also – as I said up top – a bit challenging.

This whole British thing, you see. To be honest, I don’t really get it, and I never have.

To many Welsh speakers (although by no means all) ‘Britain’ is just another way to say ‘England’, and it usually seems to erase Wales itself (let alone our language) entirely.

If you find that hard to take on board, go and do a Google image search for ‘Britain’ – pretty much all you’ll see will be pictures of London – double-decker buses, phone boxes, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace – that’s what ‘Britain’ is to Google and to most of the rest of the world.

And that’s NOT Wales, and being invisible doesn’t feel all that nice.

And things which are invisible are more likely to vanish for good in the real world, too.

And that’s why I personally don’t feel British.

But when I meet people who DO feel British – and who are interested in – or actually learning – or confidently SPEAK – Welsh… and it’s BECAUSE they feel British…

I can kind of see – in a hazy, shimmering sort of way – an idea of Britain that I WOULD actually be able to belong to.

And certainly:

…every single English person who learns Welsh brings us one step closer to understanding each other – to building a world where the Welsh and the English are naturally friends with each other (and wouldn’t THAT be an improvement?!).

So if you know anyone in England who’s interested in Wales, do please share this with them, and they might end up becoming Welsh speakers…

Either in a matter of months on our brutal 6 month course:

http://www.SaySomethinginWelsh.com/6mws

or a bit more leisurely on our slightly more sane ‘6 Minutes a Day’ course:

http://www.SaySomethinginWelsh.com/6min

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3 responses to “So why are English people interested in learning Welsh?

  1. * [Actually, this can make things a little tricky for them, sometimes – it can be a bit of a strange sore spot for Welsh people who don’t speak the language]

    This was the fear I had about using the Welsh language ‘in the wild’ in the year I lived in Wales that stopped me doing so more than I did.

  2. I found myself commenting on Twitter the other day that “mae’r gair [British] yn cael ei ddefnyddio i guddio mwy nag un hunaniaeth” — in that I always describe myself in English as “British”, but now that I speak Welsh I always describe myself in Welsh as “Sais”. And I think that for me it’s not that I have this particularly positive vision of Britain, so much as something rather messier and less coherent.
    These days, I would tend to say that I choose the label ‘British’ rather than ‘English’ because the whole English ‘brand’ (so to speak) has become too tainted by the Stephen Yaxley-Lennons of this world, and that’s partly true: my parents, visiting from France, saw that someone in the area had a large cross of St George flag up in their garden, and immediately asked me if I knew if the householder was racist. I didn’t know the answer, but the question didn’t surprise me.
    But that’s not all there is to it: I first chose to describe myself as British long before the EDL ever reared its ugly head, and I think I did so for two reasons. One was, in truth, a broader sense of belonging to these islands; but the other was that there wasn’t anything particularly special or distinctive about being English rather than British. And that could be seen as a kind of modest, what’s-so-special-about-me feeling, perhaps; but it could also be seen as the kind of comfortable “I am the default, the norm from which others deviate” sort of feeling that really needs to check its privilege.
    Even so, having said all that, I’m still going to carry on the same way: in Welsh I’m “Sais” because I’m not trying to pretend to be anything I’m not; and in English I’ll continue to be British because it still strikes me — in phrases like ‘Black British’ and ‘British Asian’ on monitoring forms, if nothing else — as a more inclusive, and thereby potentially more positive identity.

    • Thank you for that fascinating contribution – I find it quite easy to imagine having shared a lot of those feelings if I’d grown up in England with the English side of my family, and it makes a lot of sense.

      It’s interestingly complicated looking at it from the outside, though – in general terms, I share your wariness of St George flag wavers (which is very tough on good people with a strong English identity, because I don’t mind people waving the Draig Goch at all!) – and yet I find Englishness less threatening than Britishness, because it feels as though it leaves room for Welshness rather than tending to erase it.

      And yet if it were a British norm to speak English and Welsh, I could imagine having the same kind of comfortable British identity as my comfortable European identity.

      There’s an interesting point lying ahead of you – and probably not all that far ahead either – when the flow of your speech in Welsh loses the last few traces of uncertainty – when you’ll meet people through the medium of Welsh who’ll treat you as just another Welsh person, however much you tell them you’re English – because your Englishness will just seem faintly irrelevant in that Welsh medium context – a bit like telling someone in England that you were born overseas if you seem English to them – ‘oh, yes, interesting, now on with normality’…:-)

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