I had NO idea Americans were so serious about Welsh…

Last August, I was a guest speaker at the North American Festival of Wales in Washington D.C.

It was an incredible event. They’d pretty much taken over the Hilton in Alexandria, and there was so much energy and enthusiasm – and Welsh! – everywhere, it was like being in Wales – but a more confident, more optimistic, prouder version of Wales.

It was an eye-opening, attitude-changing week for me – and I found myself promising over and over again that SaySomethinginWelsh was going to do more to support the Welsh community in north America.

Two things surprised me more than anything.

First up, the sheer passion.

Other people I knew who were over from Wales kept commenting on it – ‘I’ve just spoken to a guy who’s been here for 50 years and he still sounds as though he lives in the middle of Deiniolen,’ said Emyr Gibson to me one night.

And there were people – like Court! – who didn’t come from Wales, weren’t even sure if there was any family connection – but were just in love with Wales.

Yes, that’s it – not just passion, but LOVE.

The second thing was how they felt about the language in particular.
In Wales, there are really only two settings for people speaking Welsh – either it’s normal (you’re in the Eisteddfod, or Caernarfon, or talking to friends or family) or it’s challenging – you’re not sure if it’ll be okay to speak Welsh, or you just don’t use it in case you make someone feel bad, or you actually get TOLD to speak English.

In the Alexandria Hilton in that week last August was the only time I’ve ever experienced – well, the only time I’ve ever even imagined! – being treated like a rock star for speaking Welsh.

Complete strangers would hear you in the lift – or in the bar, fairly often, I’ve got to be honest – and just be obviously delighted.

‘Oh, don’t stop!’ said one woman, when I finished a phone call. ‘I don’t speak it myself, but it makes me SO happy to hear it.’

I’ve been a language activist for 15 years, and a teacher for 10 – but I’ve never felt so confident or proud about speaking Welsh.

It was like rocket fuel.

So what CAN we do to help?

What ARE we going to do?

As a first step, I’m hoping (cash-flow permitting!) to be able to take the SSiW staff team over to this year’s NAFoW – in Milwaukee (which I probably would otherwise never have visited, to be fair…;-)).

But beyond that – there was an utterly fascinating thing in Washington.

A lot of people were concerned about the age profile of NAFoW people – that there was a need to get more young people involved.

But I was noticing something different – they already HAD a younger age profile happening – and it was the people who had come BECAUSE they were learning Welsh.

So if we can help more people in America learn Welsh, that WILL bring more younger people into the NAFoW family.

How do we do that?

I’m not entirely sure yet.

We’ve tested a few ads to American audiences, and lost a chunk of cash – it’s hard to find the right people in such a big country.

But there’s one thing that might work, even at this early stage (and yes, I’ve got other ideas bubbling away in the back of my mind).

If you live in America, and you comment on and like this post on Facebook, then Facebook will let us pay to show you what we’re up to – what courses or other ideas we’ve got going on.

If enough people in the US comment on and share this post (on Facebook), then Facebook will also let us pay to show what we’re doing to ‘people who seem like you’ – it’s all a little hazy and algorithmic, but it seems to be the best chance of reaching a wider audience of people in the US who are interested in Wales.

And also – as we get more people from America signing up to our structured courses (our 6 month or 6 minute a day courses) we’ll be able to provide more and more video group support at the right times of day for you.

So… shall we start a new wave of learning Welsh in the U.S.?

Join in at http://www.SaySomethinginWelsh.com/6min…

Or help make it happen by commenting on this post on Facebook (how about telling us where in America you are?) and sharing…

…and let’s see how many extra Welsh speakers we can bring to the next NAFoW…:-) ❤

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3 responses to “I had NO idea Americans were so serious about Welsh…

  1. As an American who has felt this way about a language to which I have ancestral ties, please let me offer an explanation. Most Americans have their origins in another country. But the melting pot culture of America has always led our antecedents to reject their parent culture in an effort to “become American”. My grandfather did it with not speaking his Italian dialect to his children. I’m sure my Irish family did it in the 1840s so as not to appear “foreign”.

    As a result, we Americans feel, very rightly, that something of our personal history has been taken away from us. You mentioned a few days ago how Welsh people sometimes feel that the English took away their language (and explained why that isn’t really true). As Americans, we did it to ourselves. But instead of pointing the finger at our grandparents, some of us decide to recover that language through study and practice.

    To you, it may seem like we’re a little nutty (and maybe we are). Why would we want to put ourselves through the expense and bother of taking classes, spending hours studying, and even travelling across an ocean to learn a language that its native speakers have rejected?

    Remember when you wrote about the kid in school who told you you aren’t Welsh because you weren’t born there and you didn’t live there and you don’t speak the language? We feel EXACTLY like that. In the US, we say, “I’m Welsh” and that means that I have Welsh ancestry. But come to Wales and say, “I’m Welsh” and they look at you like you’re out of your skull.

    So yeah. Our passion comes from a very similar place to your passion, Aran. We’re just kinda one step removed.

    Sorry for the long comment. I thought this was important to share.

    • That’s fascinating – thank you so much – it ties in with a lot of things I see here about belonging – and shows that it’s even more powerful than the immediate, here-and-now stuff that we tend to see. I’ve thought for a long time that workforce mobility has a lot of externalised costs – that there’s a higher social price to moving than is generally perceived at the moment. There was a study in Pwllheli a few years ago that showed that the children of people who’d moved to the area had dramatically fewer social connections outside of school than people who came from local families – and what you’re saying makes me wonder if there are multi-generational costs that we haven’t tended to think about enough.

      It must be very complicated in America, what does and doesn’t count as belonging – and yet it’s also such an important global experiment in how we create belonging in a more mobile world – my friend (and our marketing guy) Jesse took me to the National Archives while I was in Washington – seeing creation myths made real in documents and buildings was fascinating – and that sense of glorious aims even while dreadful mistakes were being made. I used to be very wary of America’s role in the world – and I think it’s often gone badly wrong – but I’m absolutely rooting for those of you who are still trying to build something better…:-)

      • I think there are negatives to this belonging, and that’s what you’re seeing the US today. I like to look at the positive side of belonging. For example, I’ve been on job interviews where the interviewer had an Irish surname and I have an Irish surname. Maybe I didn’t get the job because of my name, but the interviewer was very friendly from the first word. So there is a definite benefit. But the problem now is that in order to belong, someone has to not belong. So the US is becoming more and more “us versus them” where them is anyone outside. What we are forgetting as a nation is that we are made up of mostly outsiders. We have forgotten that we are a nation of immigrants. We have forgotten that our grandparents and great-grandparents couldn’t speak English and worked jobs no one else would take. We have entirely forgotten that. I have heard people whose Italian grandmothers didn’t speak a word of English complain that their neighbour’s Puerto Rican grandmother doesn’t speak English. We are hypocrites! We desperately need to remember who we are and where we come from. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and we have entirely forgotten that. The US is a very sad place today.

        Me, I live in the Netherlands because I’m afraid of my country too!

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