If you have been in compulsory education in Wales over the last 3 decades, you will remember compulsory Welsh lessons in high school. You may also, like me, remember finding an infinitive amount of more interesting topics of conversation being available during these lessons, be that a piece of gossip or revision for other subjects (depending on your love or hatred of school.)
Despite all of this, I recall moments just a couple years after I was released from these routinely ignored classes and joined the world outside of compulsory education to find myself later regretting that my understanding of Welsh didn’t extend much more beyond: “rydw i’n hoffi coffi” (which means “I like coffee” for those Welsh impaired). Now, 13 years on from compulsory education, I have found myself spending usually between 15mins to an hour a day practicing Welsh as I try to correct this regret and find a home in my Welsh heritage and culture.
It appears that many people may have also shared this regret over not having the levels of Welsh fluency. Duolingo, the popular language app, claims that it is the fastest growing UK language being learnt on their platform. Additionally, it is the 9th most popular language for UK users according to a BBC article in 2020. The BBC reported that around 1.5 million users were learning Welsh on Duolingo, which would account for almost a staggering half of the estimated population of Wales in 2019.
The Magic of Welsh
For myself, it is easy to understand why people are moving towards this trend of learning Welsh as for me the sense of Welsh identity is so closely related to the language, that although I still feel a member of the Welsh community, I feel like my membership is the Welsh Lite edition. For me personally though there is an extra benefit of proving to myself that I can do it; as a person with both dyslexia and dyspraxia, learning a language can be fairly difficult but in a way that makes it all the more rewarding when I make some progress on this journey.
One English-born Youth Worker in Cardiff said “As someone not from Wales, I wanted to pick up the local culture before I moved here, as I would do as a sign of respect for any place I am and get a grasp of some basics of the language. As a professional I think it is important to have an ability to communicate with young people in their medium. I really appreciate how much it has helped with the traffic signs and not having to find the English on the sign. I found it really helpful where stuff has had to be in both English and Welsh as it has helped pick up certain phrases and terms, particularly where they might be professional terms and I feel like I have had a short course in ‘applied Welsh’ as it were.”
Having done a small informal consultation with a number of Welsh learners using Duolingo, I know that their reasons mirror much of my own, for them it is about: connecting to the Welsh Identity, keeping Welsh Culture alive and thriving, enjoyment of learning a new skill/language, being able to connect to loved ones and strangers in their own language and the job prospects it brings, or keeping your brain active. The reasons are numerous.
What was most interesting from this short poll with Welsh Learners on Duolingo, all 148 respondents checked that their motivation was to connect more with the Welsh identity, showing that the language is such a crucial part of what it means to be Welsh. This says a lot about why it is so important that organisations based in Wales do make themselves appropriately accessible in Welsh. Whilst not everyone can understand Welsh, it still works towards our identity as a nation.
How – Duolingo Review and Tips
At present, my preferred way to practice Welsh is through a service called Duolingo – it is free and runs both as a website and a mobile app, though there is a premium if you want to have an ad free experience (though personally before I upgraded the ads weren’t particularly bothersome). For Welsh you can practice reading, writing/typing and listening exercises, though currently there is no speaking component yet for Duolingo. If you are learning another language there can be a function called Stories, in which you are presented with a story, sometimes a conversation where you will then need answer questions about the content or fill in missing words to check your understanding. Currently for English speakers, this is offered on the Spanish, Portuguese, French, German & Italian courses.
Another major thing to consider when on Duolingo is that there are 2 versions of Duolingo, the web version (which works on most newer mobiles and almost all desktops) and the mobile app version. The main difference is the access to each unit’s set of “tips” which is basically the area that explains why things are the way there are for the lessons in that unit, tips is only currently available on the web version and not on the mobile app. In addition, in the mobile app you have 5 hearts which are needed for doing a new lesson, however they can be replenished by practicing a completed unit or the practice button after selecting the heart counter; hearts are not a problem on the web version as they are not currently running on that version.
As a person learning Welsh on Duolingo, I have found it really useful building confident with writing and reading but my listening still isn’t where I would like it to be. My speaking on the other hand I feel no more confident yet, however I am hoping to take up some of the Duolingo events (held on Zoom) that provide an opportunity to have a chat in Welsh (or another language you are learning), which is hosted by a person who is fluent (usually a moderator from what I have seen). Sessions are banded into levels, so you have an idea if you are ready for that sort of thing yet or not.
Is Duolingo the only app out there to learn Welsh?
From what I can see there is only one other app you can learn welsh on which is the Say Something In Welsh app, however the methodology of learning is completely different to that of Duolingo. From what I can tell informally from those that have used both, Duolingo is better at grammar and has a written and reading component whereas Say Something In Welsh is only focussed on speaking and listening skills.
What other ways can I learn Welsh?
Duloingo and Say Something In Welsh are both handy apps; however there are other ways of learning Welsh. Dysgu Cymraeg (which means Learn Welsh in English) is a scheme developed by the National Centre for Learning Welsh which is part of the University of Trinity St Davids group. They are responsible for arranging most Welsh Language qualifications for adults and, therefore, are the first port of call for checking what courses are in your area in Wales. However, more locally, Cardiff and Vale College also runs a few beginner courses for Welsh
Article written by Adam Kaps – CCHA tenant & CHAT magazine contributor
Disclaimer: All opinions and thoughts are solely the author’s, and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.