This is the text of my first blog post for Gladstone's Library.
A week learning Welsh
Not content with a whole month in this lovely place, I decided to have a week here busily engaged in learning Welsh, before my residency officially began. Thus it was that the intrepid Mr Gebbie and I joined eight other would-be Welsh speakers on Monday 25th August for a week packed to busting with lessons, games and exercises. Our tutor was to be Julie Brake, Senior Lecturer in Welsh at Glyndwr University. The details of the course can be found here: http://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/events/welsh-in-a-week.html
A varied bunch we were too. At one end of the spectrum were those who knew some Welsh, perhaps those who had spoken Welsh as children, and at the other end, those who had had no exposure to the language at all. Ages ranged from (I’m guessing here...) mid- thirties to mid-eighties.
I fitted somewhere in the middle on most counts. I have Welsh parents and grandparents, and my elders would often drop into Welsh when I was around - I can’t think why. I was at school in Dolgellau for five years from 13 to 18 - formative years - and every Tuesday, morning assembly was conducted in Welsh. We sang Welsh hymns and recited prayers in Welsh. Trouble was, those who didn’t understand Welsh were never told what the words meant... what a missed trick. The intrepid Mr Gebbie also has Welsh grandparents. It’s our shared heritage.
Julie Brake is simply a gem of a teacher - focussed, engaging and not unwilling to make us work hard! And all with more than a sprinkling of humour. We were incredibly lucky. This was a very practical experience. Our journey focussed on spoken Welsh, and the grammar behind it for those who wanted to know. We worked together in the tutorials for eight and a half-hours per day, between 9.30 am and 9.00 at night, except for Thursday, when we had a much-needed afternoon off. Julie took us all from 0 to 60 (metaphorically speaking) in those five and a half days - we who struggled to say our names on day one (Vanessa ydw i) were soon happily exploring the mysteries of soft and nasal mutation. We who knew very little if anything were soon tackling a group translation of the history of St David (Dewi Sant). We who had struggled to say ‘It’s sunny today’ (Mae hi’n heulog heddiw) on day one soon found ourselves telling each other simple stories, using not just the present tense but past and future. On Day six we introduced ourselves as different characters with amazingly inventive backgrounds. And finally, we were brave enough to ask for the words of both Sospan Fach and the other more beautiful national anthem of Wales, and sing!
Mr Gebbie and I had such a good week. It was worth every penny, and more. Excellent company, unforgettable surroundings, and everyone had a strong sense of achievement at the end.
It was a real boon to be here, to find my feet in the place I will be living for the next month. I waved goodbye to Mr Gebbie last Sunday, on his way to Chester railway station and the train back to Sussex, and after he’d gone I padded round Gladstone’s Library feeling excited, not a little daunted, and oddly, rather proprietorial. I wonder what ‘proprietorial’ is, in Welsh?
Next year, I hear they are doing Hebrew...
(I hope the Welsh is correct. If not, blame my retention skills...)