Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Learning Welsh

Despite both Daddy & I being from the West Midlands, we live in the South Wales Valleys, and as such we're governed by the sometimes strange rules laid down by the Welsh Assembly Government.  Education is a little bit different in Wales to the rest of the UK, it's an area where the Assembly have devolved powers to make their own rules.  (Oddly, since I started mentally writing this post yesterday, the AM with the portfolio for education has resigned, and been replaced by my local AM, Huw Lewis, so education's been very much in the news here.)  One such rule is the compulsory inclusion of Welsh language in the school curriculum, right from the Foundation Stage.

In fact, BEFORE the Foundation Stage.  Squeaky starts part time at the school nursery in September, but Welsh has been included in the things she's been learning in the preschool class at the day nursery she goes to now, for at least the last year.  Neither Daddy nor I speak Welsh at all.  I can recognise a few written words from signs & that, and answer the phones at work with a chirpy "Bore Da! Good Morning!", or a slightly less chirpy "Prynhawn Da! Good Afternoon!" because I'm less confident of my pronunciation of the latter (and I just had to look up the spelling)  This is making things tricky when we try to support Squeaky's learning.

Not understanding the language ourselves though, does make it a fascinating experience, watching how her brain makes sense of and learns language.  If she hears & understands something properly, she repeats it accurately, and learns the right word.  She can count to 5 in Welsh quite effectively (and 6 in Spanish, thanks to Dora The Explorer!), and has picked up a couple of nursery rhymes.  The fun comes along when she doesn't quite hear something right.  Naturally, I guess, she substitutes in something that she does understand, whether or not it makes sense in the context of the song, with entertaining consequences.

Clap, clap, un, dau, tri,
Clap, clap, un, dau, tri,
Clap, clap, un, dau tri,
Toilet, toilet, toilet.

For the non-Welsh speakers, the above numbers are pronounced "Eeen, Die, Tree", and according to a swift google, the last line should actually be "Troi a throi ei’n dwylo", which a colleague advises me is something to do with turning your hands over & over.  I don't know.  There are people far smarter than me who can help with that one.

Yesterday, she decided to match her Spanish skills in counting to 6, by doing the same in Welsh.  As I said above, she's mastered 1 to 5 quite comfortably, but I really can't help past that, even though my train home from Cardiff Central station always goes from Platform 6.  So she went for it herself

Un  (Eeen)
Dau (Die)
Tri  (Tree)
Pedwar (Pedwaaar)
Pump  (Pimp.  Yes. Really. I know.)

Again, a quick google tells me she was aiming for "Chwech" so Quack isn't really a million miles away, but the substitution was just so cute, and I really couldn't correct her because I wouldn't have been sure of being right.

It's quite natural, I suppose, to substitute something you understand, even if it doesn't make sense. I remember learning Spanish at school, and seeing one of my classmates write "Kettle" for "¿quĂ© tal?", purely as an aid to her memory.  And the number of mis-heard lyrics I could entertain you with, well, that's a whole other post!

It's going to get harder as she gets older, and learns more Welsh at school.  I've thought about taking classes myself, so that I can support her education. It's not like when she's in High School, doing chemistry or something I was hopeless at, she's going to be looking for a lot more support in the early years of primary school, and I don't quite know how to do that when I haven't got those skills myself.  We're fortunate to have Welsh speaking family members living close by though, so I suspect the linguistic talents of aunties & cousins will be being called upon for the complicated bits.

Do you have any experience you can share with me, on education in a second language?  Or your own mishearings?  C'mon, spill!


  1. I actually had very similar experiences learning WElsh with non Welsh parents. My first Christmas at nursery I decided that 'nadolig llawen' was 'dolly clown' - because that made sense as a nice jolly thing to say to people. We still say dolly clown in our family at Christmas now.

    1. Dolly Clown is adorable, and much more sensible than "toilet toilet toilet!

  2. As the stay-at-home parent Mr J thought S was talking gibberish when she first came home from nursery talking welsh.
    It's difficult, bilingual parenting has so many advantages- I am always amazed my children who are 3 and mixing italian and english.
    But Welsh- aarrrggghh! I got to GCSE level, and I'm so far away from literate. I think it's advantageous, if you intend to work in Wales, to speak Welsh... but I just remember my school days and cower in a corner!

  3. I learnt Latin and its given me a structure for other languages

  4. Susan/gren here: This is something we were actually discussing tonight w a Welshman, if you will. (Dave if you recall him.). I'd really like to discuss this with you, for all its ins and outs. Fascinating for me as a potential mom in many languages....

  5. I'll never think of clap clap un dau tri in quite the same way again...

    I've been struggling with Welsh for a few years now, my kids are way ahead of me - even the little one who's only three corrects me when I say 'diolch' (apparently I say deeock instead of deeolch!!) But the good thing about learning us that I get a night every week in the company of other adults who aren't grumpy like Him Indoors...every cloud, as they say!

    Good luck with your learning!

  6. I am thinking learning the welsh for toilet especially if I have Hoisoin duck pizza in Wales

    1. Toiled, Ty Bach, there's probably others. Just don't order the hwyaden and you'll be fine (I'm googling like crazy!)

  7. I tried learning Welsh once, but found it quite difficult, not least because welsh changes the start of words rather than the endings like in other languages I've tried.


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