Over the last few years, there have been a number of factors that have contributed to my desire to learn the Welsh language. I grew up in Wales but went to an English-speaking school. We always had Welsh lessons but I didn’t have a great interest in learning the language at school – I thought it was a dead language and that it was pointless to bother learning it.
However, I now realise how completely wrong I was!
Throughout history, the Welsh language has been continually pushed aside. Under Henry III’s reign, it was actually banned under the 1536 Act of Union. Other laws were passed that removed the Welsh language’s official status, and the stigma around speaking Welsh continued to grow.
From the 18th to the 20th century, Welsh children were subjected to the ‘Welsh Not’ at school – this was where any children caught speaking Welsh were given a piece of wood with either the words ‘Welsh Not’ or the letters ‘W.N.’ carved in. This would be passed along throughout the day to each child who was caught speaking Welsh in an attempt to discourage and stigmatise speaking Welsh. At the end of the school day, all children who had the ‘Welsh Not’ at some point during the day would be punished in some way.
There are so many more times throughout history that you can see how Welsh has been pushed out and ostracised – but somehow the people of Wales have managed to keep the language alive.
However, even today the Welsh language is not totally accepted.
I have recently read an article saying the U.K. Parliament website listed Welsh as a foreign language. When I went to check the website and research this, I found that the website has now ‘softened their view’ and added a small page called ‘Y Gornel Gymraeg’ – The Welsh corner.
It feels like there’s an ongoing battle between people over Welsh town names, with people mocking the spelling of the words and the way they sound – one big company even claiming that Welsh town names sound like someone has ‘sat on a keyboard’.
With rising talks of Welsh Independence, and a seemingly constant debate over whether the Welsh language is dead, I feel like it’s more important to me than ever to learn the language of my country. Learning about its history and the reasons why I can’t speak my own country’s language in the first place is spurring me on to keep learning Welsh whenever and wherever I can.
Using apps like Duolingo have been great for this. Duolingo is an app that you can download to your phone and then you can learn any language on the go. The app creates small 5-minute lessons that you can complete quickly. It offers a leaderboard and different rankings to help encourage those learning. For me, this has been great because it’s helped me recap some of the basics of Welsh that I learned at school and then taken me on to the parts that I’ve never encountered before.
It feels great knowing that I’m taking steps to learn Welsh – and that I’m slowly but surely getting there.