Most native English speakers in Wales possess an impoverished ynderstanding of the Welsh language and bilingualism. They possess the notion that the Welsh language is equivalent to English, but it is not.
There is no such thing as standard Welsh. The Welsh language is divided into dialects. It is possible for speakers of one dialect not to be able to understand someone who speaks another. The dialects can border on being separate related languages.
There can be up to five different words to refer to common things like grass in Welsh. The strongest language divide is between North and South Walian Welsh.
These are some of the problems that Welsh language learners confront as described by Colin Miles, a Welsh language learner :-
So when we moved back to Wales seven years ago almost the first thing we did was to enrol for Welsh classes – initially with WLPAN then on to Pe!!ach Canolradd and so on.
When it comes to speaking or ‘Writing it is a different matter. I can with difficulty and some effort, make myself understood in both areas. However, when writing I normally include both the English and the Welsh so my tutor knows what I am really trying to say.
What are the problems? Well, certainly not anything like the ones that Welsh speakers think they are. are. They identify some of them but not the most important ones.
When I first started learning the language my first stumbling block was not mutatioI but conjunctions and prepositions – simple words like I, o, ar, am, at and their myriad meanings. There is no simple one-to-one relationship between the English and Welsh.
Once you stray
out of the comfort zone of they have learnt, and try to say or write something
else, you are in an area where there are apparently no rules. Instead,
Welsh speakers speak too fast? Every Welsh learner is confronted by the situation where she/he doesn’t understand. The result is panic and completely forgetting everything she/he has learnt. The outcome: speak English
I am particularly bad at following Welsh conversations and even now am l am lucky to manage to understand and 75 per cent or more
There is a case for regarding the spoken and written welsh as being two separate languages.
Encouraging us to speak Welsh as often as possible may sound a good and, of course, we will have these little conversions in Welsh at classes, or between ourselves. But if we are speaking rubbish Welsh what good is it? When you are learning a new language you should learn it properly otherwise why bother?
Apostrophes and missing words are another issue. We are told, “You don’t need to put that word in as it is implied”. And, “The word is missing but the mutation it causes remains”. Why miss words out? And why use apostrophes to the extent that sometimes most of the word is missed? Why make life so difficult?
Welsh is a phonetic language. The priests or whoever it was who decided to write things down as they heard them did the language no favour at all. They saddled us not just with mutations, but the mantra that, “Welsh is easy to learn because it is a phonetic language.
When many letters and combinations of letters sound the same, plus the fact that dialects always exist and living languages always develop and change, it makes anything but easy.
There is no such thing as standard Welsh. Well that is what we are told. How can a language survive without standards?
There is the north/south divide. When southerners say that they word that north Walians say- don’t know if the reverse is true - it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially when they apparently just give up.
So many words have dual meanings. Lend/Borrow, teach/learn are examples.
Word order is a major preoccupation: Generally the word order is different andthat creates a major problem for the English speaker, particularly where verbs are split between phrases.
Take any 50 Welsh nouns and the chances are that around 70 per cent of them will form their plurals in completely different ways. Some of the changes are so strange that the singular and the plural look totally interconnected.
Feminine endings cause a headache. Having been given a list of word endings which denote feminine, none of the endings of the first 12 words we looked at fell into that list and they were all different.
Learning by rote as children do? Adults are NOT children. We don’t learn the same way.
I go on to S4C and switch on the sub-titles. OK, I now fully understand that the Welsh and the this is not helped when Welsh speakers say that they are often amused by the sub-titles bearing I little relation to what is actually say.
Every language has its particular phrases that have evolved. With a very old language like Welsh. There are many such sayings. Again the lack of proper translation of some and mistranslation of others, doesn’t help solve the problem.
We don’t mutate, we don’t bother with that – or so older native speakers will tell you. Then you will be told that they do, but they don’t realise .
Last but not least are the mutations. We are told it only involves nine letters. Unfortunately 60 to 70 per cent of words begin with those letters. This is a major stumbling block, not for just the beginning of words, but in the middle as well. Maybe when speaking, assuming that the mutations are used, the meanings can be worked out from the context.
As for teaching people like me, this in cold financial terms is not cost effective. We will never be fluent speakers or writers.
There are other Welsh attitudes to take into account as Well. In general, there is good will towards the language, but it is a fragile the antics and attitudes campaigners risks losing it.
For the people at saysomethinginwelsh.com to support Osian being sent to prison by sending him a letter of support may just about be acceptable. However, to bring up John Redwood and suggest that the You Tube video be passed around is just childish...
Without a proper understanding of the problems of the Welsh language and Welsh attitudes no amount of money thrown at it will improve the situation.
Research is increasingly illustrating that the cognitive roots, the brains hard wiring of all learning is fostered from birth, through the growth of synapses. The children are the plasticity of the brain decreases. A new language will not be learn instantly.
These are some of problems Welsh Language Learners Confront, written by Margaret Newcombe Cardiff School of Welsh:-
Newcombe declares that only a limited number learners attain fluency and become integrated into Welsh speaking communities. pg. 42. She advises that Welsh classes only provide the foundation into the world of the Welsh language and culture pg. 43. She also concedes that learning Welsh require a lot of time and effort pg. 52.
Newcombe refers to 'exagerrated' claims being made how easy languages are to learn pg.52
Newcombe also refers to the problem of dialects in the Welsh langauge, she refers to R.F. who reported that "There were many bugled attempts before he was eventually able to converse with his wife in Welsh on a regular basis, although for some time previsously he had been converting confident with first language speakers in west Wales." pg. 7
Newcombe explains that the Welsh adult learners learn in Wales is a synthetic language and that it would be impossible to teach Welsh learners every Welsh dialect, slang that exists in the Welsh language. pg. 93/5. She claims there is controvesy about the standard of Welsh used in the media in Wales. pg. 94 She quotes Kim saying "Learners face almost an impossible task when they try to using Welsh outside the classroom if first-language speakers respond with dialect and slang'. pg 8
Newcombe contends that the main hinderance that Welsh learners who establish a command of the Welsh language is the lack of opportunity to learn Welsh in the community. pg. 57. She claims that many Welsh speakers insist on switching to English, even in the Welsh speaking heartlands, when they attempt to speak Welsh to them and this upsets advanced learners most. p.63
She quotes a source that suggests that Welsh speakers in North Wales will not speak in Welsh to Welsh learners who have an English accents. pg, 78
Newcombe claims even when Welsh learners live in Welsh speaking homes they stumble upon problems pg. 88 and that "Many learners are happy socialising in Welsh, but they are hesitant about using Welsh in work". pg. 106
Newombe quotes Elwyn Hughes Welsh tutors is quoted as saying it take 'Guts to Learn Welsh'. pg. 90 She quotes Fiona claiming that "The Welsh learner does not always feel accepted in Gwynedd". pg. 122. She claims that "Fiona is right in the seeing the Welsh learner as the 'joker in the pack' who does not fit neatly into either 'English' or 'Welsh' .
Newcombe admits there will always be fewer opprotunties to use Welsh than the majority language English and that in south east Wales Welsh is not a community language. Only determined learners can seek out Welsh speakers in Cardiff. pg. 131/5
School Welsh Learning
Newcombe states "As happens in Wales, many school children are educated in Welsh and they then use their first language Spanish, when playing in the school yard and at home". pg. 40 (H.G. What language are children learning in the school yard and at home and in Wales? Their first or second langauge any langauge).
She quotes a mother who said, "My children to go Welsh medium school and are regarded by my neighbours as being indistinguishable from first language speakers. However, (My children) find my attempts at speaking Welsh excrutiatiely amusing, but refuse to explain where I am going wrong. Conversations last for a few minutes before collapsing into English" pg.77
Why will English children be forced to learn maths through the medium of Welsh including learning their tables using Welsh numbers, when they they will be unable to actively apply them in Welsh in their everyday life? Children are struggling to learn them in English.
Sue Garthcole's Report
Key Issues - School Welsh
Governments and parents must consider whether they want English speaking teachers in Wales to devote their time learning Welsh or developing the new curriculum and their teaching to world class standards. The issue is what will happen to those experience teachers who do not learn Welsh sufficiently to able to successfully teach through it.
There have been Welsh language political activist who have being playing being teachers and researchers, who have been making out that Welsh can be learnt in short time scales to a communicative level. One claimed it could be done in seven hours!
The Guardian article below illustrates that the problem with the United Kingdom, as whole, suffers in Pisa in comparison with Finland, because there are more children not been educated in their native language.