I learnt Welsh, you can learn it too!


Nicky with TV presenter Alun Williams filming an item about his experiences as a Welsh learner, for Bore Da, S4CDysgu Cymraeg – Learn Welsh gyda Nicky….

“I’m very sorry. Sorry Mams. Your normal service has been interrupted by someone online. We hope to restore normal service as soon as possible”

I have a confession to make. I’m not a mother. I’m not even a woman. I have had a wife since 2014. I have two guinea pigs if they count?

I am Nicky Roberts. I come from the Rhondda Valley – do you know it? It’s a place where no-one speaks Welsh at all, if you believe what you hear. Well, it’s true in a way, because I grew up in a place called Tonypandy. I am telling lies, it’s just that no-one knows of Edmondstown – so I had to say Tonypandy.

Welsh can feel ‘foreign’ if you grow up in a place like Tonypandy. I went to school when teaches still showed videos on the TV instead of teaching you how to actually speak the language. Twenty five years came and went and what did I remember from school?

“Good Morning”
“Sit down!”
“Good Morning Year 8!                                                      I am Mrs. Price. Sit Down!”

So, I was fine (only if you wanted me to sit down, or say ‘Bore Da’ – everything else? No, no chance – not going to happen. Sorry!)

I have always felt Welsh. I count myself as Welsh first, European second – not ‘British’ at all. Just like lots of people who live in places like the Rhondda Valleys and other places in south Wales, but I just never got the chance to learn the language properly.

I won’t go too far into the politics of the education system (If you’re reading the English version of this story, you’re missing a great part about how I had to use a dictionary to find the Welsh word for ‘politics’). But yes, when I was in school you didn’t have to study Welsh after turning 14. There was no need to do Welsh for your GCSE. So I had to choose between studying ‘IT’ or Welsh.

‘IT’ has been great to me. I work as a ‘Technical Architect’ at the moment. It’s my ‘dream job’ so to speak. I did my A-Levels after that, and after that I went to the University of Glamorgan to study ‘Software Engineering’. I changed to ‘Computer Science’ after Year One of the course because I started to hate all of the ‘obscure maths’ I was studying!

I went into the world of work. I started right from the bottom (and it felt like the bottom!), in Lloyds TSB near the M4 in Bridgend.

Over time, I learnt to speak French to fluency. I played in bands touring all over Britain in a Ford Transit. After a couple of years of fun, I moved with my work to Swansea, a totally different world to the Rhondda Valleys! Everything was different. Coming from a small town like Tonypandy, you had to catch the last bus by 6.30pm or you were stuck in the valleys for the night. When I moved to Swansea I can remember the first time I saw a bus going through my street at 10pm in the night! Crazy times!

I met my wife in a terrible pub called ‘The Hanbury’ Don’t try and find it! After a year together we decided to move back to the Rhondda so that Lara could go to the University of Glamorgan (funny how life works out yeah?) to study Art.

Fast forward a couple of years. We got married, Lara finished university and started working in a studio in Porth in the Rhondda, making pottery.

After years of not having a passport (Remember now! I come from Tonypandy. Going somewhere like Aberaeron is far with me!) I decided to get one. Some people say that I’m difficult. I don’t agree with them but I am happy to say that I decided to go on the trip of a lifetime just to spite people.

What do you do when you have never been abroad before now? It’s easy! Book 14 holidays in a year! Rome, Paris, Cophenhagen, Malmo, Berlin, Vilnius (Yeah! Lithuania, I had to find that out as well!), Paris again for the Euros, Manchester, Paris once again (Why not? Everyone likes Paris!), Brussels, Barcelona, Budapest, Amsterdam before finishing the year in the lovely town of Aberystwyth.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in every city, just a weekend here and there. Most of them were booked with lastminute.com or something like that, loads of cheap deals.

I can remember going to the Euros to watch Wales play against Northern Ireland in Paris with Lara. Something started to click in my head, I don’t know what – but I was sure something was starting. I was feeling embarrassed because I could speak fluent French with all of the French people. I could walk into any bar in Paris, order drinks, share jokes with the locals and tell them all about Wales. But I was worried about running into a Welshman or a Welshwoman who could speak Welsh. What would I do? What would I say?

I came home after the game and started to think about what to do. I wanted to learn the language of my country.

A couple of months afterward I remember talking with Lara in our house in Porth about starting to learn Welsh. Lara agreed with me. She did Welsh in school as well, until she was 16, but like me also, she had forgotten everything except for ‘In my opinion’, so we had a lot of work if we working to going to do it.

I had heard lots of great things about ‘SaySomethinginWelsh’ an app for mobile phones and computers over the web. I was thinking “Why not try it? I know absolutely nothing at the moment. Maybe it’s terrible? But at least I’m going to learn something yeah?”

I started with the course. First thing, I had to choose between ‘Northern Course’ and ‘Southern Course’ Wow! Big decisions right from the start. I was still living in the Rhondda at the time, so I was going to learn ‘Milk’, ‘With’ and ‘Key’ instead of ‘Milk’, ‘With’ and ‘Key’ (I feel like this is a joke that only really works in the Welsh version of this article! – For the purpose of anyone reading this version of the article the joke is that North Walian uses a few different words for some things to South Walian, nowhere near as many as people lead you to believe, but there are enough to cause a laugh among Welsh speakers!)

When starting, Lara and I would go to a local pub called ‘Clwb y Bont’ in Pontypridd. Where we got the change to practice buying drinks in bad Welsh, starting with ‘Dau peint Carlsberg os gwelwch yn dda?’ moving onto ‘Ga I dau beint o Carlsberg, plis?’ before getting loads of confidence and trying out something fancy like ‘Alla’I gael dau beint o Carlsberg, plis?’ and making the man behind the bar think we were fluent speakers, we had to say ‘Na, dw I ddim yn deall beth wedais ti!’ when the man started to speak in quick Welsh!

I started a YouTube channel called ‘Learn Welsh with Nicky’ just at first as a way of keeping me interested. Well, that’s a lie. It was more of a way of feeling responsibility. If people subscribed, I had to make more videos. My channel took off, not in the same way as Zoella or KSI! In a Welsh way.

I made my first after learning for two and a half weeks. When I watch the video back now I cringe but also I feel a little proud towards my achievements. One guy I know hated it. I don’t know why exactly. He was a friend at the time. But he had nothing but criticism for some reason?

“You’re doing it wrong” he said.
“You’re terrible” he said.
“You’re saying the words in the wrong order” he said.

He didn’t say this to me in Welsh, because he refused to speak with me in Welsh because he thought I was too bad with Welsh to speak with!

You can’t let people like that bring you down, and since then I have met nothing but lovely people who have helped me loads when I’m confused or make mistakes.

Fortunately, I work from home – just like Lara now. After visiting Aberystwyth over Christmas, we chose to move here. I hired a big van and moved everything of ours 100 miles up the road over a couple of days.

We have always loved Aberystwyth. I have been coming here since I was young for holidays with my family and Lara has been coming here also. Lara’s father came here to study at the University in the seventies. I asked Lara to marry me in New Quay, just down the A487 in 2013, so the town is important to us.

Living in Aberystwyth gave us lots of chances to use the language on the street, in pubs, socialising, making friends and getting more confidence with the language.

We chose to try living our lives totally in Welsh, if possible. It was interesting to say the least! What do you when you want something to eat but you don’t know the word for ‘Mushroom Risotto’? Do you just cook Baked Beans because you know the word for that? Or do you find the word for ‘Mushroom Risotto’ (‘Risotto Madarch’, apparently!)

I won’t tell you lies. Learning Welsh is not easy all of the time. I have days when people think I’m a fluent/since birth speaker and I have days when I forget how to say something really simple.

I found a ‘chat club’ in Aberystwyth Town in ‘Siop y Pethe’ where I can meet other learners and speak about our experiences of learning the language every week. It gives us a chance to hear other voices and get the experience of speaking with fluent speakers who speak a lot quicker than us!

The interesting thing is getting friends who you only speak to in Welsh! I’ve got friends now, like Llio, Heulwen (Mam Cymru!) Emily, Marc, Aled, Lowri, Geraint from ‘Y Cwps’ or Tom from Aberystwyth Town football club, who to speak with in another language than Welsh would feel weird.

You might be reading this and thinking ‘What’s the point of this? This guy is a terrible writer!’ The point is, I have been learning Welsh for six months. I haven’t done anything special to do this, I spent an hour or two a day learning the language and now I can speak in real life with other speakers, I can make videos for YouTube, I can write blogs like this, for blogs like this.

If I can do it, you can do it. We have the responsibility of keeping the language alive. I don’t speak perfectly at all. I make mistakes all of times. I have never learnt to write or spell in Welsh.

Try it out! Next time you’re walking down the street or buying something in a shop, just say ‘Shwmae’ and see what happens, you never know, it could open the next chapter of your life?

By Nicky Roberts.


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