Why I’ve Learned Welsh
Up until this year, I primarily considered Welsh to be a nag from teachers, an unnecessary complaint to get me to listen. Of course, I always understood that there was an element of importance in my ability to speak Welsh. I’ve been learning Welsh words between English sentences from when I could first speak – but it wasn’t until I was about to embark on primary Welsh education that, at three, I began learning the language the way I would by the time I began school for real.
Of course, there were questions “Why do I have to learn this language? I get told off for speaking English! Isn’t that the language everyone speaks?” Over time the questions slowly stopped coming, and by age thirteen they stopped altogether. I began seeing the importance of the Welsh language and my pride in being able to speak it began to swell.
Yet, my GCSE years in the subject of Welsh were dire. To be honest, some of the things we did bored me, because they were either not in enough detail or because there was no discussion. It felt as though sometimes we were being taught things just as a way of passing an exam – and the work of Saunders Lewis (Blodeuwedd) went unnoticed, because there was no time to have a discussion on the matter. But because Welsh was a subject where the first language students had harder work, everything felt rushed, and eventually I stopped enjoying the subject.
We went on a trip to North Wales at the beginning of our second year of GCSEs with the Welsh department. At the time, it felt normal to be underwhelmed because that was just the way the rest of the previous year had been. We read and learned poems, but it never felt like we could delve into much more context than what we were given on the revision sheet. Looking back now, I would love to return to North Wales on the same trip, because my appreciation has greatly improved and I now understand the importance.
I’m not sure what possessed me to decide to study Welsh for A Level. As you can probably tell, my enjoyment in the subject at GCSE obviously hadn’t sparked a lot of enthusiasm. Yet within the first week of studying the subject it quickly became my favourite subject, and the best decision I would make this year.
As soon as I’d gotten used to the lessons, we began studying the poems. Similarly to GCSE, there are twelve poems on the A Level course. But by the time it came to the exam (the second half being grammar – a weakness of mine in Welsh) I enjoyed myself. You need context when you study any sort of poem for an exam (I’m also studying English Literature and Language – poems involved – and History) and unlike GCSE, the context used on these poems gave it a new light and thus it became more and more apparent that Welsh was a subject I valued. I’ve always enjoyed History, but this context felt more personal because for some poems, for instance ‘Gwenllian’ by Myrddin ap Dafydd, they speak of our Welsh past – a past forgotten mostly in South Wales and anglicised.
By studying Welsh in the way that I have done this year, it gives you so much more interest in your culture and makes you value being able to speak Welsh. I also studied the film ‘Hedd Wyn’ about the poet who’d died in the Passchendaele war (of which it recently commemorated 100 years) but had died before knowing he’d succeeded in his life-long dream of winning the Gadair at the National Eisteddfod. The film is available on YouTube for anyone who wishes to watch it (it has English subtitles). It shows the way Hedd Wyn’s work overcame the war, and is still just as beautiful even today; also, the film was nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar so… worth the watch.
My favourite part of this year was doing another of Saunders Lewis’ plays, Siwan. This time in such great detail. I had never realised how much our own Welsh history interested me until we studied the play. Surrounding the lives of Siwan (Princess of Wales) and her husband Llywelyn Fawr (the first of the Llywelyns and Prince of Wales) during the 1200s, in my everyday life I’d only vaguely remember studying such a period in Year 7. Yet, I knew so much and remembered things I never realised I even knew.
It’s weird, I know. For those who know me, you’d know that my Welsh GCSEs were riddled with complaints. But because of my decision to study it this year, it’s opened my eyes to so much more. This year I wrote my first Welsh language, full-length article for my coursework. And then I wrote a speech in Welsh for my coursework. And then I sent that speech to ‘Hacio’, and had it published. I Edited and produced two editions of my school’s newspaper this year, ‘Môr a Mynydd’.
And I’ve realised that if you have a passion for the language, no one will stop you from continuing to study it. Yes, I don’t believe that second-language Welsh speakers should be taught words like ‘popti-ping’ but you can’t change the whole world, right? I’ve realised that there are far more opportunities available for Welsh speakers getting involved in Journalism. It’s terribly hard to start out in Journalism, but if I do get the opportunity to study Welsh and Journalism at Cardiff University as I hope, by the time I move up the ranks, I’ll have more experience because there was more experience available to me.
If you teach Welsh effectively, you’ll get a good response. This year, we started our class with 5 members, but one person had moved from Biology to Welsh, having heard how good the course is. And so now, I’m doubtful that any of the six of us is willing to give up the subject next year – and even if we lose a member of the class, it’ll have been because there was no other choice. We’ve all enjoyed this year because of the passion and determination the teachers have. The interest they have in the subject sparks interest in their pupils because nothing is rushed. Thank you to them, I think above all else.
By Tirion Davies