Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

A week in Cymru Cymraeg

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In Wales, there are two worlds. The English speaking world that you see on the surface and the magical, Welsh speaking world, of Cymru Cymraeg, that lies beneath. Once-upon-a-time, Cymraeg was the dominant language in Wales. It infused every element of Welsh life and culture. Now it is possible to be born, raised and to live in Wales, without entering its realm. This week, during my Saysomethinginwelsh bootcamp, I somehow found my way into this magical, world.

Yesterday it was hard… so hard to leave.

I hadn't met any of my fellow bootcampers prior to our week long holiday in Tresaith. We had all followed the same Welsh course and participated, to varying degrees, in the learners forum, but we were essentially strangers, defined by forum posts, stamp-sized web photos and a common desire to take our language skills to the next level – to experience a week immersed in the Welsh language.

I caught the train from Moreton in the Marsh and arranged a lift with one of my fellow bootcampers from Aberystwyth (yes, I know, a lift with strangers I'd met online). Once we'd settled into the Canolfan, the rules and format of the week were explained. Dictionaries were not encouraged, we were told, nor were sentences like: beth yw y gair am sausage? Miming and talking around the unknown word was the preferred method of communication. For example, if you didn't know the word for sausage you might say: cig sy'n mewn croen hir – meat that is in a long skin while miming the shape of a sausage with your hands. Inevitably, another learner would know the word. If not our Welsh language hosts would provide it.

Once the guidelines had been established we were asked to go around the room and convey interesting things about ourselves to each other using only mime. This was hilarious and, as you can imagine quite difficult. At the end of the fifteen minutes, it was a relief to start talking in Welsh.

After the initial, enforced silence, the chatter didn't didn't stop. We did all the activities that any group of friends might do on a holiday. We rose late-ish (me latest). Had breakfast, visited, towns, castles, museums, villages and restaurants, went on walks, took photos, got lost, browsed in book shops, shared meal preparations, misunderstood directions, got lost, went to the pub, stayed up late, laughed, talked, sang beneath the stars, all under the banner of the Welsh language. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow description of the week. I couldn't. You had to be there to experience the wonder. But here are some of my personal highlights.

Walking through the wonderful Welsh countryside

Making castles on the beach

Speaking Welsh

Laughing at my mistakes

Visiting a water operated woollen mill

Doing a drama session in Welsh

Laughing like a school girl

Realising I understood what that was being said

Laughing even more

Doing a tour of Castell Aberteifi

Hearing about the first Welsh Eisteddfod

Having a lesson in a cwrgl

Realising I understood everything the teacher was saying

Everything

I repeat: everything while turning hopeless circles in a cwrgl

Swimming in the Irish Sea

Making jokes in Welsh

Laughing

And laughing

Til I feared my sides would split

Thinking in Welsh

Realising I was thinking in Welsh

Telling my friends

Knowing they understood

Wishing the week would never end

 

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. Carine

    Almost sounds like a mini-exchange compressed into just one week! Glad to hear you had such an awesome week filled with all things Welsh =) xx

  2. Chris

    I went to the June one, and yeah. It was bloody brilliant. Heading back home, I had to remind myself that the people I was talking to couldn’t actually speak any Welsh. With Welsh being the first language I’ve ever learned to this level of proficiency, I really wasn’t prepared for my thoughts to suddenly start to randomly code switch (technical term for switching languages mid-conversation, or sometimes mid-sentence).

    I definitely want to go again – it was a lot of fun, and it’s the kind of opportunity that, living in England, I don’t get often.

  3. Da iawn ti. Croeso i’r byd Cymraeg – welcome to our world. Dal ati!

  4. Chris G

    I too went to a bootcamp a few years ago and found the experience to be amazing, not so much the activities but the entire experience of immersing yourself into a Welsh speaking world so much so that my English suffered up to a week afterwards! I’ve only had the privelege of attending one bootcamp which was held by helpers other than Aran and Iestyn’s families but Iestyn and his family did come down towards the end of the week to say hi and stayed a day or two but even so it was a great experience with international and UK based learners where we discussed politics amongst other technical subjects in Welsh :D.

    Did you find that after leaving you had to force yourself to use English with your non Welsh speaking friends? For a week after leaving I continued to speak Welsh to people without realising my choice of language and had to work out the English translation when this was pointed out to me. Although nowadays I don’t really need the practice as it were as I’m a fairly competent/fluent speaker I’d like to go back to get the same experience one day but I wouldn’t want to fill a space either that an eager learner could take in my place.

    Glad to see that you enjoyed your Welsh in the wild experience and wish you the best with your continued learning.

  5. Gareth

    I work at the Ship in Llangrannog, and this last week I served a gentleman from Sussex who is also a welsh learner. I had a cracking conversation with him about it all, and being a first-language Welsh speaker I had a short conversation with him. My girlfriend incidentally lives in Stow on the Wold, next to Moreton and is also attempting to learn Welsh. I also worked at the Woollen Museum in Drefach for four years, and had you come in I would’ve been very ready to answer any questions you would’ve had. If you’re down in the area again, pop in to the Ship!

  6. Natalie

    Great to hear of people coming in to Wales to learn Welsh. You should take a holiday in the north west (anglesey, caernarfon) many opportunities to use your welsh 🙂 da iawn chi

  7. Da iawn, pawb am eich atebion chi!

    Yes, bootcamp was amazing. So intense. I couldn’t believe it when my brain switched gears. Fortunately, we are on the last leg of our journey and staying in Franc. As a consequence I am relieved of the need to talk much. I don’t speak French. I guess people think I don’t understand their accents but I find myself translating back out of Welsh whenever I am trying to answer their English. I have holidayed in the North and loved it and had lots of conversation but I am further along in my journey now I noticed my comprehension had improved the most.

  8. Blogiad bendigedig – mor braf clywed am brofiadau positif y rhai sy’n mynd ar y bootcamps.

    Dw i’n byw yn Llangrannog, felly tro nesa chi’n dod lawr, rhowch wybod, a do’ i lawr i ddweud helo.

  9. Seán

    I want to do this. I’ve begun Lesson One of Say Something in Welsh (SSiW).
    Slán anois,
    John

  10. Laura P

    Hi, I very much enjoyed reading about your experiences, and reading the replies as well. I’m an American, learning Welsh, and I’m planning to go to a intensive fortnight next year with SSiW. My Gran would be bursting with pride and joyful tears, but my Mum is near to having a nervous breakdown over the thought of me traveling alone to a foreign country and staying with strangers. If y’all have any thoughts to share concerning my safety, my Mum and I would be most grateful. Thanks so much!

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for reading my blog. If you are doing a two week intensive I presume you are going to Monte Carlo. I’ve never been to Monte Carlo but as a mother of four adult children I can say with absolute certainty that Aran and Catrin are wonderful, kind, and absolutely trustworthy people (Isetyn and Cat aren’t too bad either). I wouldn’t have hesitated to send any of my kids on a language holiday with them. The SSiW community tends to be very caring overall. You will have a ball not to mention taking great strides in the Welsh language. Pob hwyl i chi! And let me know how it goes.

      • Laura P

        Thanks so much, Elizabeth! I’m very excited about this opportunity., and my Mum will be grateful for your reassurances. I’ll let you know how it goes..

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