Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: saysomethinginwelsh (Page 2 of 2)

Becoming a Welsh language expert…

I am not an expert at anything. I am a Jack-of-all-trades kind of girl. Imagine my surprise when an elderly gentleman approached me at the library.

‘I want to learn Welsh,’ he said. ‘One of your colleagues told me you are the library’s Welsh language expert.’

Turns out the man was vision impaired and needed a course that didn’t require him to be able to read or write. I knew just the course and my ‘Welsh language expert status’ was confirmed as surely if it had been listed on my job description along with a degree in library and information studies, eligiblility for ALIA accreditation, and holding a current Victorian driver’s license.

Now, personally, I think the ability to speak Welsh should be an essential requirement for every librarian. But as they haven’t yet achieved this in Wales, I don’t have much chance in suburban Melbourne. It was a shock therefore when on a second business-as-usual afternoon another man sought me out.

‘Hello. I’m looking for Liz Corbett.’

‘Yes. That’s me. How can I help you?’

‘I heard you speak Welsh.’

Heard! Where from? I guessed another of my colleagues had supplied the information.

‘I try, but…my Welsh isn’t fluent.’

Turns Ken James was a local historian with Welsh ancestry who was doing research on Eaglehawk’s Welsh Churches (yes, the hiraeth gets to us all eventually). He had a couple of cemetery inscriptions that needed translating. Would I have a look at them? Now, as my job description does not have ‘an ability to speak Welsh’ as a condition of employment, I am not paid to translate documents. As a librarian I am supposed to direct the borrower to the languages section. But as a person with an interest in Austalian history and Welsh language, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

‘I’ll have a go,’ I said. ‘If I can’t work it out, I know people who can. Why not email me a copy?’

Here is one of the inscriptions Ken James sent to me:


Serrhog Goffodwrineth / Robert Watkin Jones/ Pantymarch / Anwl Ac Unig Fab / Watkin Jones / Pandy, Llanuwchllyn, Bala / Yr Hwn A Hunodd Yn Yr Iesu / Hydref / 10 February 1884 Yn Zomywydd Oed / “God’s Will Be Done”.

It was school holidays and being a mildly (cough) obsessive person I didn’t want to wait until Welsh classes started back again. I looked up serrhog. It wasn’t in my dictionary. Neither was gofodwrineth. However, language is all about context. I am often telling my Welsh class. Your comprehension will sometimes be situational. So, what was the context here? I looked at English language cemetery inscriptions. They generally started with something like loving remembrance. I looked up remembrance in the English side of my dictionary and came up with: coffadwriaeth, remembrance, and serchog, with means affectionate. The spelling was wrong (possibly the family had no dictionary and may not have had much education in the Welsh language – it wasn’t exactly encouraged – and maybe they were relying on English speaking mason). Anyway, the inscription should have read: Serchog goffadwriaeth. Perfect.

See, being an expert is easy. 🙂

I knew Pantymarch and Llanuwchllyn, Bala were place names. I also knew that there was no letter z in the Welsh alphabet. A little enquiry, confirmed that Robert Watkin Jones had died at the age of twenty. Therefore zomywydd oed was probably 20 blwydd oed – twenty years old – Anwl ac Unig Fab meant: dear and only son.

I paused, thinking about this family far from home who had lost their only son at twenty years of age.

So, much pain, in those few words.

My final challenge with this inscription was the phrase: Yr Hwn A Hunodd Yn Yr Iesu.

Hunodd meant ‘slept’ my dictionary told me, Iesu, I knew, meant Jesus. But why yr hwn? And why yr Iesu? Literally, it seemed to be saying ‘the this and slept in the Jesus.’ Puzzled, I went where any sensible woman in this day and age who needs to know something goes. Facebook.

Fortunately Sion Meredith Director of Cymraeg i Oedolion – Canolbarth Cymru – Welsh for Adults mid-Wales was online. That’s right – a real expert. He confirmed my earlier guesswork and told me the phrase Yr Hwn a Hunodd yn yr Iesu meant: this one slept in Christ. Nice. I sent my results back to Ken James. Imagine my pleasure when a few months later he came back to the library with a signed copy of his book: Eaglehawk’s Welsh churches. He even put my name in the acknowledgements.


A media hat trick – my BBC Radio Cymru interview

This week I made a media hat trick. I have now been interviewed in a Welsh newspaper, on Welsh language television, and most recently on BBC radio Cymru.

Yep, that’s right. I’m pretty much a household name in Wales. 🙂

I would like to be able to call this week’s interview a Welsh language hat trick. But the newspaper interview was in English. I couldn’t string two Welsh words together back then. But I’d won a prize with a short story inspired by one of my mum’s wartime memories and the South Wales Evening Post responded to the Bristol Short Story Prize’s press release.

It wasn’t my first interview. I’d done one for a Bristol & Bath publication call Venue a week earlier. Trouble is, I worked as a children’s librarian back then. I read heaps of kids books. I didn’t know that particular issue of the Venue was going to be about alfresco sex. My comments about Narnia and Anne of Green Gables, were bookended by strategies for getting naked in the English countryside (a fact that did not escape the teasing notice of my family). I cam across as a middle aged woman with a serious Peter Pan complex. As a consequence, when the South Wales Evening Post sent me a list of interview questions I worked hard at sounding mature.

‘Wow!’ The journalist wrote upon receiving my written responses. ‘You’ve pretty much done my job for me.’

The article came out largely unchanged. I’d learned my first media lesson – do your preparation.

I had less control over my second interview. It was in Welsh. I’d put my hand up in a fit of evangelistic fervour after the amazing online course, Say Something in Welsh, had transformed my language learning experience, achieving what years of formal, high school Japanese lessons never had – the ability to think in another language. I stood in front of the fuzzy TV microphone and babbled about the wonders of the SSiW course, only to find it edited out of the final interview. The producers made it sound like Cwrs Haf had transformed my experience (which it did in it’s own way). But at the time of the interview I had only been in Aberystwyth a day. No time for lightbulb moments, or pennies dropping. I came across as a massive exaggerator. 🙂

From this, I learned my second media lesson. If you are going to put your hand up for a jet-lagged interview in a sketchily obtained second language you may end up mis-understood.

So why did I say agree to a third interview? Good question. I’m still not sure. Probably because my friend Lowri Price asked me. Because, I’ve still got religion on the SSiW course. Because I’m coming to Wales in July and I’m getting excited. Maybe as a test? A radio interview is a pretty good measure of how far you’ve come. Or perhaps because it’s sometimes worth letting go, taking a risk, and swimming with the flow.

My interview with Siân Cothi took place Wednesday evening Melbourne time and aired in Wales Friday morning. I wasn’t jet-lagged this time. Nor was I edited out of shape. I pretty much managed to understand what was being said and to reply (albeit with plenty of mistakes). If you want to listen to my halting attempt to explain why I started learning Welsh, follow this link. My segment is two hours and seven minutes into the program. You can’t miss me, even if you don’t speak Welsh. I am the one talking really slow.


Dosbarth Cymraeg – 2015 – Melbourne Welsh Class

The first night of Welsh class is always inspiring. Every year, people come with hope and yearning, expressing an intangible connection to Wales. Some, because they were born there. Others have Welsh parents or grandparents from Wales. Others, a connection by marriage. Some have simply spent time working in the country. Whatever their reasons, people come wanting to learn the language.

Yet, as familiar as the first class of 2015 was, it also felt different.


I’m going to tell you.

We threw away the printed course books last year and piloted using SSiW audio lessons as our ‘official’ course materials. Incredibly for the first time, we had hardly any attrition among our learners. At the end of the first term, they were still there, and at the end of second term. All through, winter, work and personal crises they kept coming. Iestyn from SSiW had told them they could learn to speak Welsh.

They believed him.

My job was simply to facilitate conversation.

To some, this may seem like a lazy option, to essentially step back and let others teach your class. It does however mean those, like me, who are only a hundred metres ahead in the language acquisition race, can act as tutors. At times, this was pretty scary. I had to wrack my brains to think of new and exciting ways to use the materials. I learned not to pack too much into a lesson, to o go with the flow when things were working. I had looked forward to putting my feet up this year and repeating what I’d learned with a new group of beginners.

This was not to be. At the pre-term planning meeting, our longest serving tutor said:

‘That group likes you Liz. You’d better go up to intermediate with them.’

Gulp. Like, that’s a lot of extra laminating (and they’ve heard all my jokes). But here’s the thing about this year. One of our other tutors, a Welsh speaker from North Wales, will take the beginners. She has familiarised herself with the SSiW lessons. Watched the Bootcamp videos. Caught the passion. She’s going to use level one of the NEW Northern course as her class materials.

‘Err…’ I said, ‘do you realise the NEW second course is still under construction?’

‘Yes, but I read on the website it will be finished soon.’

That’s the thing about the SSiW. They say stuff and people believe them.

We took a punt using SSiW audio lessons as our official course materials. It was an experiment. We weren’t sure how it was going to work in the class room. This year we know it works. We have last year’s group and a world wide network of language learners as evidence.

But…this year’s beginners are going to need the level two NEW SSiW Northern course by the end of the year. So, Aran Jones, if like me, you’re only a hundred metres ahead, you’d best get pedalling. 🙂

A year of tutoring with SSiW – the wrap up

Last night was the last night of Welsh classes for 2014. Now before friends in the northern hemisphere accuse us of laziness, finishing the term in mid-November, do bear in mind it is Spring here in Melbourne and the days are lengthening. It is the end of the academic year, a time of exams and graduations. We are juggling valedictory dinners, with Christmas parties and end of year office events. After which, everyone who is able will head down to the coast for a summer break. So, we finish early and, being Aussie’s we decided to do this with a barbie

This is the first time since starting to starting to tiwtor three years ago that we’ve finished with a BBQ. Normally by this point in the year, I am exhausted and the two or three remaining students who have made it to the end of the fourth term are in a fog of pain and confusion. All anyone wants to do is slink away quietly and lick their language learning wounds.

This year was different.

It started the same as other years, with a large group of learners. I recall looking round the class and wondering how many would stay the course. Surprisingly, this year, we have pretty much retained our starting numbers. I am putting this down to a desperate decision to use SSIW audio lessons as our official course materials.

I say desperate, not because of the said course materials, which are excellent – if you want an overview read Aran Jones excellent short explanation of High Intenisty Language Learning. But the SSiW audio lessons are designed for individual use. I had to somehow adapt them for the group. From the outset, I decided we were not going to parrot the lessons aloud in class. That was homework. The only homework I ever set. Not that I actually had to ‘set’ anything. There was a fair bit of friendly rivalry among class members. Especially as we started each lesson by telling the group what lesson were up to yng Nghymraeg. My job was to facilitate ways of using the patterns students were learning. It was a trial by error process. I made heaps of mistakes. But peopel stayed. And some things actually worked.

  • I made flash cards
  • We played games like snap and charades and memory
  • We had a lolly jar
  • I wrote English dialogues for learners to speak in Welsh
  • We used the picture dictionary to supplement our vocabulary
  • By the end of the year we were using pictures as launching boards for conversations
  • We even had a romance between a man from one picture and a woman on the other.
  • They met in a tavern, married and had dau o blant (two children).
  • Not to mention their dogs and cats and how they liked mynd am dro (go for a walk)

We had fun.

That was the main piece of feedback I received at the end of the year. We laughed heaps.

Three people finished the entire first course. Some have told me they don’t want to go onto the intermediate class next year, using a course book. They want to keep learning the SSIW way. Many are talking about how far they will be able to get during their spare time over the summer holidays. Last night, someone said:

I think Iestyn, Aran and the two Cats deserve most of the credit. But we our class is pretty special too.

I agree.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present the Melbourne SSiW class of 2014



A week in Cymru Cymraeg

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


I repeat: everything while turning hopeless circles in a cwrgl

Swimming in the Irish Sea

Making jokes in Welsh


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




Tagged – my not so rolling blog tour

Let me introduce Christine Maree Bell. I first met Chris at a book launch and then, many moths later, quite by accident, I bumped into her on the train. We were both heading into the city for a Melbourne Writer's festival workshop. I don't know when or how we started work-shopping together. Only that we've been doing it now for quite some time. As I write this post, Chris is heading up to New South Wales to take advantage of a Varuna fellowship. This recognition is long deserved. She has written for the web and had multiple children's educational titles published. Her first young adult novel also won an unpublished manuscript award. Her second young adult novel is at submission stage. While at Varuna, Chris will be working on re-drafts of an adult historical novel.

See what I mean, she's going places.

I was therefore thrilled when she tagged me in a rolling book tour. This involved answering some questions about my writing process and tagging three other writers. This is the writerly version of a chain letter without the accompanying threats and curses.

Here are my answers to the questions Chris sent.

What am I working on?

I am working on the re-draft of an historical novel called: Keeping Notes. In 2007, an early draft of this novel was short-listed for a Harper Collins Varuna manuscript development award. Since then it has been re-worked, rejected, put aside, and then restarted. There was something about this story that wouldn't let go of me, though my stomach clenched every time I thought about the amount of work involved in re-writing. I have just finished the end of the re-draft and I'm getting ready to send it out to readers.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Keeping Notes is a psychological novel, set in 1841. Part coming of age, part fable, it is a story about losing a father, facing the truth, and how life is never as it seems. The setting is a nineteenth century emigrant vessel. The history early Australian. But there is also a fair bit of Welsh mythology thrown into the mix. I don't know anyone else writing an Austeakian historical, psychological novel with Welsh mythology at its core. I trust it is therefore distinct.

Why do I write what I write?

I was born in Britain to a Welsh mother and English father. Emigration was the defining event of my childhood. I've spent my life reading British novels and, in particular historical ones. I did an Arts degree, as a young adult, majoring in history and politics. In later years, I went on to study librarianship. But I never stopped reading historical fiction. When I decided to give writing a go there was no choice. It had to be historical. I started with the character of Caroline Chisolm and then worked my way into all things nineteenth century and immigration. I decided to make their destination Melbourne because that's where I live. When I threw a Welsh story teller into the mix the story took off. I journeyed back to the Land of My Fathers in my imagination.

How does my writing process work?

I'm a nervous convoluted sort of writer. I start with an idea for a scene in mind. And a wringer twist in the pit of my belly. I light a candle and over coffee and journal about what I want to write about. Yes, that's right, I write about what I want to write. This gives me courage to face the empty screen.

Sometimes, my writing day goes well. My fingers fly across the keys. Other days, I sit at my desk and bleed. But I'm learning that bleeding is a necessary part of the process. As at the end of a difficult day, when I begin to unwind, the answers to a knotty scene begin to clot in my subconscious. I jot them down before I go to bed and then journal about them again the next morning and, all the while, I'm trying to work out the beating heart of the story.

Right, having answered the obligatory rolling blog tour questions it is now my turn to tag three other writers. This has proven a little more difficult than anticipated.

You see, all my close writing buddies have already been tagged. Feeling distinctly unloved and seriously unpopular, I turned to my cohort of Historical Novel Society colleagues. Eureka! A number of them expressed an interest in being involved. Sadly, my excitement was short lived. Despite plaintive polite reminders, only one of them has sent the requested biography and photo.

Sophie Schiller is now my new best friend.

In fact, in my eagerness to procure Sophie's participation, I may have invited her to dinner and succumb to the Aussie stereotype of offering to throw a shrimp on the BBQ.

As Sophie lives in the US, I may never have to make good on my offer. But I wouldn't mind, honestly. Her work sounds so interesting. Sophie was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and spent many years working in International Business before becoming a writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Thanks for coming on board, Sophie. And if anyone else out there is not too busy or too famous or to otherwise engaged, send me your bio, photo and URL and I'll add it to the page. Oh, yes, and you can also join me and Sophie for dinner, if you are in the area.

Woo hoo! Lance Elliot Osborne has joined the dinner party. His apologies for the late arrival – he's had an insane week, hit by a storm of family and professional obligations.

Lance is a Texan who grew up twelve miles from Hornsby's bend and two miles from the mountain that in Bold Crossings the Wukubuu's people call “Father of the Great River.” He also grew up with descendants of Malcom Hornsby's family and the tales of their ancestors in the 1830's. These legends, coupled with thorough research regarding all peoples that populated Texas in the same decade, are the makings of Bold Crossings. In his research, he has learned a great deal about the Penatuka Comanche that called central Texas their home. And he is honored to have grown close to his Penatuka Comanche mentors in Lawton, OK during the research process.

Before Bold Crossings, Lance had written in various genres, including for the small and large screens. In fact, when he was seven years old he penned a two-page script for his favorite TV show…

Lance blogs at: http://boldcrossings.jimdo.com


The language of Heaven

Well, friends, I am all cared out. I have been to untold medical appointments, sat through an ACAT assessment, been on a number of snail-pace shopping trips, held a series of one-sided conversations, and watched a helluva lot of British police procedurals.

And I am still smiling.

It is time to unfold the third secret of my success.

It is, of course, Welsh.

Yup! That’s right Cymraeg.

‘Hang on,’ you say. ‘You’ve been learning Welsh for years. It hasn’t helped in the past.’

‘You are right,’ I say in reply. ‘But, I’ve recently stepped up the pace.’

Last month, I booked a trip to the UK. I will be spending three weeks in Wales. Two of these, in the North, where Welsh is still the first language. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask (gosh you are inquisitive tonight). ‘Do you have family there?’

No, I explain with great forbearance. My reasons are profound and also threefold.

  1. Because I want to
  2. Because I can
  3. Ac achos, dw i’n eisiau siarad Cymraeg (and because I want to speak Welsh).

The Welsh part is is actually rather rash. I am sick to the stomach nervous about the whole thing. Not about making myself understood. About actually plucking up the nerve to say something. It’s all very well to learn a language, and quite another thing to speak it!

I have tried to be brave while making bookings, throwing in the odd Welsh sentence, a few succinct greetings. And I have already made some fantastic mistakes. Telling one woman, ‘I am a tight budget’ (rather than on one). Asking another man what the word nwch meant (apparently North Wales Car Hire).

In an effort to boost my confidence, my friend Dai Tren, suggested I learn some of the North Walian dialogue, in preparation for the trip.

‘What?’ I said. ‘Won’t they understand my South Walian (spoken in halting sentences, with eyes closed, and an Australian accent)?’

‘They might,’ he replied. ‘But they will answer in their own dialect.’

Well, I hadn’t thought of that!

‘Fe fyddi di’n OK,‘ he said. But try and do the first twenty six lessons of  saysomethinginwelsh before you go.

Right, I thought, doing a quick mental calculation.

Fourteen weeks until I leave, plus two weeks in England. That’s two-plus lessons a week, not including the bonus lessons.

‘It’s colloquial,’ Dai said. ‘The way people speak every day. I found it helpful.’

Well, I have to admit, Dai’s Welsh is better than mine (probably because he does more homework). I decided it wouldn’t hurt to check this SSIW out.

The website made some extravagant claims. 10,267 Welsh learners. No reading, or writing. No revision.

In short a miracle – and exactly what I needed.

The first lesson was very colloquial. ‘Rydw i’n shortened to: Dw i’n. Rwyt ti’n mynd i fedru siarad (you are going to be able to speak), shortened to: ti’n mynd i fedru siarad. With a few kind of lazy words like licio (like), instead of hoffi, and trio, for try. But mostly it involved Aran (my new best friend) saying words and phrases in English and me trying to say the equivalent in Welsh, before his wife Catrin repeated them. I was allowed to use the pause button, at first. But forbidden to move onto the next lesson until I could say the Welsh before Catrin every time.

Now, folks, this is where the i word comes back in to my tale. Not a Welsh i – the Apple i. You see, I realised I could download the Mp3 files onto my iPhone.

Yes, that’s right! My iPhone.

This week, I have done SSIW while cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, hanging washing, cleaning cupboards and putting out the bins. I have even listened to the lessons while out walking. Although, this did earn me a few stares. Okay, I wasn’t wearing earphones (because of my hearing aids), so it did look rather like I was muttering.

But hey, this is Adelaide. I saw a woman walking an Alpaca, the other night.

So, there you have it, the secrets behind my week of caring – Skimble, Apple, and SSIW.

But, I must conclude with a disclaimer.

My friend Dai Tren, doesn’t actually have an iPhone. I don’t even think he has an iPod. Indeed if the SSIW website is to be believed, an i device isn’t strictly necessary. Likewise, some claim to have been helped by other, android, languages.

Me, I am not convinced. To walk round the block repeating Spanish, in place of Welsh, just wouldn’t work work. It just wouldn’t. I mean, for a start, Welsh is easier, never mind the extra vowels and the mutations. And so very handy. I mean, think of all the places you can speak Welsh.

What? You never wanted to visit Patagonia?

No friends, I fear my friend Dai Tren is probably just a freak. Those android claims nothing but a hoax. For, i, is the prefix of choice. And Welsh is the language of heaven.

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