I’ve lived in Wales for 18 years, my dad’s Welsh and a friend recommended I put myself in the position of learner starting from scratch, like a lot of our swimming pupils. So I’ve started learning Welsh.
The internet course I’m doing, Say Something in Welsh, involves constructing a sentence, using the language you know, before the teacher says it. Trying too hard to get the words out in those few seconds freezes my brain. But when I don’t worry about speaking and just listen, understand and absorb, like a child does, it’s much more relaxing. I often fall asleep halfway through a lesson or ‘challenge’ and am woken by Aran, the teacher, telling me how well I’ve done to make it to the end!
Babies ideally crawl a lot before they walk and do lots of listening before they start to talk. Watching the growing confidence of our 2 year old grandson Gruff is inspiring. With limited language he manages to communicate what he wants very effectively and he understands a lot. When we go for a walk with him, we don’t get far. But he’s always learning. The other evening he spent about 10 minutes dropping stones into puddles.
I have a 78 year old Alexander Technique pupil at the moment. When she came for her first lesson, it was difficult to get any movement out of her. But now she can float in and out of a chair like a ten year old. Last week I asked her if she could recall Alexander’s four directions. She wasn’t able to and didn’t seem too bothered. She’s just enjoying coming.
While I wouldn’t be able to string two sentences of Welsh together in the real world, I do feel engaged in a learning process. I wake up in the morning, knowing how to say, “I met your sister in the pub last night’ or ‘I’ve got a friend who knows your brother”. And when I listen to Tommo on Radio Cymru I’m starting to recognise more and more words.
Learning without caring about results, without crippling yourself with expectation, must be the best way to learn anything. With Welsh, I remind myself to give up the idea of getting anywhere, but not to give up.