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In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Spenny » Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:36 pm

I thought I would share what my experience was of taking the plunge in Porthmadog over the weekend.

My profile, to give you a handle, is that I do not speak any other language apart from English aside from restaurant German. I am old and frazzled enough that I am not particularly embarrassed (except in retrospect when I wonder why I just did what I did). I've done the whole course though I am not very solid on some bits, other bits disappear for a while to pop back later. I live in Birmingham(ish) with no day to day access to Welsh things aside from what floats by on t'Internet.

First port of call was popping into the Tourist Information where there were a couple of young helpers and an older lady who appeared displaying a beautifully green and blue milk bottle. Having decided that they might not be too fearsome, I was on the point of leaving and then popped back and said, in Welsh, "I am trying to speak Welsh but I do not speak Welsh very well." The response I got was the same that I got everywhere else where I had risked life and limb trying my smattering of Welsh: which was a look of pleasure, a "Da iawn" and a chance to try a couple of other phrases.

What I found was that, unlike my schoolboy French (D overall E for oral - from the days when C was the bottom pass mark), people understood what I was saying and if anything were a little confused as to why I could say things clearly and not have a clue what they were on about ( like the nice lady in the pet shop at the other end of the High Street).

I met up with Aran, initially to talk through some ideas and software I've been tinkering with to make his life easier (or is that feasible?), so was introduced to the lovely Cat as well (though the 200 or so Highland Terriers put the fear of God up Eddie). In amongst the babble of Welshness going on between Cat and Aran at times, every now and again things would pop out (one thing I found was that I had no guilt whatsoever about trying to listen in to other people's conversations - but I'm like that anyway!). We went out to Criccieth in the evening to eat and I discovered the big advantage to Aran being bi-lingual is that by only listening to half his conversation, it was possible to keep up! The staff were all Welsh speakers and again were most entertained and encouraging about my little spurts of Welsh. It also turned out that I was Aran's first sample of what his course was doing, and together with the reactions of other people, the impression I got was that I couldn't say much but what I said came out right - I never had to explain what it was I was trying to say.

So I think what I've learned is that
  • The course does work
  • I think I can speak Welsh clearly and am understood
  • I can now read some Welsh signs and form an idea of what a Welsh place name should sound like, even though I've not done any significant written work
  • Those sentences just pop into your head and out your mouth when you do use them.
  • I don't really know enough to survive on the current introductory course
  • It was a little disappointing I couldn't fend off some schoolboy Welsh (like "What is your dog's name?" floored me - though I knew Edwin was involved somewhere)
  • I then remembered how little real effort I have put in - just taking the dog a little further sometimes to get to the end of a lesson
  • I did feel just a little bit special being allowed into the Welsh speakers' club for an evening

I suspect that someone who has Schoolboy (ok, school-person) Welsh would probably be in a very good position of being able to merge school vocab with the speaking lessons. For me, as you can tell, it was a mixed experience, but it convinced me that the SSIW method is rock solid and with more material things will start getting easier. The one thing I would say though is that the genuine warmth of the Welsh on hearing someone trying to learn their language was probably the best reward of the weekend.
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby RobertBruce » Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:04 pm

Spenny wrote:I live in Birmingham(ish) with no day to day access to Welsh things aside from what floats by on t'Internet.


Hold on! That stuff that comes out of your taps is pure Radnorshire! :wink:

Spenny wrote:people understood what I was saying and if anything were a little confused as to why I could say things clearly and not have a clue what they were on about


I made a similar point the other day. This is the real sticking point for me - after several years of learning Welsh I still only get the gist of much 'street' Welsh. Did you promise listening practice podcasts at one point Aran? :help:

Spenny wrote:[*]I did feel just a little bit special being allowed into the Welsh speakers' club for an evening[/list]


Funny, that, isn't it? But then you realise it's not a club or secret society or anything like it. What you've actually done is just get a glimpse of being normal. Weird thought, eh?! :smile:

Well done, Spenny. Seriously. And many thanks to Aran and everyone else who has put work into this project!
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Owain » Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:24 pm

Spenny wrote:The response I got was the same that I got everywhere else where I had risked life and limb trying my smattering of Welsh: which was a look of pleasure, a "Da iawn" and a chance to try a couple of other phrases.


Da iawn, Spenny. Really pleased for you.

You found the same reaction from people as RobertBruce and I did, lets hope more learners get out there and just give it a go. :star:
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby SJ » Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:46 pm

Da iawn Spenny!

Another inspirational post to make us all jump in and start speaking Welsh out and about! :D
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Cathifach » Tue Aug 18, 2009 10:01 pm

Absolutely well done, Spenney. I'm very close to finishing the course and am also off to Porthmadog very soon. It's encouraging to know that you got a good response and I often pop in the TIC so will take some SSIW business cards there and if I'm very brave, may just attempt a bit of Welsh. It's good to hear an honest report and very encouraging so thanks for writing that. :clap:
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Spenny » Tue Aug 18, 2009 10:03 pm

RobertBruce wrote:Hold on! That stuff that comes out of your taps is pure Radnorshire! :wink:

If only, but no, it is a blend of the East Midlands Supply Network's finest Severn Trent processings (presumably including the odd blob of Marmite for extra flavour).

Another thought that occurred to me over the weekend was that I had gained another skill, which was critical listening to myself - you can't do the course without learning to listen to what you have said - marking yourself. I find that at first it is difficult to even hear the word that is introduced, and I need a few runs to start understanding what the word is. I've found on the later courses that I've adjusted and work much harder on trying to hear the sound and then make it. Then having grasped the general sound, to get it right, you need to hear what you have said and adjust it to what Cat and Aran have said. I think the course mush hone that skill much more than typical foreign language practice.
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Dee » Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:04 am

Gwych!! Brilliant stuff Spenny, and soooo encouraging!

I have a tentative invitation to a function at what is nominally called the Welsh Club in Pontypridd in a couple of weeks. If it comes off, I'll be very interested to see how much Welsh is actually spoken there, and I'll be dying to jump in and see if I can have a real conversation. I'll make sure I have a bunch of business cards in my pocket of course :smile:
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Spenny » Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:00 am

Dee wrote:Gwych!! Brilliant stuff Spenny, and soooo encouraging!

I have a tentative invitation to a function at what is nominally called the Welsh Club in Pontypridd in a couple of weeks. If it comes off, I'll be very interested to see how much Welsh is actually spoken there, and I'll be dying to jump in and see if I can have a real conversation. I'll make sure I have a bunch of business cards in my pocket of course :smile:

I of course have an advantage for conversation in that I actually own a young dog. :party:
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby vyvienn » Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:20 am

Thank you Spenny for this excellent report! :smile: Not only was it very informative, but would also be entertaining to read even if one wasn't participating in this wondrous language course... I very much hope my big mouth won't suddenly abandon me when I finally get the chance to test out my Welsh (I know Dee won't let me get away without trying). You've just become my role model :star:
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Re: In at the deep end - and the Aran floatation device

Postby Aran » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:10 am

I'm just loving seeing these field reports - I really think they've added a whole new element to the site, which may well turn out to be one of its most important bits...:)

I think it's really, seriously exciting what Spenny has done here. By his own admission, he hasn't entirely nailed the introductory course yet (and I think I recall from conversation that he's not pause-button-free yet, which means there's still some work to be done to increase processing speed) - and he hasn't done any conversation practice - and yet he got out there and produced entire sentences that everyone understood!

And having heard them, I can completely understand the bafflement of some of the other people who got sentences like 'Dw i'n trio siarad Cymraeg, ond dw i ddim yn siarad Cymraeg yn dda iawn' - because that does NOT sound like an early stage learner. Traditional early stage learners go 'Dw i'n, um, dw i'n trio, um, dysgu. Cymraeg. Sorry.'

So you're already thinking and working in sentences, Spenny - that is a massive, massive advantage over trad. style learners. It's one of the identified difficult transition stages - going from thinking word by word to thinking sentence by sentence - but you and anyone else who's done SSIW is already past it before they've even started...:wink:

Now, you 'don't really know enough to survive'. I beg to differ. You're measuring this, I suspect, in terms of being able to have conversations - but the truth of it is that if you were parachuted into a village where no English was spoken, but Welsh was - you'd be absolutely fine. A bit limited for vocab, but that can always be solved by pointing and acting - your structure is advanced enough for you to be able to start using the new stuff you'd learn immediately. You'd also very quickly master 'Sorry, could you say that again?'...:wink:

Fending off schoolboy Welsh - do not, do NOT let that be a 'hit' against you. We've done 'what', but we haven't done 'name', and we haven't really even started to do the listening practice that we will reach later on. So you didn't have the tools to understand 'What's your dog's name?' Because you've spent the time when you could have been learning five or six obvious phrases learning, instead, how to say a massively wide range of stuff that people understand...:)

In the end of the intermediate course and the advanced course, we're going to do much more stuff on preparing you for initial conversational situations - sort of linguistic waterwings - and by that point, you're going to be so far ahead of anyone who's spent the same amount of time on traditional methods, it's going to be embarrassing (for them, any way!).

[P.S. Health and safety warning - any genuinely old and frazzled people would be deeply disconcerted by meeting Spenny and hearing him jabber away about complicated computer stuff interspersed only by sudden, complete sentences in Welsh... :harhar: ]

Oh, and by the way, the 200 Scottish terriers have got your card marked for calling them Highland...:wink:

One other point - I found it absolutely fascinating the way that your pronunciation was spot on for stuff from the course, but with occasional minor wobbles for names and stuff that you'd seen written down - just goes to show, eh?!
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