Please Warn a Beginner!


I'm new to Welsh and I really really really like what I've seen -- and heard -- of the language so far. With the exception of German, Welsh is the only language I've run into that I think I'd actually want to learn to speak and understand, not simply read or write (my normal goal) or be knowledgeable about.

But, when I go at any new language I like to know what's in it so I can prepare for it: genders, case, subjunctive, aspect, complicated tense or prepositional system, etc...

Can any learners of Welsh who are well advanced up the Welsh tree tell me where the complex parts of Welsh, or parts that need special attention, lie for an English speaker? So far, I'd say 1) mutations 2) gender 3) so many different pronunciations / words / forms for the same things.

I have already read some posts on this forum saying that Welsh is not as difficult as it looks. Would you agree?

And a question for the native speakers -- or residents of Wales:

As a learner who is not British, does not live in the UK, has no Welsh ancestry or connection to Wales whatsoever and doesn't really plan to visit often -- and therefore does not have a 'preferred' area of Wales -- what form of spoken Welsh is best to concentrate on? Normally, the form of a language spoken in the national capital is thought to be the best form for learners who do not live in the country. (Madrid Spanish, Parisian French) Does this hold true for Welsh?

Edit: a look at the books available online for learning / exam revision for Welsh shows that there is a clear preference for Southern Welsh for 'classroom' teaching.

December 7, 2016


I agree with Deodwyn, grammar is somewhat unfamiliar but for the most part not more complex than for instance in Romance language (and there are for sure less tables to memorise than in German!). Mutations take some getting used to, but they are very regular. Pronunciation is not that much of an issue for me. I have some trouble with the r’s in some places and with the u’s but the rest is rather straightforward (and if u gives you too much trouble you can always decide to follow a more “Southern” pronunciation and have it sound the same as i).

Remembering the vocabulary is a bigger problem for me. Like you, I had no background in Celtic languages, so I didn’t have a lot to associate with many of the words. You do begin to recognise smaller components of words as you advance though. For example, swyddfa (office) at first looks arbitrary, but later you realise that it’s literally a “job-place” :D So keep it up!

December 7, 2016

Thank you! What about the tenses? I have only touched on the simple past and there seem to be two (interchangeable) forms. Does that continue? What about a subjunctive (the horror of the Romance languages) or aspect (the horror of the Slavic languages) ? I agree, remembering the vocabulary is difficult at the moment, but that all comes with familiarity as you say. The pronunciation is not so much of a problem for me either, but more than that, it's the different vocabulary. I saw a video on YouTube where the camera team went around a fair in Wales and asked different people what they would call an object in Welsh. I think the 'object' was grass. There were 3 different words! As a beginner, the idea of needing to know 3+ words for the simplest of things is extremely daunting!

December 7, 2016

The thing with the past is mirrored in the future and the conditional, yes. As far as I know (remember, I’m a beginner myself), there is no subjunctive. There is aspect but with you being level 11 you almost certainly have encountered it already without noticing: It’s the difference between yn (progressive/neutral) and wedi (perfective). I haven’t studied any Slavic language so far but I imagine it’s probably more complicated there.

The thing with the different words… That doesn’t mean those three words mean the exact same thing. Think about English “grass, lawn, hay”. They all refer to the same plant but in three different forms. And then there are more specialised uses such as “turf” or the poetic “greensward”. Factor in some dialect difference (which to my knowledge don’t exist for “grass” in English, but for a lot of other things. Think of BE “petrol” vs “AE “gas”, BE “full-stop” vs. AE “period” etc, and that’t not even taking inner-British or inner-American differences into account, let alone other dialects such as Australian, Canadian, Indian, the numerous African and Carribbean idioms. Some of these are so different that they can with some justification be considered their own languages). That sounds like a huge amount of stuff to learn if you think about it this way, but in reality there are probably only one or two words which a beginner has to care about and the rest can be learned when you encounter them later on, or if you move to a special dialect area.

December 7, 2016

Thank you! So there is aspect, and double forms for tenses, ok. As far as vocabulary goes, I see your point, although I think the aim of the video was to show that they all DO mean the same thing. Since I haven't found an answer to 'what variant is good for a beginner to learn', I'm somewhat wary. The only advice I've seen is 'Just say what your Welsh speaking neighbors say'. But, what if you don't have Welsh speaking neighbors? It seems that Welsh language teaching hasn't stumbled on the idea of non-British, non-UK residents learning their language. Nobody can say what is the more 'standard' variant, i.e. what BBC Cymru uses for their news broadcast or the form Prince Charles speaks, because one possibly doesn't exist or the regional forms are so strong that each Welsh person will tell you something different -- just like each speaker of English will think his is best and regard the other forms as 'weird' or simply incorrect. How tough it is on learners of English to have their perfectly correct sentences 'corrected' as being wrong, simply because it's not in the variant the native speaker in front of them knows/ accepts. Oh well, thank you again for answering me!

December 7, 2016

Generally dialectal words will have a "standard" form, that will be understood by most people around the country (llaith instead of llefrith, for example, or eisiau instead of moyn). Saying that, for some of the more common ones you'll just have to get used to their being a difference (like sidewalk vs pavement in English) if you intend on consuming Welsh media, and it shouldn't be too much of a challenge once you've heard the other form a couple of times.

Different parts of Welsh have such a mash of dialects anyway, when I talk to my Gran, for example, half the words she uses this course would claim are northern, whereas another half it would claim are southern (and I can't think of any off the top of my head, but there are some words which don't really appear in either!). It's just part of the language, and nowhere near as bad as I think you're fearing :)

December 8, 2016

Thank you, that helps!

December 9, 2016

Does Charles actually speak Welsh? Have any of the Princes of Wales ever spoken Welsh since Edward II?

December 7, 2016

YES! When he officially became Prince of Wales he decided that if he was Prince of the place, then he should learn to speak the language. That's typical for Charles, very consistent in his activities. I don't know how good he is (today) but in his youth he could -- or at least he made an honest attempt.

December 7, 2016

Welsh grammar is rather foreign to an English speaker but it is not particularly complex. Mutation is probably the most confusing aspect of Welsh.

Like yourself I do not live near Wales nor do I know any Welsh speakers but I was left with the impression that the Duo course focused more on the northern dialect. Cardiff is in the South of Wales but I do not know if that is the more prestigious dialect.

December 7, 2016

The course is not based on any particular dialect really. It is based on the middle of the road Welsh taught in the 'Welsh for Adults' system in Wales. There are about five main dialect areas, as explained in the notes for the 'Dialects' section, which introduces a few variations for interest. Some very basic variations are accepted as answers throughout the course.

The 'Welsh for Adults' materials written for WJEC come in two forms, generic 'southern' and 'northern' variants, but this ignores the real range of variations to be found, which is a shame.

December 7, 2016

May I ask if you think the TTS system follows a particular accent? And more specifically, do you percieve a difference between its u’s and i’s? Personally I don’t but I’m not sure if that’s simply because my perception hasn’t adjusted to the new sound system yet.

December 7, 2016

I have the impression that the voice is Southern as I'm not hearing the Northern "u" sound. I believe there's another voice available. Does that one have a Northern accent?

December 7, 2016

No particular accent. You can probably look up somewhere how create their TTS voices - it is their TTS voice 'Welsh, Gwyneth' that is used for this Duo course. It is perhaps based on averaging many sound samples somehow, which would explain its overall neutral accent.

There are many more variations than the mythical 'north' and the mythical 'south. If I lived in the Canolbarth (mid-Wales) or in north Pembrokeshire or in south-west or north-east Wales I might get annoyed that people so often ignore my dialect and accent!

December 7, 2016

Diolch i’r ddau ohonoch.

December 7, 2016
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