Living in Munich and learning Welsh
by Janet MacKenzie
My only – very tenuous – link to Wales is the fact that I was born in Liverpool, which, as I’m reliably informed, is the unofficial capital of North Wales. So as a child in the fifties I would hear Welsh spoken when visiting shops in the city centre and on family holidays to Morfa Nefyn. I found the language thrillingly mysterious. When the BBC started a radio course ‘Improve Your Welsh’ in 1967 I badgered my mother into buying me the accompanying booklet, conducting solemn conversations with myself on the comfortingly conventional activities of Alun and Gwen.
Over fifty years later, you’d expect me to have blossomed into a kind of Dysgwr y Ganrif, but leaving the North West to do a degree in French, followed by a qualification in librarianship and eventually a move to Germany to work as a librarian at Munich University rather took my eye off the ball. It wasn’t until I discovered Say Something in Welsh that I was able to rekindle my initial enthusiasm.
After completing all the SSIW courses and levels I started looking for other learning opportunities and discovered Nant Gwrtheyrn on the internet. Although I would have really loved to have taken part in one of the residential courses (still right up there at the top of my Bucket List!) I hesitated – it’s a long way from Munich, I’m not a terribly confident driver on those narrow Welsh roads, and what would I do with my poor German husband, who struggles with English, never mind Welsh?
However, I still regularly visited the Nant website, just to see if by any miracle direct helicopter flights from Munich to Llithfaen had been introduced since I last checked. That was how I found out that even Covid-19 might have a tiny little silver lining, in this particular case in the form of the new online courses. I signed up quicker than you can say “S’mae”, after dithering a little as to the level and deciding to boldly go, as it were, for Sylfaen. After all, some of the Welsh I’d learned over those fifty years MUST have stuck.
It was a great choice; our tutor, Mathew, was really encouraging and the material was excellent. I’d read a lot of Welsh and had a reasonably wide, if rather approximate, vocabulary and grasp of grammar, but I hadn’’t been exactly disciplined about practising things like conjugations and tenses – strong on theory, definitely fragile in practice. The Sylfaen course gave me both practice and confidence and I have already signed up for the Cwrs Canolradd in December.
But why am I learning Welsh when I have no Welsh connections and don’t even live in Wales? Well, first of all, Welsh learners are given a wonderfully warm welcome and such overwhelming encouragement, both in Wales itself and within the flourishing online community. From my experience with learning other languages, that is unique. Secondly, Welsh is a really interesting and beautiful language. Thirdly, it is the key to a hidden parallel culture and identity right under the noses of non-Welsh speakers, something that has assumed a whole new level of importance in view of the political developments of the last few years. Oh, and did I mention it’s also tremendous fun?