The digital learning diary of a tutor, featuring drama! by Shân Gwenfron Jones

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The digital learning diary of a tutor, featuring drama!
by Shân Gwenfron Jones

 Well, for the last two weeks I’ve been Zooming day and night and wow, Zoom really is great.

I received the national call to Zoom for Wales a couple of months back, for the duration and until we see the sun again over Yr Eifl.

I feel proud to have risen to the challenge and thankful for this opportunity to motivate and encourage Welsh learners on their brand-new learning journey. It can be bumpy ride from time to time, for learners and for tutors, but it does get easier as the weeks go by.

Technology is the medium which enables us as Welsh tutors from across Wales to teach language skills to hundreds of people from all over the world. The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn comes from the learners and that encouragement to keep going (dal ati) from the tutors. It’s the perfect combination.

My little computer is set up in a small room in the shadow of the Dyffryn Nantlle valley and it really does need a lick of paint before the first lesson! It’s a small, modest room which will open its doors to learners from all over the country, rather like a front door to the Welsh language. Many kitchens, bedrooms, sheds and gardens are operating as classrooms at the moment. Wales is closed, but these small rooms are enabling the Welsh language to be available for all. I feel like I’m welcoming the learners in through an invisible door to my home each week and that I’m stepping into a magical mirror full of digital gadgets. The Zoom life is one that’s full of wonders. There is something personal about creating a small corner in your home and that corner being seen all over Wales and beyond.

Week 1, lesson 1 – faith, hope and love. In at the deep end without a rubber ring – this is how it felt to be teaching through Zoom for the first time. It felt like doing a bungee jump without the rope!

The tribe, the cat and the dog have to be quiet for two hours. It’s hard work!

Week one was a ‘light, camera, action’ experience. “Ready for lift off”,
five … four … three … two … one

The clock reached 7pm and I was off.

I felt like I was working for NASA! Drama!

Press the button.

“It’s working”

The technical team on hand (the kids) in case I really do call NASA! Anything is possible in this digital age.

“Mam, are you ok now?

“Yes, go away, I’m about to start”

“Mam, maaaam, you’re on mute!”

I press the button again.

“Welcome to the Welsh Lesson!”

Helo, Croeso, Shân dw i, pwy dach chi?

A sea of enthusiastic faces looking at me. We have a ten-week journey ahead of us. I feel like I’m taking a gang of people up Snowdon and I have ten weeks to reach the summit. The first lesson felt like the meeting at Llanberis at the foot of the mountain. Everyone introducing themselves and getting to know each other slowly. We spend two hours learning language patterns. Numbers from 1 to 10 and asking each other “Sut dach chi?” It was a good start and the clock strikes nine. Two hours have flown by and it’s time to say goodbye. They are all smiling, some giving me a thumbs up and some waving goodbye as I press the button to end the lesson. Only me left in the room and an empty screen in front of me. I’m already missing the energy.

On to next week and lesson two is approaching.

Everyone’s language journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. This is the beginning and I’ll share more about the journey as the weeks go by. Taking that first step is sometimes worse than the actual journey itself. It’s uplifting to hear about all the learners that have taken the first step by registering to learn the language.

Each week introduces the language in small, manageable steps, like giving the learners a new block of information each week. My students are taking small steps up the mountain and we hope to reach basecamp by week five. Every single one has already leant ‘Dal ati’ – ‘keep going. And we have to remember that it’s slowly and step by step process to learn a language.

Many people have said over the years that the Welsh language needs to improve its digital presence to survive. The Welsh language channel already exists and is a digital platform reaching homes all across the world – an excellent window for the Welsh language. By today, the whole nation is online. ‘Gwnewch bopeth yn Gymraeg’ (Do everything in Welsh) was the mantra when I was a teenager. Today, we’re cooking online in Welsh to beat the Corona and singing as loud as we can to create a Corona choir. It’s our unique and special way of communicating during the virus and it’s available for all to enjoy. I’m cycling to beat the Corona. Whatever you chose to do, do it in Welsh! All the way!

This period in time has dragged the language online and has given it an identity.

Week 2 in the bag and we’re getting closer to the summit. Out I go for my one walk a day to fill my back pocket with fresh air. In Welsh they say ‘Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon’ which translates to ‘a nation without a language is a nation without a heart’. All Welsh language tutors across the county are looking after the language by using technology, so I keep my heart healthy to give me strength to encourage the learners by walking around the block every day, enjoying the beauty of my square mile. The small things are now the big things. But one thing is for sure, the heart of the Welsh language is pumping at full speed online at the moment, and so many people are showing an interest in learning Welsh. Another thing is that my digital skills have improved for sure. The learners are learning the language and I’m learning how to teach a class from the small screen in my front room.

I’ll be preparing the rest of the courses over the next couple of days. I’m looking forward to being back at Caffi Meinir, chatting away with the leaners once this is over. But for now, the technology makes sure that we don’t lose the incredible wave of interest in our language that’s out there at the moment.

So, I’ll keep on going on my digital language journey. One other good thing is that I get to teach in my slippers with Gel, the dog by my feet. I’ll see you at basecamp!


Keep safe and happy.

Dal ati / Keep going