Excuse me, do you speak Welsh?
Today’s subject has been on my mind a lot lately now that I have acquired enough Cymraeg to be able to use it in most situations. I’ve talked about bravery a bit before and it always feels like you have to be brave to keep pushing forward with your Welsh. I’ve noticed recently one of the changes in my Welsh is that I can now use it more openly. In the past, it was like I would only speak Welsh one to one or in a standard face-to-face situation. As I have improved, I have found I am more comfortable shouting across a room in Welsh or speaking to two people at a time or starting a chat in Welsh with a stranger. I’m also a lot more on the lookout to use the Welsh that I have learned.
Have you ever been the first person to use Cymraeg without knowing if the other person in the shop or the street speaks it? Perhaps you say “Bore da” to everyone as your standard greeting or always say “Diolch” on receipt of your change in a shop or do you think ‘no one really speaks Welsh round here’ ‘they look too young to speak Welsh’ or ‘oh it’s going to be awkward if I ask and they say no’. I had a couple of strange situations happen when I’ve asked “Wyt ti’n siarad Cymraeg?”. These have ranged from not understanding what I said or that I was even speaking Welsh, to a simple no sorry normally accompanied by one of the standard reasons why they don’t. I won’t list them here, but if you start asking people ‘Do you speak Welsh?’, you will soon hear the top 3 or 4 reasons why people don’t speak Welsh. I recently asked a lady in a Welsh-speaking town “Wyt ti’n siarad Cymraeg?” she replied “tipyn bach” I replied “o da iawn, wyt ti eisiau ymarfer efo fi” which was met with a blank face “oh very good, would you like to practice with me” I translated.
“Not really” came the reply.
I have mentioned this before but I feel that I must mention it here again. This is the reason I say never answer “tipyn bach” when someone asks you “Wyt ti’n siarad Cymraeg?” it’s a conversation killer as it is also used by lots of people as a defence mechanism to mean they know a handful of words and want to be left alone. A much better answer for a serious learner would be something like “Ydw, dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg ar hyn o bryd” or for the really confident “Ydw, dw i’n siarad Cymraeg”.
I have recently been staying in a hotel in Cardiff quite regularly and I’ve just started asking the staff if they speak Welsh as I was hoping to find one that I could have a little chat with when I’m there. On the last two occasions, I have asked the question in English, with the view to flipping into Welsh as soon as they say yes. I’m undecided at the moment if this is the correct thing to do. It seems to be less awkward when the answer is no. Last week the young gentleman at the coffee bar replied “No, I’m English with a Welsh accent and the name Rhys on his badge”. Whilst I waited for my coffee, I pondered if he was actually English born and moved to Wales, hence the accent or had simply said that to justify not speaking Welsh.
Asking people Do you speak Welsh? in English or Welsh, definitely creates some unusual moments. I recently asked the guy serving coffee on the M4 services near Cardiff. He said he didn’t speak Welsh so I asked has anyone had ever asked him for a coffee in Welsh and he said no, which really surprised me. Loads of Welsh youngsters must have heard “Ga i“ in school and would know what to do if someone said Ga i Latte os gwelwch yn dda.
At the moment (it could change at any point) my stance is in the language strongholds of Wales I will ask in Welsh and elsewhere I will ask in English but I am going to push myself to ask more, to risk using Cymraeg in places that appear 100% English. Six months ago, whilst in Pen-y-Bont ar ogwr (Bridgend) I met a friend in the pub. I bought the first round in English and he went back and bought his round from the same barman in Welsh, all because he was more determined in looking to speak Welsh. A friend of mine has started using the words 'bach' and 'mawr' when ordering in chip shops or cafes and using her hands to show small or large, this recently triggered a great chat in Welsh plus other chats about the Welsh language.
Over the summer around 45 people stayed with us in Garth Newydd to practise their Welsh. One gentleman Peter really struck me with his attitude during his stay. He had only been learning Welsh less than two years but he was well ahead of where someone would normally be. He had a couple of his own reasons but the one thing that stayed with me is that everywhere he went, he greeted people in Cymraeg. Peter came from an area where hearing Welsh wasn’t that common but every day when he went out walking he greeted people with "Bore da" and it paid off. He had managed to come to know lots of Welsh speakers in his area, made friends and had regular opportunities to practice and it showed in his Welsh. The other thing that I thought was nice is that he said often people who couldn’t speak Welsh enjoyed hearing it being used anyway or would reply Bore da even if they had no more Welsh than that.