You might be better at Welsh than you think you are.
Around 10 years ago, for a period of 4 and a half years, I graced the FREE and very occasionally paid comedy stages of the London comedy circuit doing stand-up comedy. I had a fantastic time and some great experiences but couldn’t quite break through into the paid comedy scene and at some point, it stopped feeling like fun for me so I started a new hobby (the one before learning Welsh but that’s a whole different story). In all the things I have done in life, stand-up comedy toughened me up like nothing else. Climbing onto a stage when the 3 comedians before you have struggled to get a laugh, getting onto a stage in a small pub where there is more interest in the Arsenal v Chelsea game on the small TV in the bar and the noise is carrying through or walking onto a stage where there is a gang of 25-year-old lads in the front row with their arms folded and body language saying “You think you’re funny do you, come on then smart arse let's see you make us laugh”. After 4 and half years of that, you definitely learn skills that stop life phasing you.
What has this got to do with learning Welsh? Well apart from making you braver, I wanted to show an example of what goes on in our heads, versus what comes out of our mouths and compare it to what’s going on when you speak Welsh. A good comedian makes it look like they are just making it up on the spot but 90% of the time it is a script that they have learned. It may wander off occasionally, but they will generally come back to that script. Sadly, that hilarious trip to the vet last Tuesday that they are telling you about has been happening every Tuesday for a year or more. So, with the script solidly learned into one’s mind, one steps onto the stage of the Golden Lion in Chelmsford to a round of apathetic applause and begin to deliver the performance. As you work through your script, the performance voice wanders through the hilarious story whilst the critical voice (nod to spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle) chats away in your mind. Inside your head, whilst telling your hilarious stories, jokes, and observations, a little voice quickly says things like “The woman in the front row is scowling”, “oh no that joke normally goes down better” “Concentrate” “Oh this isn’t going well” “oh thank God, a laugh” “how long’s left”. What’s important to our speaking Welsh analogy is that the audience doesn’t hear this. All they hear is what leaves your mouth. If you imagine that voice as being on a wheel, the faster it goes and the louder it becomes the more chance you have of completely falling off, losing your track, forgetting your lines, and dying on stage. Watching a comedian die on stage, you don’t see that wheel of critical voice but I bet it’s happening every time. Controlling the noise that goes on in your head and delivering your performance is an important part of being a comedian and it’s an important part of speaking another language.
The first time I spoke Welsh out loud in the flesh was in Llanrwst Eisteddfod 2019. I went there with 6 months of Say Something in Welsh learning behind me, ready to take on the world. After a few basic orders of food and drink, I bumped into someone I knew from the SSIW hangouts and I had my first Welsh chat. As the Welsh words were leaving my mouth, my internal voice was saying “Omg, I’m doing it, I’m doing it, just keep going”. I fondly remember that chat and this year I was lucky enough to see Bronwen again and we chatted freely having both improved our Welsh dramatically.
When we speak Welsh, this is an example of what might happen as we try to create a sentence “I was going to go to the supermarket, yesterday”
“O’n i’n mynd i’r ……….. archfarchnad, ddoe”
The person hearing us simply heard the sentence with a slight pause, it may have been a big pause bordering on awkward but they will know you are a learner and allow for these pauses, particularly if they are a learner themselves. Congratulations, you have just delivered a perfect sentence in Welsh.
What you heard in your head might have been something like
O’n i’n mynd i’r (oh god what’s supermarket, its arch something isn’t it Arch angel is it, no don’t be silly, oh come on come on, oh archfarchnad that’s it say archfarchnad) arfachnad ddoe. (oh god thank god, did I say that right.
The important bit is that YOU JUST DELIVERED A PERFECT SENTENCE IN WELSH OUT LOUD albeit with a slight pause before the word Archfarchnad. I may have over-exaggerated what went on in your head it might have been more like “O’n i’n mynd i’r (oh what is it) archfarchnad, ddoe” or it may have been ever worse. It may have broken down completely until your listener guessed the word archfarchnad but the point still stands, what ever came out of your mouth was better than what you heard in your head. Sometimes you will nearly say a wrong word before realising the correct word and feel like you are making all kinds of mistakes but remember unless you say them out loud no one except you heard them. The people who hear your Welsh do not hear all the other things that are going on in your head while you create your Welsh. Trust yourself and this idea that you are speaking better Welsh than you think you are.