11 May 2008

Welsh is fun! Ydy!

Friday I spent the day in a Welsh exam--9:30 to noon written and listening comprehension, followed by a 2:20 20-minute oral exam in which I had to speak for 3 minutes and then answer questions about my monologue, answer some other questions that tested my comprehension/use of passive, conditional, and emphatic constructions, and then answer ten questions with 'yes', in Welsh. The last thing seems silly, right? But they don't really say 'yes' or 'no' directly very much in Welsh. They do the following:

Are you going to the store? I am.
Do you have children? I do.
Will he make breakfast? He will.
Should we build a hot tub? You (pl) should.
Will I be able to help you? You will be able to. (oh yes. that one's fun)

This means there are about 20 million (give or take) ways to say 'yes' and 'no' in Welsh.

Then there's the tricky ones:

It's cold today! It is.
Mae hi'n oer heddiw! Ydy.
You can see that there's not really any 'ydy' looking thing in the sentence. This is what makes Welsh 'fun' by the way. It also means that often conversations go very slowly with folks like myself:
You: It's cold today!
Me: [pause, think, pause, think] er [pause think] Ydy?

Welsh also simplifies your life by using the singular of verbs even when you're talking about multiple things. This means you don't have to really use as many verb forms, which for me is lovely. But one of the fill-in-the-blanks on the written section was:

Were the pictures good?
except in Welsh it's actually: Was the pictures good?
You'd think the answer would be: they was. But no, when you use the pronoun 'they' you must then conjugate the verb properly. So the answer is: they were.

Oedd y lluniau dda?

And on. Or at least I hope it was.

Welsh is fun! Good thing I'm learning this language that will serve me so well when I move to the mid-Atlantic in a few weeks. Sigh.


Daniel said...


So, if you feel like talking more about this...I would be very interested to hear about your experience learning a new language. I've been reading a number of articles about techniques/technologies of memory and learning (it's been a hot topic at Wired), and as someone who is awful at languages I wonder: as an adult, is learning a new language merely (ha!) about mass memorization? How does one's success rate depend on exposure to that [or like] language[s] as a child? How important was immersion or "authentic" practice conversations to your ability to absorb the intricacies of the language? I don't mean to insist that your answers are significantly representative; surely the difference in myriad factors would have a meaningful impact. Still, I'm just curious, since it isn't so very often that someone you know learns a new language from scratch in a short period of time as an adult. :)

tekne said...

I am intellectually curious about languages, which doesn't necessarily translate into being able to speak them well. I love the game of them. The: oo! the verb for to teach and to learn is the same verb! so cool! moments. But this doesn't help when you're trying to say something.

I think learning languages is not at all about memorization. Or not much, let's say. It's about listening, repeating, and most of all not worrying about sounding stupid. That I think is the biggest obstacle to learning languages for adults: we now know how to say stuff pretty well in our first tongue and thus not being able to say the same things is frustrating.

This welsh class has been great for me in contrast to other languages I've studied because it isn't 'book learning' welsh--it's specifically for speaking. They don't care about spelling, and small grammar mistakes are pretty much overlooked, or sometimes not even taught (one of the first phrases I retained was: 'paid becso' or 'don't worry!') And I see written Welsh and I can read some of it now (the children's books) but some of it looks utterly wrong (what's this extra word? paid becso!)

I am most successful speaking Welsh when I stop and think about what I *can* say rather than what I want to say. It's not: Could you tell me what they call that lovely vegetable there? It's 'What's that?' Or it's not answering a question in a full sentence (because, well, we don't in real life). It's about learning key phrases like 'it depends' or 'I don't know' or 'to be honest' so that you can sound semi-native, and then you just stick those in when you're thinking of something to say.

yes, I make little flashcards. No, I don't think I have that great of a memory (we joke that I totally *should* have smoked weed in college because let's face it, I have no short term memory anyway) and really it's more about saying things over and over again. Being forced to speak the language in class. Using the same construction over and over for 2 hours so that next week you kinda remember it.

I don't buy that your memory gets worse as you get older, or that it somehow becomes full. I think language learning is cool because it exercises parts of your brain you don't normally use--creative problem-solving parts as well as a bit of that memory stuff. And it humbles you. Which is good, right? Ydy.