Bore da, draig

January 2, 2023 @ 4:27 pm | Filed under:
A partially eaten star-shaped sugar cookie decorated

A Welsh-flag-inspired cookie, courtesy of Rose. It was delicious.


Yesterday I mentioned how impressed I am with the Say Something In language courses. In my (yikes) decades of homeschooling, I’ve tried just about every language-learning program on the market at some point or another. A lot of them are good! Some are great, even. But nothing has ever made a new language click for me so rapidly the way SSi Welsh has.

Okay, I said for me. None of my kids have used it—yet. Huck is learning Spanish on Duolingo, and that’s one of a small handful of languages the SSi program offers. I, too, would like to move my Spanish past the tiny smattering of phrases I currently know, so my plan is to see if Huck is interested in working through Say Something in Spanish with me next year. But not yet! I want to complete the Welsh course first.

So much to say. First: why Welsh? The pat answer is that I enjoy trying small doses of new languages on Duolingo, and in the very first Welsh lesson, they teach you to say, “Good morning, dragon.” Needless to say, that had me at hello. But there’s a deeper answer—only it took a while for me to register it.

One of my earliest school memories is my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Vinson, teaching our class the vowels: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y—and sometimes W.

When I moved to a new school a year or two later, that lesson ran me into trouble. My new teacher was baffled by my inclusion of W in the list. I insisted, because Mrs. Vinson had said so! Mrs. Wiseman begged to differ, somewhat exasperatedly.

Several years later, I learned that W is a vowel in Welsh. With this knowledge, the puzzle shifted: why had a teacher in a tiny private school in south Georgia taught her kindergarteners a Welsh vowel? It must have been some kind of whimsical impulse, or maybe she (like me, actually) had Welsh ancestry—who knows?

Fast forward to the present. I’d been glued to my Duolingo Welsh and SSiW lessons for a couple of months before the Mrs. Vinson connection occurred to me. Actually, it was Scott who pinpointed the link. It’s lovely having someone who knows all your stories.

Well, here I am 114 days later, as captivated as I was the first time Duolingo nudged me to say Bore da, draig! Menyw dw i. It seems W-as-vowel has been waiting for me this whole time.

A few weeks into the Duolingo course, I had lots of questions about the grammar. Duolingo is great for helping you absorb a ton of vocabulary pretty quickly, but it seldom explains why things fit together the way they do. Some googling led me to Say Something In. It’s a really different kind of program—an emphasis on learning to hear and speak the language rather than to read it. (Which works especially well for Welsh, because Colloquial Welsh and Literary Welsh are quite different. Both Duolingo and SSiWelsh teach the former—the standardized written and spoken form of the language sometimes called Modern Standard Welsh.)

SSi’s learn-by-speaking approach is Pimsleurish, I suppose? But better, in my view (here I’m comparing Pimsleur German from years ago to SSi Welsh now). The lessons are all audio, and quite challenging, in a really exciting, lively way. I absolutely love it. It has become my primary means of learning, with Duolingo now serving as a daily supplement. I do like to see the words, so that’s what I like Duolingo for; I’m a visual learner and it really helps me remember a word if I know how to spell it. If I bump into a seeming discrepancy between the two programs, I reach for Gareth King’s Modern Welsh and he helps me understand what’s going on.

The Say Something In courses can be worked through at your own pace, but you have the option of a weekly rhythm with encouraging emails heralding each new lesson. There’s an enthusiastic community who hold lots of live conversation-practice sessions. I haven’t attended one of those yet, but I do plan to. I’m keeping up pretty well with the weekly lesson pace; each audio lesson is around half an hour, and you can do it all at once or in smaller chunks.

It’s sort of a playing-with-Legos approach to language (i.e. a very natural immersion approach), where you learn a few words and start building quite complex sentences with them right away. By the end of Lesson 1 I could state quite honestly: Dw i’n mynd i drio dysgu siarad CymraegI’m going to try to learn to speak Welsh. Last night the lesson had me talking about how the old woman had better try to understand the young man, if she can remember how to say what she wants to say. And believe me, I had a little bit of trouble remembering how to say all of that—but I did it!

Besides Spanish, Dutch, and Welsh (with, by the way, options for lesssons in the dialects of North or South Wales), Say Something In offers Cornish and Manx. Manx! The historical language of the Isle of Mann. A Celtic language whose last native speaker died in 1974.

Which, come to think of it, would have been right around the time Mrs. Vinson was teaching me my vowels.

W and all.

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14 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    Oh I definitely do not have time or brain capacity for this right now, but you make me wish I did. Also this plus A Ghost in the Throat makes me want to dust off my Irish. I wish I’d had a chance for an immersion playing with Legos approach to Irish.

    My first Irish teacher was Phil O’Leary, whose primary role was teaching Irish literature, but he’d been dragooned into teaching the language class because the former teacher had left suddenly it seemed– I never got the whole story. Well, Phil had started with teaching in a Catholic school in Worcester and then acquired a doctorate in linguistics and then got interested in Irish literature. he used to go to Ireland and attend all the summer drama festivals and his head was full of the plots of plays, both in English and Irish. He hated our textbook and didn’t want to teach Irish, so spent most of the classroom time teaching us tidbits of linguistics, telling us stories about Catholic schoolboys in Worcester, and telling us about various plays. HE was a delightful storyteller and I learned a lot from him; but, alas, not much IRISH. I did have him for Contemporary Irish drama, which was a wonderful class, and for Irish Heroic Tradition in Literature, which was incredibly rich.

    My second Irish teacher was Donna Wong who was much more systematic and had us read wonderful stories, but that year I had a teaching fellowship and anemia and it’s a wonder most days I had enough energy to make it to her class, much less do my homework. I learned something, but not as much as I wanted.

    And because the previous teacher who had all the contacts in Ireland had left, my year didn’t get to do the summer language immersion program in Connemara. No one was there to encourage us to apply or to hold our hands through the application process. So it didn’t happen, alas.

    But Welsh does sound wonderful. And I actually do have at least one Welsh ancestor, by the name of Perry. Who accompanied Cromwell to Ireland and acquired land there and whose grandson emigrated to America.
    I even have a photo of some silver buttons that belonged to him, which my uncle Jim, the family genealogist has passed on.

  2. Amy says:

    I was taught W was sometimes a vowel! I was also apparently a part of a small subset of people that were also taught that dilemma was spelled dilemNa, so I don’t know how good my education actually was, LOL!

    Best of luck with your Welsh lessons! I, too, wish I had the brain capacity for that right now. Say Something In sounds like a great program.

  3. tanita says:

    Weirdly enough, I wasn’t explicitly taught dilmeNa, but I read it often enough as a kid to think it was merely the British variant. Meanwhile, the Brits are equally confused…

    I’m 1500 or so days into Duolingo this week – studying Dutch, German, and Spanish, and eventually I’d like to either do straight Latin, Scots Gaelic, or one of the Scandinavian languages (yikes). I’ve continued to love learning for the sake of learning but Duolingo DOES do a terrible job of giving me the WHY. WHY is one gendered noun het and the other de? Surely there must be some clues for das, die, or der (I’m told no, but I’m SURE there must be SOMETHING…), etc. Spanish even has its internal mysteries, though they tend to be more easily searchable elsewhere, thanks to living in California… all this to say, thanks for sharing about “Say Something In…” I’m going to have to give it a go, because the more I learn, the more I *want* to learn. I’m TERRIBLE about speaking aloud, but my reading coherency is very, very good (if I’m not stressed or nervous; if I am, I can’t read a thing, and I figure that will happen the minute I’m in a country where people speak any of these languages natively). I need to start working out some other mental muscles, so this sounds like good fun.

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      German has a few der/die/das semi-consistencies but the only one I ever remember is anything ending in -chen is always neuter. And nouns without suffixes, pfft, it’s hopeless.

      If you decide to give SSi a try I’ll be interested to hear what you think!

  4. Penny says:

    I’ve been studying Welsh off and on for about a year. I was hooked with “good morning, dragon” as well. I kind of love that.

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Penny! That’s amazing! One more way we’re sympatico from afar! I’m so happy to see you here. Hope all is well with you and yours. ❤️

      • Penny says:

        Indeed, friend, indeed. I’m a librarian now and every time someone checks out one of your books (which is *often*), I smile and salute you and tell them what a good choice they have made. 🙂

        Dream job, that. I’m lucky.

        Kids are scattered worldwide. It’s quite a story. I hope at least one writes a book about it one day.

        Hwyl fawr!

        • Melissa Wiley says:

          I would really, really love to read that book. I love that you’ve become a librarian. But then again, you always were, right? All of us homeschool mamas out here librarianing pro bono. 😉

  5. Susanne Barrett says:

    Hi Lissa!

    It’s so nice to see posts streaming from your oh-so-memorable blog again. I started mine in 2006 but have rarely posted in the past few years.

    I’ve been plugging away at DuoLingo German for over three years (just reached Day 1180). I last studied German in grad school and then taught it at USD and PLNU nearly thirty years ago. It’s been fun reacquainting myself with the language as my great-great-grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side came to the US from Hamburg.

    But learning that Say Something In teaches Manx immediately appeals to me as my maternal grandfather’s line came from the Isle of Man in 1888, started an architecture firm in Denver in the early 1890s, and then moved the firm to San Diego in 1900. The North Park Theatre was designed by the Quayle Brothers Architects, and they also designed a building for the 1915 Exposition in Balboa Park; it was where the Japanese Friendship Garden now is. They also designed Balboa Stadium and the old downtown Police Station along with other buildings in downtown San Diego, plus lots of homes in Golden Hill, Hillcrest, Banker’s Hill, Normal Heights, and Mission Hills. I was doing some genealogy research for my parents and ran across a Master’s Thesis on the Quayle Brothers Architects in the USD Library. Fortunately, I still had my alumni library card and was able to check it out from the library and photocopied the whole shebang for my mom. (It was written in 1984 and was entirely typed on a typewriter! YIKES!! We have life so easy now in academia!)

    The original William Quayle from the Isle of Man died here in San Diego in 1906; I don’t think his sons spoke Manx at all. My parents visited the Isle of Man in the early 2000s, and they were told that Quayle was one of the most common surnames on the Isle of Man and that all Manx Quayles are somehow related … meaning that we are related in some manner to the former Vice President under George H.W. Bush. 😉

    My second-oldest has been listening to Manx on YouTube; an elderly gentleman who learned Manx from the last native speakers has been speaking to other learners of the language after talking about the native speakers (start at the 2-minute mark to hear Manx):

    Thanks so much for posting again; it’s always a joy to “meet up” again, Lissa! 😀

    Susanne 🙂

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Susanne, what fun! Your family history stories are always a joy to read. I do German on Duolingo too but got a little muddled when the learning path changed. I’ve been going back to get to Legendary on all my old skills & mostly, I admit, ignore it in favor of Welsh these days.