I’ve been meaning to learn Welsh for a couple of months now, and just to give you some context, started after I decided to focus on the English works of a Welsh author (Machen) for a high school graduation thesis like thing. It ended up being 16 pages and I genuinely liked him, the whole fight to keep a language alive, the songs (especially Gwaed Ar Yr Eira Gwyn!), the scenery… just everything. Or at least, a lot of things. And a few weeks in, I discovered SSiW and just yesterday started my membership.
(I have a feeling this is going to be too long but anyway…)
Well, I have run into a psychological block. I am not Welsh, but Kurdish, and where I’m from, our language is more of a taboo to talk about. People neither speak it nor want to talk about speaking it. For a few years I’ve always felt like I should be learning my own language, but had school going on and I guess did not care enough to make an actual effort. And now that whenever I sit down to do anything about Welsh, the guilt of not doing as much to learn Kurdish sinks in. And just… sits there like a sleep paralysis demon poking your arm but the demon is actually making a good point. I honestly don’t know what to do or what to think. And I know people will say “why not do both” but… well… I guess I don’t really have an answer to that.
Honestly thanks for reading up until now,
I can’t say I’ve been exactly in your position, but I do have some parallels. I come from an area in South Wales where Welsh was never heard, never spoken as far as I knew. It wasn’t taboo to talk about it, it just never really happened. I did French and German lessons in school - Welsh was not offered at the time - and I too had a feeling that I really ought to be learning my country’s language. It was years before I had the chance, but once I did start, I found out that a couple of people I’d know for years actually could speak Welsh.
This was a long time ago, and since then there is much more Welsh in the town. You’d still be unlikely to hear it as a day-to-day language in public, but it is now on the school curriculum and there are groups that meet to socialise through Welsh, so it’s a huge leap forward.
So I guess all I can say is, carry on enjoying learning Welsh, but maybe try and seek out any and every opportunity to learn Kurdish too. I appreciate this might be difficult if it is such a taboo, but there were times in the not-so distant past when Welsh was taboo in Wales too - and look how that’s turned around. It’s worth persuing - even if it has to start gently - but be gentle on yourself too, because you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about a situation that has been placed on you through no fault of your own.
let me start by saying that I’m aware that my experience cannot compare with Kurdish language because there hasn’t been and there is not such a troubled history and complicated and emotionally/politically charged situation here.
However there are other aspects I think I can relate, so that’s what I’ll be sharing with you here in case you find them useful or inspiring:
I’m Italian and I live in Italy, and I have no knowledge of Welsh ancestors or any connection to Wales in my family or past.
When I started learning Welsh I had never been to Wales (except briefly on a train to catch a ferry to Ireland, many years ago. But i didn’t stop and don’t remember anything of it).
I hadn’t even heard spoken Welsh once, and had/have no practical reasons to learn it either.
Just got hooked on the sound of a few songs in Welsh, got curious and started SSiW course.
When I told people around me, first reaction were:
“why do you spend time on this instead of the language of your ancestors? Half of your family speaks German, your grandma you got your name from was first language and you should honor them”
“the other half of your ancestors spoke Piedmontese, that is disappearing - why don’t you help keeping that alive?”
“You were born and live in Piedmont, these are your origins. You should learn the local endangered languages and dialects instead of one you have no relations to!”
“There’s languages with celtic origin in Italy too, why don’t you learn those, instead!”
“why do you waste time on an useless language, instead of something that may open new opportunities of work”
For some time I ended up feeling guilty for “wasting” so much time with Welsh instead of all the other languages I should have learnt instead.
But truth is I really enjoyed Welsh, I liked that and I wanted to learn Welsh not the other languages even though I didn’t know exactly why!
So I just let people talk and stopped beating me up for not doing the right thing, and just kept on studying Welsh.
And it was just great, I’ve met so many lovely people, I’m enjoying it a lot and who knows what else is still to come!
So I would really suggest: just try. Forget everything else, ignore people and your inner complaining voice for some time. do it like any fun past time you don’t need to justify and just enjoy doing.
And see how it goes and let it surprise you!
That sounds like a hugely difficult emotional journey, Derin.
As others have said, the important thing is not to feel guilty… it’s not your fault you don’t already speak Kurdish (a feeling of guilt at not having the language is a strangely common thing here in Wales as well)… and in a sense, learning Welsh isn’t taking time away from learning Kurdish any more than getting dressed or brushing your teeth or reading a book or any of the other things you do is ‘taking time away from learning Kurdish’.
You might even find that the experience of becoming a Welsh speaker will give you a new confidence in your ability to become a Kurdish speaker, and better strategies for how to make that happen…
I am not in any place to truly understand your struggle. And I am sorry a thing you enjoy doing is affected by something that really is not your fault.
So maybe this doesn’t make any sense to you, but maybe it does and I thought it’s worth a try sharing some thoughts I had during the last weeks:
I have no substantial connection whatsoever to Welsh, I just fell in love and felt that I really wanted to explore that language. Then, due to corona, I was working on a farm for a couple of weeks, most of my coworkers were from Poland. I’m German and felt so embarrassed I chose such a “random” language over my neighbours’ language, that accutually might help building bridges in my daily life.
And then I realized: Yeah, wait. It’s not like I was thinking, ok I will start learning one more language, which one would be a reasonable fit? I heard Welsh and fell in love, passionate irrational love, and that is why I started exploring it and what carries me through studying at home. I do not have that passion for Polish, it will always feel like a chore, not something I enjoy doing in my spare time. I cannot make a conscious decision about what I love doing. My motivation would lack the personal need and gratification that I need to keep working, so that in the end it is not very likely that even if I decided to “study regularly” I would acctually spend the amount of time and energy needed to dive into a new language. And without that I can get the same outcome by memorizing a couple of phrases and expressions before travelling to Poland and then using them there.
What I did do during the time I spend on the farm was connecting with my coworkers nevertheless. Even without a common language we shared experiences, stories, looked at pictures, used google translator and in the end exchanged numbers. So we all did our part in building bridges, I did work towards the goal I was talking about earlier. And I did it in a way that gave me joy and therefor was fruitful. So if supporting the Kurdish community is important to you, maybe you can find a way that gives you pleasure and that doesn’t include giving up learning Welsh. These are very uninformed guesses, I’m sorry if they’re not really applicable to your situation: Starting to talk about Kurdish language and heritage with people (like me) who don’t know much about it or talking with other people from the Kurdish community about their experiences…in my experience often seemingly small things (like even mentioning tthat you’re Kurdish to someone who didn’t know before) can make a real difference.
I hope you will find a way to navigate and sort out your doubts and concerns in a way that feels right for you, all the best whishes for that! Hannah
Hello! I want to thank you for your warm reply; I really needed some genuine support today. Your account of how the tables have turned for Welsh is really inspiring, and I admire all the effort everyone has put in, it must have been amazing to see it happen before your eyes. I hope I can witness something like that here as well. But yes, you’re right and I kinda have to be the change I want to see, and I should research if I can find some Kurdish resources online. I’ve realized that there is so much more to learning Welsh than the words; its history teaches you how to value your own culture! Anyway, thank you so much!
Hi @gisella-albertini ! I think from every piece of advice I’ve heard in my life about Kurdish, this is one of the most relatable of all of them! I hear similar comments every day and I guess it just gets to you after some point. I’m glad you’ve stood up for your passion, it really requires courage and determination! I think I will continue as well, both because I enjoy the process like you and because I’m starting to think that I’m learning so much more than just the language. I’m learning to navigate the unknown (so dramatic, I know) by myself, I’m learning to separate good resources from bad ones, I’m learning what culture really means, and I’m learning that I can be part of a community where everyone has their unique but admirable experience with an underrepresented language. Anyway, I don’t want to take up much of your time, but I really appreciated this exchange. Diolch!
Hello @hannah-deuchler ! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply, and so thoughtfully also! I wholeheartedly agree with the way you describe Welsh; it really is a “passionate irrational love” that I can’t really explain to anyone but myself and the people on SSiW. I too find some intrinsic motivation to study Welsh, and I’ve decided it wouldn’t be wise to just throw it away. I did some Kurdish awareness related writing before, and am glad to hear from someone that that counts. I will try my best learning both, although with more emphasis on Welsh for now, but you’re so right to say that learning their language is not the only way to connect to people or your heritage. Best of luck with your Welsh journey, and thank you so much again for showing me this perspective.
Hello @aran ! I really appreciate the insight. I’ve never thought about it this way before but learning Welsh here is teaching me so much more than Welsh (that made more sense in my head). I mean, I’m learning so much about how others have fought and succeeded in preserving their language, and it really inspires me. Thank you so, so, so much for making this happen. And from my limited vocabulary, a heartfelt pob hwyl!
Maybe this journey will go in the direction of you becoming a Welsh speaker and then working with Kurdish speakers to build a similar approach for Kurdish - and we might even end up being able to help with that, once we’ve developed our software a bit further…