by Maggie Cooper (translated from Welsh by Sian Ap Dewi)
It was an amazing feeling. It felt like a surge of sparks through my body. I felt very excited. Why? I had been to a meeting of a society in a local Welsh Chapel. For the first time I had met and made contact with “real deal” Welsh people from Wales and had spoken to them in Welsh. I had just started learning Welsh on the internet with Say Something in Welsh.com. I had been on some intensive Welsh courses at Nant Gwrtheyrn (the Welsh language centre) and now I’d found myself invited to this society.
My experience of Welsh was limited. That evening I listened to the speaker talking about her biking holiday. I understood the occasional word but nothing more. I spoke to people there but didn’t understand their response. But it wasn’t important. I was in that environment and I was in my element. It is important as learners that we move outside the classroom and that we engage with Welsh.
However that exciting night in the society was not my first experience of Welsh.
During the summer of 2013 the National Eisteddfod had come to Denbigh. I went to the Eisteddfod each day and I was in my element, but I hadn’t enough language to fully engage. I didn’t understand a word, but it gave me the impetus to learn and I decided to become a Welsh speaker no matter how long it took me.
Now a few years later, I attend regular classes and enjoy them very much. I take part in local activities such as “cuppa and chat” groups and shorter courses in Denbigh. I still go to the society and I am a member of Merched Y Wawr (a Welsh group similar to the W.I). I have Welsh friends in the town, and I feel that the language surrounds me. I hear it everywhere, in the shops and cafes, in meetings and events. I am very lucky.
The language takes me into the local culture in a way that is impossible for an English-only speaker. The joy of having the confidence and bravery to use my Welsh gives me the sense of fulfilment of belonging to this country where I have chosen to live.
I am still proud of that first time. Sparks still explode through my body. I still feel excited enough not to sleep. The journey to be a fluent Welsh speaker has begun. I am enjoying every step.