This week, I’m talking about raising our son bilingually in Welsh and English and my experience of learning Welsh. I have written this post as part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival on the theme of ‘Hidden Opportunities’ that is being coordinated by Stephen Greene from the Head of the Heard blog. If you’re interested in these sorts of themes, please see The Piri-Piri Lexicon and the Multicultural Kid Blogs websites.
Learning any language can involve a fun journey and a few challenges along the way. With learning Welsh, minor milestones that stick out in my mind include things like the first time I left a voicemail message in Welsh, being brave enough to select ‘Cymraeg’ (Welsh) as the language to use on ATM machine and running a Welsh language football podcast for about a year.
I moved to Wales in 2007 and live in an area where the majority of the locals speak Welsh as their first language. I’ve learnt the language thanks to Welsh for Adults courses available at the university where I work and regularly use Welsh in my working life. However, it felt like I was starting off on a new journey once we decided to raise our son bilingually. Indeed, it has been an exciting journey for both myself and my wife that has brought with it some exciting challenges and opportunities.
When reading about bilingualism before our son’s birth, I was struck by the number of different ways in which children can be brought up bilingually and the different dynamics this can involve. Colin Baker’s book A Parent’s and Teacher’s Guide to Bilingualism was a real eye-opener and full of useful tips for a range of situations.
As I am from Scotland and my wife is from England, our decision to bring up our son in Welsh wasn’t motivated by a desire to pass on a culture and a language that had been a part of our own upbringing. What we wanted was for Welsh and English to be part of his upbringing so as he could be fluent in both the native languages of Wales and become aware of the importance of both within Welsh culture. As Welsh is the first language of the majority of people in our village and the local area, it seemed the logical thing to do.
For me, becoming a bilingual parent has helped to enrich my Welsh vocabulary with words and expressions that I hadn’t ever learnt in classes. Some friends kindly gave us a book entitled Magu’r Babi: Speaking Welsh with Children that features entire sections on topics such as ‘Codi gwynt’ (bring up wind), ‘Taflu i fyny’ (throwing up) and ‘Cosi traed’ (tickling feet). Thankfully we haven’t had to use phrases from the second of those three categories too frequently so far!
Bringing up our son in Welsh as well as English has also meant that both my wife and I have been trying to learn some Welsh nursery rhymes. There are some that we have come across that are basically just Welsh versions of popular English nursery rhymes such as ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.
In some ways, I feel that singing Welsh versions of nursery rhymes that exist in English is almost cheating so I’m keen to learn some Welsh nursery rhymes that don’t seem to have English equivalents such as ‘Dau gi bach’ (Two Small Dogs). I’ve already purchased two CDs of nursery rhymes in Welsh that I have been listening to in the car on the way to work. With it being quite hot at the moment and often having to roll the windows down, I think I could easily end up embarrassing myself if I start singing along too loudly!
My wife has got a bit of a head start on me with the nursery rhymes as she’s been going along to a ‘Cymraeg o’r Crud‘ (Welsh from the Cradle) course that is aimed at people who speak little Welsh themselves but want to be able to use it with their baby. It seems like fun too as the classes often involve arts and crafts as well.
These classes and indeed becoming a mum, have been a real spur for my wife to learn more Welsh. As she hasn’t got to know as many Welsh speakers through work, she hasn’t had the same source of motivation as I’ve had. From the day of my staff induction at Bangor University, I learnt about the status and importance of the Welsh language and started learning Welsh within a matter of weeks.
For me, learning Welsh has provided all sorts of opportunities that I would have not had access to had I not decided to learn the language. For example, I have become interested in the local music scene and been able to follow a Welsh language drama series called Rownd a Rownd that is filmed in a village where I lived for three years. Almost two years ago, I also made an appearance on Welsh language television channel S4C in a comedy sketch show where I had to speak French to a plastic pigeon.
I hope that my son and indeed my wife will discover all sorts of fun and exciting opportunities through learning Welsh just as I have. In a few weeks time, we will all be going to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (a week long annual Welsh speaking cultural festival). To mark the occasion, I’ll be doing a bilingual (Welsh and English) blog post about this and my initial experiences of speaking Welsh to our son.
I’d love to hear your views on this article, so please feel free to leave a comment below or on the Dad’s The Way I Like It pages on Facebook or Google+. If you’re interested in bilingual parenting, check out the blogs Multilingual Living and http://livingbilingual.com/.
Since writing this post, I’ve also now added it to a Best4Future Wednesday link-up party where you can find links to other blog posts about bilingual parenting and traditions around the world.