Welsh – A New Year, A New Language

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It’s three weeks into the new year and this is my first post in a long time. I thought about making a resolution about blogging more, but I know that might not last very long. I try to blog about things I do in the classroom and with education in general, but I thought I would go a different route with this blog to start off the year.

Since the winter break in December, I have been reading a lot of blogs and tweets about taking better care of ourselves in order to avoid teacher burnout. There’s also the common phrase among educators about being lifelong learners and a constant pursuit of perfecting what we do in the classroom. I could relate to a lot of what I read and began to do some reflecting on my own life.

I realized that I have been doing a lot of one-sided learning. Most of it leaning towards the professional part of my life and very little on the personal side. I hope to change this in 2018. I hope to find a balance.

I have always wanted to learn a language and have tried several times with several languages. In high school, I studied Spanish for four years and tried to continue in college, but wasn’t successful. I taught English for two years in Taiwan and studied Chinese quite seriously while I was there. I even continued to study when I returned to the States, but found it harder and harder to find time and people to practice speaking the language. From 2011 – 2014, I lived in Astana, Kazakhstan where I taught at an international school and tried to learn Russian while I was there. I even met my wife over there who speaks Russian, and I still have had a hard time learning the language. Three languages that all ended with me losing interest and giving up. It’s been really frustrating, but thanks to Netflix and an app called, Duolingo, I think I finally found a language I enjoy and one I can make a hobby, not a requirement.

One of the types of series I like to watch on Netflix are the British dramas, particularly the mysteries. It started with Midsomer Murders, followed by Foyle’s War, Luther, George Gently, Sherlock Holmes, and then finally a suggestion by Netflix for the series, Hinterland (Y Gwyll in Welsh). This series blew me away and had me hooked from the start. The stories can be a little dark and heavy, but the scenery of Wales is beautiful and the acting is really good. I was also fascinated how the titles of the opening credits were in both English and Welsh. It was such a strange looking language with double consonants and very few vowels in such long words.

I was watching Hinterland late at night on January 4th, 2018 while trying to get my eight month old son back to sleep. I decided to check the Duolingo app on my phone for the Welsh language. If you are unfamiliar with Duolingo, it is a really great app for learning the basics of a language.  I think it does a good job of introducing basic vocabulary and simple, useful sentences. Welsh was one of the languages they offered, so I immediately open it up and began learning the language. I have been on a 13 day learning streak ever since.

Duolingo13days

For me, the other languages I tried to study just didn’t work out. Looking back on all these experiences, I realized that I took the enjoyment out of learning the language and made it feel more like a requirement, not a hobby.  I should/need to study Spanish or Chinese because it could mean good job opportunities. I should/need to study Russian because my wife and her family speak Russian (some of them also speak English). I don’t feel like this with Welsh and I hope I don’t end up making the same mistake. I really have no reason to study this language other than the fact that I saw it on a Netflix series and became curious. Of course, I have already had the usual questions from friends and family like, “Why are you studying that language?”, “Does anybody even speak Welsh anymore?”, “Isn’t that a dead language, a waste of time?” There was a brief moment when I heard these questions that I thought maybe I am wasting my time and should be learning a language that could possibly better my career chances and possibly earn more money. This line of thinking just puts me back in the vicious circle and defeats the point of having a hobby.

No, I am sticking with it because it is a language I WANT to learn.  I have enough to do that is required and essential for me to be a better teacher and do the best for my students. For me, it’s not just about being a lifelong learner, but about being a balanced lifelong learner. I need something in my life that will challenge me and give me a new perspective, but also allow me to enjoy myself and take a break from all the things I have to/should/need to do.

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