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Bridging the language divide

It’s St David’s Day so we asked Kiri Pritchard-McLean, who grew up in Wales but wasn’t taught Welsh, how she’s getting on with learning the language. Bring on the purple horses.

Severn BridgeI don’t have many genuine regrets. I mean, we’ve all vomited in taxis and worn something offensively tasteless at some point so I consider those misdemeanours a ground zero for us all. If I do have one large regret though – that’s one I’m trying to rectify bit by bit – it’s that I can’t speak Welsh.

When I was eight months old my parents moved to the beautiful island of Anglesey and I lived there until I moved away to go to university/triple my number of sexual partners.

Anglesey has a large population of Welsh speakers, including my father, for whom it was his first language. However, my primary school, which was astounding in many ways, never rated learning Welsh particularly highly (although we did have philosophy lessons).

This means when I went to secondary school my Welsh vocabulary was limited to colours, animals and numbers. Sure, I could tell you how many purple horses there were but once you’ve repeated that three or four times in conversation you can get found out. I was put in Set 7 out of 8 and learned nothing other than “Thank God I wasn’t in a low set for anything else” because that was an hour of crowd control and no more.

“I haven’t lived in Wales for nearly 10 years but I am determined to learn the language, if only so I can be frustrated with my dad’s attitude towards immigration in another tongue.”

I only started to get to grips with the language at 14 when I began working in a restaurant where most of the staff spoke Welsh. More specifically they spoke Wenglish which is easy to follow, especially if they’re talking about how many purple horses there are.

I hasten to add they would always switch to English when I was around so as not to make me feel isolated but I liked them speaking Welsh and asked them not to. After all it’s always nice to learn “dirty bastard” in another language.

My father never really encouraged us to speak Welsh at home and I think it has something to do with the hostility that my English mother received when she moved to Wales with him in the mid-70s. After all, when your life partner has been threatened with a gun for being a “Saes (English) bitch” it can put you off. I think discouraging his kids from learning Welsh was his small act of rebellion against the militant nationalists he had such little time for.

Fast forward to 2016 and I haven’t lived in Wales for nearly 10 years but I am determined to learn the language, if only so I can be frustrated with my dad’s attitude towards immigration in another tongue.

I have podcasts and apps choking the running speed of my phone like you wouldn’t believe. I even went on a course in January back in Wales and had a thoroughly lovely time knocking about with predominantly retired English people. Their Welsh was brilliant and I was inspired by how diligently they had applied themselves to learning when we’re so often told it’s harder when you’re older. Added to that, Welsh is a tricky language.

I remain smug in the fact that I can definitely swear better in Welsh than any of the other people on the course, as that’s rarely in the handbook.

When I lived back in Wales I felt very English and would never be comfortable asserting I was anything other than English; how could I be if I didn’t speak the language? Now I live in England I feel more Welsh than ever (especially at the rugby) and I can’t wait to be able to confidently tell people that I am Welsh, in both languages.

Failing that, I’ll just keep swearing at strangers in Welsh and feeling smug.


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Written by Kiri Pritchard-McLean

Kiri is a Welsh stand up comedian and one fourth of sketch group Gein’s Family Giftshop. She is also a Farmer’s daughter. The subtext to all this? Great at swearing. @kiripritchardmc