A Summer School for over 100 Adult Welsh Learners was held recently on Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor's Pwllheli site, welcoming people from all across the North West Wales region and beyond, with attendees coming from as far as Oxford, America and Patagonia. The 'Dysgwyr Dwyfor' providers organising this event are a consortium between Bangor University and Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, providing a year-round 'Welsh for Adults' learning service for the counties of Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd.
The students attending the event were at different levels of learning, ranging from complete beginners to advanced. Whilst most came from the North West Wales region, several had come from further afield including Barmouth, Oxford, the United States of America and Patagonia.
The week-long summer school provided a learning experience with a variety of learning methods including informal teaching sessions, a historical guided tour of Pwllheli, a Welsh version of the 'Countdown' tv programme, buffet lunches and entertainment by Welsh folk singer and clogmaker Gwilym Bowen Rhys from Bethel.
Trish Drasnin, originally from Los Angeles, of Russian and Phillippino parentage, who went to Berkeley University and is now living in Criccieth, said, in Welsh:
I have lived in Wales for the past 3 and a half years and feel that if you live in a country then it is important to learn its language so that you can get to know the people and so that everything about it makes more sense. I am loving the experience of learning to speak Welsh.
A learner from Oxford who has lived in Brussels, Germany and France and who speaks French and Italian fluently, had acquired advanced Welsh skills in less than the space of a year taking correspondence courses, attending short intensive courses and listening to Radio Cymru. Using impressive and accentless Welsh, he explained that learning languages for him was about gaining entry into another world and that it helped him access its history, literature and culture. He also said how bilingualism helps keep the mind flexible and reduces conditions such as Alzheimers, and mental agility was another reason he chose to learn languages.
Yobalak Williams, born in Bangkok, has lived in many locations during her life including Tanganyika in East Africa, Malaysia and Hong Kong. She now lives with her Welsh-born husband in Pont Rhyd y Groes near Aberystwyth. Yobalak said:
I have learned many languages throughout my life including Thai, Malay, English and Swahili. My latest is Welsh. I particularly love living in Wales because the Welsh people are so kind.
Manuel Austin had travelled farthest, coming from Trelew in Patagonia with the plan of staying in Wales over the summer to get to know its language, people and traditions. As a teenager, his orphaned Great-Great Grandfather Thomas Tegau Austin had left his home town of Merthyr Tydfil together with his brother Gwilym to cross over to Patagonia on the 'Mimosa' in 1865. Thomas had married a Welsh girl there, as had their son Emmanuel - Manuel's grandfather. Manuel said, through the medium of Welsh:
I have come here to Wales to spend the summer learning the language of my ancestors. My grandparents spoke Welsh but it has been lost since my father, Trevor's, generation and neither my brother nor I could speak the language either.
I have always felt a deep need to know more about my Welshness and I started to learn Welsh in Patagonia 2 years ago. I have come here this summer and it feels like I have come home.
I find Welsh people so generous, I am touched and pleasantly surprised by how generous everyone has been. I love the greenness of the countryside here compared to the arid landscape where I live, and the scenery here between mountains and sea is so beautiful.
I spent a lot of my childhood in South Patagonia in Tierra del Fuego in South Patagonia and now live in Trelew, where I have a group of Welsh-speaking friends. I take part in traditional Welsh folk dancing (dawnsio gwerin) and in fact I competed earlier this year at Trefelin's Eisteddfod in Patagonia.
I used to play rugby myself when I was younger and I supported Argentina then, but it is always Wales for me now.
Helen Roberts who organised the Summer School said:
This year's Summer School has attracted a record number of attendees, with 104 coming from all over the UK and beyond to learn or improve their Welsh. The feedback has been very positive, with learners not only improving their skillsets but also developing their social network of friends and having great fun through learning.
Anyone wishing to find out more about Dysgwyr Dwyfor and Welsh for Adults should contact www.dysgwyrdwyfor.cymru or phone 01758 612187/07811 509232, or email email@example.com"