Why Learn Welsh? 8 Reasons to Study Britain’s Oldest Living Language
If you’re considering learning Welsh, or are already in the process of doing so, then you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, it’s not the most widely spoken language in the world, and unless you live in Wales or have family roots there, it’s not particularly useful, right?
Well, yes and no.
Welsh may not be the most widely spoken language, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from learning it. It is a fascinating language with many unique features, and there are plenty of good reasons to study it, even if you don’t have any connection to Wales. Let’s discuss 8 of them below.
1. Welsh is Britain’s oldest living language
Welsh is thought to have arrived on the British Isles over 3000 years ago (some say closer to 4000) from mainland Europe. It belongs to the Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages and is derived from Proto-Celtic, which was spoken by Celtic tribes who migrated to the region during the Iron Age.
Unlike other languages spoken on the British Isles, Welsh has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. That makes it the oldest living language in Britain, much older than English, and thus a fascinating window into the history of the island.
2. It will be a good challenge
If you’ve had no exposure to Welsh, you’re in for a shock when you start learning the language. A good shock. You’re probably thinking, “It’s a British language, how different from English can it really be?” But the fact is, Welsh is about as different from English as a language can get.
For starters, Welsh and English come from different language groups. English is a West Germanic language heavily influenced by Latin. This means that, though England and Wales are immediate neighbors and share the same land, English is much more similar to German, Dutch, French, Spanish, etc. than it is to Welsh.
Secondly, Welsh pronunciation is… interesting, to say the least. The Welsh alphabet has 29 letters (including 8 digraphs – two-letter combinations that represent a single sound), and 7 vowels. Many of these letters are pronounced differently than in English. In addition, numerous Welsh sounds don’t exist in English, and the stress pattern is completely different.
So, for a native English speaker, you won’t be able to rely on any similarities between Welsh and English when you’re learning the language. You’ll have to start from scratch, which will present a unique challenge, but ultimately a rewarding one.
3. You’ll be helping to keep the language alive
Although not officially endangered, there aren’t that many speakers compared to other European languages. According to Wales.com, only 30% of the country’s population speaks Welsh, the primary language being English.
The sad reality is that most Welsh people grow up speaking English, and don’t learn Welsh until later in life, if at all. Now, there has been a recent resurgence in interest in the language, and the government has made a concerted effort to reverse the decline by making Welsh education mandatory in some Welsh schools.
But there are still only around 500,000 Welsh speakers in the world, which makes it very much a minority language. So, if you do decide to learn Welsh, you’ll be doing your part to keep Britain’s oldest language alive and help it thrive.
4. Enjoy famous Welsh literature in its original language
Welsh has produced some world-renowned literature over the centuries.
If you’re a fan of medieval poetry, then you’ll be familiar with the work of the 14th-century bard, Dafydd ap Gwilym. Often referred to as the “Shakespeare of Wales”, Dafydd is considered one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages. His work is noted for its naturalism and use of vivid imagery.
For more modern Welsh-language literature, there’s Daniel Owen, considered by many to be the first Welsh novelist. His work often deals with social issues and the industrialization of Wales. “Rhys Lewis” and its sequel “Enoc Huws” are among his most famous novels.
5. You’ll get a “discount” on other Celtic languages
If you’re interested in learning other Celtic languages, then Welsh is a great place to start.
As part of the Brittonic branch of the Celtic language family, Welsh has much in common with Breton and Cornish. In fact, it was both Welsh and Breton that allowed language revivalists to successfully revive Cornish, which was extinct by the 18th century. (Learn more about the revival of the Cornish language.)
Much of the vocabulary in Welsh, Breton and Cornish is the same or similar, so learning one will make it easier to pick up the others.
But your language discount doesn’t stop there! You’ll also find similarities between Welsh and Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx. So learning Welsh can give you a real head start if you’re interested in any of these other Celtic languages.
6. Beautiful landscapes
At some point during your language journey, you’ll probably want to visit the country (or countries) where your target language is spoken. And if you’re learning Welsh, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to picturesque landscapes.
Most Welsh speakers are concentrated in the north and west of Wales, in areas such as Anglesey, Glamorgan, Gwynedd, and Pembrokeshire. If you haven’t seen pictures of these areas, then do a quick Google image search – you won’t be disappointed!
Beaches, mountains, castles, lakes – Wales has it all. And what better way to appreciate the country’s natural beauty than by learning the Welsh language and speaking with the locals?
7. There are plenty of resources to help you
One of the great things about Welsh being an official language (in Wales) and a recognized language in the UK is that there are plenty of resources available to help you learn.
Sites like BBC Wales offer a range of free online resources to help you learn Welsh. Also, bbc.co.uk lets you read almost everything in Cymraeg (Welsh).
The Open University also offers a free online Welsh course called “Croeso: Beginners’ Welsh” which is aimed at absolute beginners.
And when you’re ready to watch some Welsh-language entertainment, the free online S4C channel offers a wide range of TV shows and movies in Welsh, with subtitles available in both Welsh and English.
Also, check out our list of the best Welsh-language movies to watch.
8. You’ll be able to join an exclusive club
Learning Welsh will allow you to join a very exclusive club. Not many people can say that they speak a Celtic language, after all.
And as a Welsh speaker, you’ll be in good company. Some pretty famous people speak Welsh, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Taron Egerton, Rhys Ifans, and of course the late Richard Burton.
So, if you’re looking for a language that will make you stand out from the crowd, one that is as native to the UK as fish and chips, then Welsh is the language for you.
These are just some of the reasons why you should consider adding Welsh to your list of languages to learn.
Of course, you don’t really need a reason to learn any language beyond the simple joy of learning something new. But if you’re looking for a little motivation to help get you started, then we hope this article has helped.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to learn Welsh, we wish you the best of luck with your language journey!