Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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The return of the iPod Nano and a new Welsh book to read

Two things arrived today. The first was the replacement iPod Nano, courtesy of Apple. Apparently there has been a problem with the batteries in the early models, so there has been a general recall. After regarding the email suspiciously for a while -- was this just a ruse by spammers to get people to send them iPods?! -- I worked out that it was genuine and after more dithering (I'd not noticed any problems and it's really old now, was it worth the hassle?) I sent it off. And then I waited... and waited... and waited... It had got to the point where I was really wishing I hadn't bothered because while the iPod Touch is invaluable as an ebook reader and way of connecting to the Internet away from home, the little iPod Nano was for Welsh practice and listening to music while doing housework and I was starting to miss it. Anyway, this morning it arrived... Except it wasn't my old one back with a new battery, it's a new Nano. Even smaller than my white oblong one and it has more memory! I can fit all my music on it again. The other one had become full, so I'd made it Welsh only plus podcasts.

Then the second package to arrive was the book I ordered scarcely over 24 hours ago. [personal profile] green_knight responded to my post yesterday about finding a book in Welsh that I thought I would enjoy by saying: "Hey, you're casually ordering Welsh books _because you want to read them_. I don't know whether you've done this for a while, but reading for pleasure sounds like a language learning milestone that deserves to be marked." I started writing a reply but it got rather long and as I know there are others out there on my friendslist who are learning languages and who might be interested in my reply, I thought I'd talk about it here in a follow up post rather than leaving it hidden away in a comment.

I've found reading in Welsh to be very chicken and eggish. Though my fluency has improved tremendously over the last year or so, the fluency is in speaking and in understanding spoken Welsh. Unfortunately, there is a much bigger difference between the spoken and written register in Welsh than there is in English, so every book I tried to read, I bounced off.[1]

The way I built up my vocabulary in my native language (English) was by reading. I'm sure we've all been in the situation where we use a word we've learned from books and pronounce it wrong, or we know the exact right word, but realise we have no idea how to say it, but the opposite happens in Welsh. I could read aloud a whole page of a quite complex novel and not make a bad job of it, but at the end I would have no idea what I'd just read. This is the advantage and disadvantage of a phonetic spelling system. The advantage is that it's easy to read; the disadvantage is that spelling isn't altogether standardised and so especially in the dialogue you can end up staring in incomprehension at something that you would understand perfectly if someone said it to you. So that means the only way of reading it -- OK the only way I can read it -- is to mutter it aloud. And if you try the more literary books, the language is more standardised,but you get all the literary forms that we haven't learned.

So, chicken and egg problem. Until I read more Welsh, I won't get better at it, but at the moment, I find reading so painfully difficult, that I'm not motivated to do it. :(

For a while I thought the Welsh version of Harry Potter might be the answer, but even though the style is more colloquial, it's still nowhere near reading-for-pleasure speed and, because I know the story, there's not enough narrative pull to make me make the effort. G lent me one of the books he's read[2], but it hasn't grabbed me from page 1 and again I can't read it fast enough to get to the more interesting parts that I am assured lie ahead. So the only books I've read so far are a series specially written for learners, which were easy enough for me and amusing.

So when I looked at Gwrach y Gwyllt by Bethan Gwanas the other night, I thought it might work for me. Firstly, it appears to be the sort of thing I would read for pleasure if it were in English. Secondly, the author writes in a colloquial style and is local, so the language should match the form I've been learning much better than many other books. Thirdly, her books for learners are the only books I've managed to read so far, so I know that she can write an engaging story even when restricted to a limited vocabulary and straightforward grammar.

Back at the end of last year, I mentioned that instead of New Year's Resolutions, I was setting myself a number of challenges. This means that reading Gwrach y Gwyllt will be the first of my self-imposed intellectual challenges for 2012. I'll let you know how I get on with it.

But it has actually been quite an eye opener to become, in effect, illiterate. It does make me much more sympathetic to those who don't read. You have to practice reading a lot to get good enough to be able to do it without thinking so you can focus purely on the story, not on the mechanics of decoding the words. If you're not motivated to get over that hump, you will never become someone who reads for pleasure, and these days with so many other ways of consuming stories, in movies and TV, it's not surprising that some people just don't bother.

[1]This makes it completely the opposite to the language I did at school (namely French) where my reading was best, followed by writing, followed by listening with, trailing a long way behind, speaking. I can still get the gist of an article in French and if I sat down with a dictionary, could probably plod through a straightforward novel. I could not, on the other hand, understand spoken French or even do simple things like asking for directions or buying bread without doing a lot of revision.

[2]G has quite a collection of novels, which is weird because he won't read a novel in English.

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/33492.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

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