Being a first language Welsh speaker and having studied European languages in school and University, I was totally unaware that my Welsh language knowledge provided me with an unknowing improved ability to learn foreign languages, perfect pronunciation as well as recalling vocabulary easier!
Whilst sat in my French classroom one day, I was staring out of the window (Still paying attention of course!), when the colored flash-cards that were stuck to the window caught my eye, which read ‘ffenest‘ , which was no surprise to me, however the words that followed completely shocked me (I was 12!) – ‘fenetre’ (Fr), ‘ ventana’ (Sp) and ‘Finestra’ (It). How odd, I thought, that none of them showed any resemblance to the English and how similar they were to the Welsh! The revelation continued when I searched the classroom covered in flash-cards to be shocked when my eyes fell upon the wall’s flash-cards! Admittedly, I have never used the word mur for wall (Being from South Wales, we usually say wâl!) – however it’s similarity to other European languages is shocking; mur (Fr) and muro (Sp and It)!
Considering that Welsh and its Romance neighbours did indeed originate from the same original language, they can now be considered to be on opposite ends of the linguistic spectrum that the Proto-Indo European (PIE) has now transformed into. Indeed, English words are present in a number of languages (and vice versa), simply because of its growing use, however the vocabulary of Welsh and some European languages have more in common than its English neighbour, despite its minority status!
The most obvious vocabulary similarities include; pont (bridge) which is identical in French and very similar in both Spanish (puente) and Italian (ponte). Additionally, a number of other Welsh words resemble those of European languages (more so than English!);
– Canu (to sing) – chanter (Fr), cantar (Sp) and cantare (It)
– Môr (the sea) – mer (Fr), mar (Sp) and mare (It)
– Llyfr (book) – livre (Fr), libro (Sp and It)
Other than the vocabulary, a Welsh language foundation has allowed me, as well as a number of my past class-mates (Studying German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese), to develop our linguistic abilities at a faster rate than our class-mates who received an English medium education. The Welsh language and all of its digraphs and diphthongs allow anyone studying or learning a foreign language to both improve and understand pronunciation quicker. For instance, the infamous ‘ch’ digraph in Welsh is used in Spanish (the jota letter), the German gutteral ‘ch’ and is even present in Arabic, however its comparison in the English language is restricted to the ‘ch’ of Loch and Bach!
Similarly, the knowledge of Welsh language pronunciation can be utilised to converse and communicate better in other languages, which the English language doesn’t offer! Consider the letter ‘r’, in Welsh it is trilled (or rolled) which is advantageous when studying or learning Spanish, Italian or Portuguese, however on the other hand, due to the Welsh language’s famous guttural noises, Welsh speakers would be easily able to pronounce the French ‘r’ which is also guttural!
All in all, the advantages of learning a foreign language with a Welsh speaking foundation are clear and I have come to learn that languages are not so difficult to learn, once you can easily compare them with other languages that you already know, as the similarities can certainly help!