Memories of Wales
January 20, 2011 § 13 Comments
Candy thoroughly enjoyed her homeland sojourn, and has returned with a timely post on English in South Africa that neatly adds to the wonderful posts on translation in the classroom by Ceri and David and Andrew.
Gwyneth rang up my mam this evening. She was my mam’s best friend from when they were little girls growing up and doing everything and going everywhere together, not that there was much you could get up to go in a small coastal town in mid-Wales way-back-when. The biggest mischief seemed to be knocking on windows and running off, and swapping the words, in Welsh, in chapel, to say “I am the bread and butter” rather than “I am the bread of life”. “Myfi yw bara menyn” and not “Myfi yw bara y bowyd”.
The phone call watered the seed of an idea for a blog post which I felt like contributing to the subject of the importance of your mother tongue.
The two old ladies greeted each other in Welsh and reminisced. It’s pleasing to hear the stories from when the world was still in black and white, and my own memories flooded back too. Like the hymn Jerusalem, that portrays a pre-industrialised, idyllic, fantasy England, my Wales is a land of legends and heroes, where the mountain Cader Idris, “the seat of Idris”, a giant who roamed the land, overshadows one of the many farms on which my relatives raised their livestock.
The village of Beddgelert is not too far away either, home to one of the saddest stories I ever heard, “bedd” meaning “grave” of Gelert, the faithful dog slain by his owner Prince Llewellyn on returning from the hunt and being confronted with an upturned crib and the dog’s bloodied mouth, leading him to mistakenly believe Gelert had killed the baby heir it had been left to guard. Too late did he discover the blood was from the corpse of a malicious wolf; the baby lay unharmed under the crib.
The men I knew had great big hairy sideburns and great big hairy forearms from flipping sheep onto their backs to sheer them. I had a nightmare one night in one farmhouse we were staying at of a fox chasing after me and biting my backside. I’d been playing with a posse of puppies out in the farmyard earlier and the event had eased itself into my night-time.
When I visit schools in the UK, it is common to see “Welcome” written in the reception area in weird and wonderful scripts. Language switching and mixing is a natural human trait outside the classroom. Translating between Welsh and English happened all the time within the thick stone walls of the farmhouses, and Welsh is once again compulsory in Wales.
Community languages, as they are known here in the UK, are now promoted and valued, and EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers I recently shared a table with in a workshop all had stories to tell of how the children they had taught gained self-confidence and self-respect from being allowed to use their own language in class to teach the English-speaking children, who enjoyed it immensely as well.
Personally too, I can think of many students of all ages who have revelled in the role of teacher when offered the chance to present a phrase or two of their language, and can bring to mind the fun we’ve all had translating English compound nouns into languages from all over. I like how English can pile up nouns all in a row, whereas most other languages seem to work from the other direction, using prepositional and postpositional phrases. Using colour to show word class literally shows the different word orders and grammars languages can have. Excluding L1 from the classroom doesn’t reflect the translating skills we use in our lives, and denies us access to a well of memories.