The Welsh language is a wonderful, complex and rich language, and one which we love to hear spoken in any part of Wales. Welsh bravery and stoicism have stood in the way of historic attempts to prevent the language from carrying on. That’s why in some parts of Wales, it is not the native tongue. And in many communities, some mere miles apart, they have different words for the same thing.
The language itself is so old, that modern words don’t tend to have a translation, so sometimes, you will hear Welsh being spoken with a mixture of Welsh and English words, and sometimes even whole sentences. We call these orphaned words ‘borrowed words’. The language is so old that the letters K, Q, V, X, and Z are not even included in the official Welsh alphabet, but are, in modern times, found in these borrowed words.
So, with all that said, when you come to Wales, we want you to feel that you can have a go. You can learn the language in full, using online tutorials or classes. It will do you some good in most parts of Wales, in some small parts of Patagonia in Southwest Argentina, and in growing online communities in the USA.
Fact: Did you know that 5 of the first 6 American presidents had Welsh ancestry, with 10 presidents to date having lineage back to ‘Cymru’? You may be surprised to know that this list which includes John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln, can draw their heritage back through Celtic roots, to Wales, via Irish and Scottish migrants.
Let’s get started. First, some key words that you will need to know or you will see here and there.
Let’s start with Wales, itself…
- “Cymru” – Wales, our wonderful country
- pronunciation: ‘kumm-ree’
- “Cymru” – Welsh, the language
- pronunciation: ‘kumm-ry-g’
- pronunciation: ‘kumm-ry-g’
- “Bore da” – Good morning
- pronunciation: ‘bore-ray-dah’
- “Prynhawn da” – Good afternoon
- pronunciation: ‘prin-how’n-dah’
- “Nos da” – Good night
- pronunciation: ‘Nohs-dah’
- “Helô / Hylô” – Hello
- pronunciation: ‘hell-oh / hill-oh’
- “Shw mae?” – How are you? (South Wales)
- pronunciation: ‘shoe-mi’
(Cottages in South Wales, where you can use this term: https://www.qualitycottages.co.uk/wales/south-wales)
- “Sut mae?” – How are you? (North Wales)
- pronunciation: ‘sit-mi’
(Alternatively, find Cottages in North Wales, where you can use this term: https://www.qualitycottages.co.uk/wales/north-wales)
- “Da iawn diolch” – Very well, thank you
- pronunciation: ‘Da-yow-un-dee-olch’
Other politnesses and responses
- “Os gwelwch yn dda” – Please
- pronunciation: ‘Os-gwell-och-un-thar’
- “Diolch / Diolch yn fawr” – Thanks / Thank you very much
- pronunciation: ‘Dee-olch / dee-olch-un-vow-er’
- “Croeso” – Welcome
- pronunciation: ‘Croy-so’
- “Hwyl“ – Bye
- pronunciation: ‘Hoy-ul’
- “Ydw“ – Yes
- pronunciation: ‘Uh-do’
- “Na“ – No
- pronunciation: ‘Nah’
Many would suggest that the order of the next few phrases is the order in which you may find yourself needing them. Don’t be fooled. Wales is a very sunny place, much like anywhere else in the UK.
Just remember, there is no such thing as bad weather in Wales. Simply, the wrong clothing.
Each phrase here starts with ‘Mae’n’, pronounced as ‘my-een’.
- “Mae’n bwrw glaw” – It’s raining
- pronunciation: ‘Boo-roo-gl-ow’
- “Mae’n bwrw eira” – It’s snowing
- pronunciation: ‘Boo-roo-eye-ra’
- “Mae’n wyntog” – It’s windy
- pronunciation: ‘Win-tog’
- “Mae’n oer” – It’s cold
- pronunciation: ‘Oi-er’
- “Mae’n heulog” – It’s sunny
- pronunciation: ‘Hay-log’
A note on some words, and their meanings
You’ll often see ‘Llan’ in regards to place names in Wales. As part of many place names, ‘Llan’ itself is a marked reference to the word for ‘Church’. But it’s not quite that in essence. ‘Church’ itself, as in a religious building, has a direct translation in ‘Eglwys’. ‘Llan’ whilst linked to sacred land or dwellings, actually translates closer as ‘enclosure’. Not so much the physical religious building, but the parish in which those dwellings lie, ‘Llan’ is seen as ‘Church of’, allowing it to give itself in name to many villages and towns across the length and breadth of Wales.
‘Cwm’ basically means valley. Simple as that really. A landform, or ‘corrie’ to the Scots. The French would call it a ‘Cirque’, the Irish or Cornish, a ‘Combe’ and the Dutch… well, they wouldn’t have a clue what any of them were.
‘Aber’ is a very old word – found, not only in Welsh language, but also in Cornish and Breton – and used mainly in regards to place names. It is used as a formative term given to describing a place’s vicinity to water, and roughly translating to ‘pouring away’ in ancient language. Over the years, the translation has become modernised to mean both a ‘confluence of water or waters’ or – what most people now consider it to be – ‘river mouth / mouth of the river’. So, literal translations of place names like Abertawe (Swansea) is ‘Mouth of the Tawe’.
So, ‘Aber’ is to Wales what ‘Inver’ is to Scotland.
Phrases you can use on holiday in Wales
- “Pa ffordd i…?” – Which way to …?
- pronunciation: ‘Pa Vor-th-ee …INSERT PLACE?’
- “Ga i…” – Can I have…?
- pronunciation: ‘Ga-ee…’
- “De ni’n mwynhau” – We’re enjoying ourselves
- pronunciation: ‘De-neen-moo-e-un-hi’
- “De ni’n mynd i … heddiw” – We’re going to … today
- pronunciation: ‘De-neen-mind-y- INSERT PLACE –heth-ew’
- “A gaf i aros gyda chi, eto?” – Lit. May I stay with you again?
(Roughly means ‘Can I book with you again?’)
- pronunciation: ‘A-gaf-ee-a-ross-gu-da-ki-et-oh’
- “Edrych mlaen i ddod yn ol” – Looking forward to coming back
- pronunciation: ‘Ed-rich-m-lane-ee-th-odd-un-all’
So, that’s a fair bit of Welsh to be getting on with. Lastly, you might want to just look over the words to the national anthem of Wales, ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ – or ‘Land of my Fathers’. The words, should you ever want to learn them are as follows:
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad,
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i’r heniaith barhau
To the uninitiated, they won’t mean a great deal. So, here is a video that shows just what these words, and this language, means to the people of Wales:
…”Cymru am byth!” (Wales, forever!)
For more songs, go to WalesOnline, to find 8 additional heartwrenching songs, sung in Welsh: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/8-welsh-songs-achingly-beautiful-11693991