Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ On the bus

Upstairs on the bus home yesterday, I noted that the two women sitting in front of me were chatting away in a language I didn’t recognise. My immediate reaction was to feel pleased that another language than English was being spoken with no inhibition on a London bus.

But even as I felt that pleasure, I remembered an incident from a few years back when I was attending a Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert included a number of different performers, one of whom on this occasion was harpist and singer Cerys Matthews. Introducing items she was about to perform during one of her turns on stage, Cerys said one of them would be a Welsh jig with Welsh words.

Was it immediately then or in the quiet after the jig that a loud male voice shouted down from the gallery? The words the voice said were shocking: ‘YOUR LANGUAGE IS DEAD!’

Wisely, Cerys did not react. She simply continued with her performance. I, meantime, was finding it hard to decide whether I was feeling more shocked than sad or more sad than shocked.

Surely even in a country where by far the majority of people speak only English, it is possible to value the fact that other languages exist? An Italian friend was telling me the other day that his little son of four years old is now comfortable with three languages: English, Italian and Swedish, Swedish being the first language of his mother. And recently I was moved to read in the Welsh weekly magazine, Golwg, a piece about a Syrian refugee who was been learning Welsh since he was resettled in Wales. His name is Mohamad Karkoubi, he came to Britain in 2015, he now lives in Aberystwyth and works for a welding company in Tregaron where, every day, he uses the Welsh he has learned. He recently won a prize for his achievement.

Wales is part of the UK. It has much to offer as well as beautiful scenery. Some years ago, at an education conference in Birmingham where the main topic was bilingualism in schools, I felt obliged to stand up during the final session where everyone was now assembled to make what I felt was an important point. I said I’d found the day very valuable but I felt it was important to note that, during it, I’d heard not one single mention of the major experience of bilingualism in the UK. It could be found just a short way west from Birmingham. Wales! Welsh!

To end on an especially happy note, I want to draw attention to the fact that, since moving to live in North Wales, Fiona Collins who is one of the UK’s best-known storytellers (and as it happens a good friend of mine) was recently recognised at this year’s National Eisteddfod as Dysgwr y Flwyddyn, Welsh Learner of the Year.  It’s a huge success for her and one which feels fantastic for the future of storytelling in Wales.

PS: The top photo is a Welsh-language signpost at the National Eisteddfod a year or two back and because, symbolically, they’re so vital in language-learning, the bottom photo is of stepping stones. Those in the bottom photo are some especially welcome ones in an often muddy field in my home part of Pembrokeshire.

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