Adolygiad Llyfr/Book Review
gan/by Paul Birt

Paul Birt is a professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Ottawa, where he teaches many of the Celtic languages. He is also a frequent teacher on Cymdeithas Madog Welsh courses.

Nol I Dudalen Gartref Adolygiadau Llyfrau

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Teach Yourself Welsh
T. J. Rhys Jones, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991
ISBN 0 340 495642

Since the early sixties Hodder and Stoughton has published three books for Welsh learners in the 'Teach Yourself' series. The first, Teach Yourself Welsh, was published before the current boom in Welsh teaching and reflected the old-style presentation of the language in its dominantly literary form. The second, published as Teach Yourself Living Welsh in 1977, taught 'Cymraeg Byw,' a colloquially-based form of Welsh intended to give the learner something he or she could use in any Welsh-speaking community. As the author T. J. Rhys Jones stated, his book took advantage of the many exciting developments in language teaching that had occurred since the appearance of the original book. The latest version, also by T. J. Rhys Jones and again called Teach Yourself Welsh, provides a completely rewritten course in line with the style and format of other recent langauge books in the 'Teach Yourself' series.

The new course is divided into 19 units, each following a regular pattern. This begins with a Dialogue approximately one page long, followed by a vocabulary and short exercises which test the reader's comprehension. A section called Useful Words and Phrases then lists everyday phrases appearing in the dialogue. The next major section is called How Welsh Works and gives an explanation of particular points of grammar used in the dialogue. At intervals the student is presented with short exercises to drum the new points home. The unit ends with a section called Darllen a Deall (Reading and Comprehension) comprising a dialogue and an exercise to test understanding, either multiple anser questions or questions on the text to be answered in Welsh.

The volume contains various appendices, some derived wholly or in part from the previous book. Topics covered include mutations and regional language variations. The book ends with a Welsh-English vocabulary.

An audio cassette is available with the book and gives a careful introduction to the pronunciation of Welsh and includes the text of all the dialogues.

T. J. Rhys Jones has clearly drawn on many years of experience as a teacher of Welsh and has managed to condense the essential structures of the language and all its problematic areas within the compass of a 19-unit handbook. My feeling, based on the views of several students working alone and in class, is that the book is successful in its broad aims. My first reaction was that the section How Welsh Works tended to be too long, and students felt they were taking a long time to get beyond Unit 5, though the author, to be fair, does his best to be conscientious in giving sufficient explanations and examples of different points of grammar. Given the time it would take the average student to reach half way through the course, I believe that the past tense could have been introduced somewhat earlier.

Some of the author's references to the differences between North and South Walian Welsh, which are of course receding with the growing influence of Welsh language media, strike me as a little odd at times. He gives shwd i chi? as the southern version of how are you?, and sut ydych chi? as the equivalent in the north. The spontaneous northern version would of course be sud dach chi? The same inconsistence occurs with the past tense of cael. Although he correctly gives the southern form fe gas e, the northern version fe gafodd e is clearly wide of the mark, mi gafodd o being the usual form. One form I would have preferred to have seen left out is the negative dydy e ddim. This form became popular in the heyday of 'Cymraeg Byw' and represents a compromise between the northern tydy o ddim and the southern dyw e ddim. The latter form would have been preferable.

Most of the dialogues are useful, especially to those who are newcomers in Wales. It would have been wise, however, to avoid too many contemporary issues since they will tend to seem out-of-date in a few years; an example is the speech about the '1992 Single European market' on page 207. On the whole, the dialogues and comprehension passages give naturalistic situations which a learner, especially in Wales, would want to emulate. One useful addition would have been a dialogue where the student learns how to ask for information and purchase a ticket in a railway station, an exercise I have found is always of great educational value!

The author introduces some new approaches to old problems. One is his explanation of the two future tenses in Welsh, which he calls the pure (or simple) future and the coloured future. The first is formed by using the future of the verb 'to be' as an auxiliary, and the second by adding endings to the verb. The author claims that the coloured future expresses immediate volition or determination. Although he also gives a carefully reasoned account of the use of the perfect tense of 'to be,' it would certainly have been useful to have contrastive examples of the use of fe fuodd e and roedd e.

Given the extent of the material in the book, and despite some inevitable inadequacies due to the restrictions of size, I recommend this book to the student working alone. No language handbook can give you a taste of the community in which the language is spoken, but this is one of the best preparations on the market today for anyone preparing for a stay in Wales or a week at Cymdeithas Madog's Cwrs Cymraeg.

Draig Cymdeithas Madog

© Cymdeithas Madog
15 Mawrth/March 2000

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