Looking Forward

So 2016 didn’t really turn out to be what I was expecting.

“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”, as they say, but no one expects to get cancer either, so to say that I was stunned by a mammogram result back in May showing I had breast cancer is an understatement. Still, if I hadn’t gone for that mammogram I would have had no idea – it’s a very sneaky illness – so I’m glad I did, and I’m glad that we have amazing treatment that can knock cancer cells on the head. OK, the treatment kind of knocks everything around for a while, but you just cling on to the thought that, no matter how I feel right now, this is making me better!

I’ve made it through surgery and chemotherapy. Just a course of radiotherapy to go and I’ll be ready to tackle 2017!

So did my plans to become a polyglot get put on hold? Are you kidding? What better way to while away the hours in the Chemotherapy Unit than lots of language revision with Duolingo. Yes, while others were doing crosswords or listening to music on their iPods, I was blasting my way through lesson after lesson in French, Spanish and German.

I found my concentration wasn’t good enough to let me learn any new material, but revision was fine – especially languages that I had once been fairly confident in, such as Spanish or French. I doubt if anyone can actually say they enjoyed their chemo sessions, but I came close and felt I was making good use of the time.

All this concentrating on getting well has put my plans to become location independent in terms of work behind though, so that has to be my focus for 2017. I still have to have Herceptin injections every three weeks through to September, so I won’t be going a great deal of travelling this year, but I can certainly get myself in a position where that is more of a possibility.

My language-learning has carried on right through my treatment; in fact, it’s probably done more than anything else to keep me going. I set up several regular Skype conversations through Speaky so I’m gradually improving my conversational skills in German and French, and the people I chat with are starting to feel like friends. I enjoy Esperanto phone conversations from time to time, and I’ve started listening to news and podcasts in French, German and Spanish.

As I suspected, I can understand quite a lot of the French and Spanish, but German is still hard for me. I’ve completed the German ‘tree’ in Duolingo though, and more and more I hear those words being used in the Deutsche Welle Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten (news spoken slowly). I’m also working through a Deutsche Welle interactive online course which is building my everyday vocabulary and adding to my cultural knowledge of Germany.

Did you know that in Cologne you can stand next to a parking machine, pay for the ticket using your mobile phone, and the ticket prints out of the machine? So much better than searching your pockets for the correct change!

But what about Welsh? Have I forgotten about Cymraeg? Of course not! I had just qualified as a Welsh tutor for adult beginners when I received the diagnosis, so no chance for me to leap into working in a classroom. I’m interested in doing online teaching though, or perhaps some translation work in the future so, with the help of a friend in Cardiff, I’m working my way through an old text called Cyflwyno’r Iaith Lenyddol. It gives practice at using the very formal Welsh of traditional literature with translation exercises, and I’m enjoying doing those.

So that’s it. 2016 is behind me, and after the radiotherapy, the cancer will be behind me. 2017 is the year I come a lot closer to my goals. Bring it on!

Colonial attitudes live on

I read this blog post – The Curious Case of An English Historian – yesterday and it really reflected the way I feel about the Welsh language.

I love the Welsh language. I love its history, its expressiveness, its connection to the country, the culture and the people, and yes, I even love its mutations! Time and time again I learn a new word or phrase and delight in its aptness and logic. It’s just so right to speak Welsh here.

So why do so many English speakers have a problem with Welsh? I’m lucky to know many people from outside Wales that share my love of the language and either speak it already or are learning it, but there are so many that seem to think they are somehow entitled to run it into the ground. They wouldn’t do the same about French in France or German in Germany, so why?

And why – for that matter – are there Welsh speakers that feel that if there is a single person within a 100 metre radius that just possibly might not understand Welsh, they’d had better speak English just in case? It’s NOT RUDE to speak your own language in your own country!

If you are dealing with customers, and one comes along that doesn’t speak Welsh, fine – speak to them in English, or French, or Polish, or whatever language that you might have in common. The idea of customer service is to respect the customer and give them the best service you can, isn’t it? And if they speak Welsh, then Welsh it is! Too bad if the customer standing behind them in the line doesn’t understand. What business is it of theirs anyway?

I’ve had Welsh speakers tell me that they couldn’t speak Welsh to me in the workplace because there were English speakers there – not visitors to Wales, but people who were born and bred in Wales, or had lived here for many years. My attitude to that is simple. If they are living in Wales and they have chosen not to learn Welsh, then they have chosen to exclude themselves from an important part of Welsh society. If they’re happy with that, fine. I would be the last person to force someone else to learn a language, but they must understand the consequences of their choice.

THEY have chosen to exclude themselves. THEY have chosen to remain outside the wonderful cultural experiences that open themselves to people that can speak the language. And having made that choice, they can’t insist that other people change their way of speaking just for them!

Windows 10 by stealth?

I meant to take up Microsoft’s offer of a free upgrade to Windows 10 before the deadline ran out, I really did, but somehow life got in the way and I just didn’t get around to it.

So here I am still with Windows 7, but an interesting thing is happening. Since July 29th – the DEADLINE for the free upgrade – every single time I turn off my computer it applies an update and I get that “Do not switch of your computer” message. I’m used to Microsoft updates coming through with reasonable frequency, but EVERY time? That just seems a bit too much of a coincidence to me.

Has Microsoft decided not to take ‘No’ for an answer and just secretly upgrade me anyway? Will I one day soon switch on my computer and be welcomed to Windows 10? Watch this space!

A year of challenges

World HandsSo 2016 isn’t quite working out the way I had planned – not even remotely close!

On a personal level, I’ve had to deal with my brother disappearing off the face of the earth – 5 months now since anyone saw or heard anything of him – and a totally unexpected health issue of my own. I’m not out of the woods yet – several months of treatment still to come – but I’m feeling fit and positive and thinking about how I can best make use of my time while I’m not able to be out and about a lot.

And what do I love to do? Yes, learn languages – and I don’t need to be out and about for that, thanks to the amazing Internet. I just have to discipline myself to concentrate on one language and stop flitting from one to another like the proverbial Schmetterling  …. yes, Deutsch it is for now. I keep letting it slide, so no excuses! Time to ramp it up a notch and organise some over-the-internet conversations.

But on a non-personal level, what a mess 2016 is turning out to be.

As if the Brexit shambles weren’t enough, we now have the prospect of the government of one of the most powerful countries on the earth being headed by Donald Trump. I can’t really believe it could come to pass, that so many decent, intelligent human beings could vote for such an ignorant, bigoted man, but then I didn’t believe so many people here would want to turn their back on Europe either, and that happened.

I was reading a statement by Stephen Hawking earlier this week, that the attitude that Brexit exemplifies could lead to the end of the humanity. A bit drastic, you might think, but I get where he’s coming from. Brexit and Trump supporters are not dissimilar in their “I’m all right, Jack” attitude. Neighbouring countries are having problems? Well, let’s just pull up the drawbridge, or build a wall, and pretend they are nothing to do with us.

The world is facing global issues on a scale it has never faced before. Human beings are changing the environment to such an extent that we are slowly making our planet uninhabitable. Selfish, bigoted, “I’m right and the rest of you are all wrong” attitudes are dominating in many places of the world.

The inward-looking attitudes we see portrayed by Brexit and Trump are reflections of what is happening on a more violent scale in many other places, leading to a global refugee problem. In the past countries like the US and the UK were seen as safe havens, places where traumatized families could start again and work hard to build their lives and contribute to their new country. Not any more. Sadly, too many doors are being shut in their faces. Where are they to go?

We can only solve global issues by working together. We need to be cooperating, communicating, supporting each other, finding solutions together. If we don’t, Stephen Hawking’s prediction could well come true, and it may be the only way that the world will be saved. Human beings may no longer be around to see it, and it might take a very long while for the nuclear radiation to die down, but eventually the planet will recover. It just might not have any people on it.

Tschüß.

 

Thoughts on Brexit

Europe

Although I consider myself originally a Kiwi, I spent many, many years in Australia. I lived in major cities like Sydney and Perth, and I lived in small, remote mining communities like Weipa. What I observed everywhere was that there appeared to be at least three parallel societies within the country as a whole.

There was a vibrant, multicultural, mostly born overseas, group of people that rejoiced in their diversity and genuinely enjoyed being together, celebrating each other’s festivals and feeling part of a wider international community. It was a delight to sit around a dinner table and discover that almost everyone there had been born in a different country, adding their own unique cultural background to the mix. Our ‘pot luck’ meals were fantastic! That was MY Australia.

Then there was a group that wanted to turn the clock back – to return to the White Australia policy of the past, to harden their hearts and deny compassion to desperate people fleeing unconscionable violence in their homelands, a group that were suspicious of anyone slightly different, that wanted to obliterate any cultural differences and insist on uniformity based on their own views. They were vociferous in their intolerance, and this was the group that the politicians sought to woo whenever it came to elections, pandering to racist tendencies and narrow minded attitudes. These people did not represent my Australia and sickened me.

The third parallel society was that of the indigenous people who struggle to have a voice and are mostly pushed into the shadows. They have an incredibly long and proud history, and I sincerely hope they will one day also have a future they can be proud of, though sadly I can’t see it happening any time soon.

Geographically, Australia lies off the shores of Asia. When Australians want to go on holiday, they buy a plane ticket and off they go – to Bali, to Malaysia, to Thailand – and all they have to worry about is what clothes to pack and how much dutyfree they can bring back.

When citizens of those Asian countries want to visit Australia though, it’s not so simple. My brother has a Thai partner who has to jump through hoops if she wants to visit him in Australia – a trip to the Embassy, showing all her bank account and business details, paying a significant sum for a visa, all under the scrutiny of a suspicious Immigration official who doubts everything she says. What gives Australians the right to travel freely to their neighbouring countries, while citizens of those countries are denied reciprocal rights?

So where am I going with this?

Well, one of the reasons I moved to Wales was that it was part of Europe. I saw it as a place that was proud of its own history, culture and language but was also proud to take its place amongst a group of neighbouring nations that were intent on moving closer together and building mutual respect and consideration.

To me the European Union represents the relationship that Australia should be having with its neighbours. Yes, it’s not perfect and there are obvious areas of bureaucracy that need to be streamlined and sorted out, but we should be doing that for the benefit of all, not just for the benefit of the UK.

I cringed every time I read that the UK was asking for special consideration and to be different to everyone else. Why? The whole focus of the Leave campaign seemed to be what do WE get out of it? It was reflecting the attitude prevalent in the second group of Australians mentioned above.

Well, I’m sorry, but I tend to look at it the other way round.

What can we contribute that will lead to an increased benefit for all? How can we add our skills and create a more unified and stable region, while encouraging and supporting diversity like the myriad of minority languages that exist within the member countries? How can we, as a group of diverse nations, be a shining example to the rest of the world showing that differences can be overcome and we can all work together for the better good?

I don’t know what the next few months hold, but I feel a sense of great sadness. Politicians with their own agenda have yet again manipulated large numbers of people by appealing to their basest instincts and feeding them misinformation. Welsh voters have had facts about the real effect on Wales totally obliterated by the hysteria in some of the English press. Our politicans have let us down by not making sure that all Welsh people made a decision based on accurate information, not emotional harping back to some glorious imagined past.

“Give us our country back?” – when, in the last 500 years, did Wales actually belong to the Welsh?

 

 

Making progress

polyglot

One of the aspects of learning more than one language that I have found difficult over the years is being able to jump from one language to another.

A while back I described the frustrating experience of happily speaking Welsh with friends and neighbours one week, having an Esperanto-speaking visitor come to stay for a few days, then opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish whenever anyone spoke to me in Welsh as my brain had completely switched into Esperanto and refused to go back!

I went to the Polyglot Gathering this time last year in Berlin, and my head was swirling – words from different languages jumbling themselves up in my brain so I didn’t know what language to speak at all!

What to do about it?

After giving it some thought I realised, of course, that the only way to master any skill is to practise it. If I wanted to be able to swap easily from one language to another, then that’s what I needed to practise. So I set about forcing my brain to cooperate: reading in Esperanto while listening to the radio in Welsh, sitting down to a Duolingo session practising one language after another, reading in one language and thinking how I would say that in another … and slowly, slowly it started to work.

It felt like my brain was physically resisting at first, then some kind of barrier went down – or perhaps a different neural pathway opened up – and all of a sudden it became a whole lot easier.

Spanish guests

Today I put my new skill to the test. After a whole week immersed in Welsh helping to run a SaySomethinginWelsh.com ‘bootcamp’ in Tresaith, I came home and welcomed Spanish-speaking AirBnB guests. We started chatting in English, discussing language learning in general – a common interest. I was asked about Esperanto and was able to produce a few Esperanto sentences without too much thought.

Then we decided to switch into Spanish! I was a bit rusty at first, but I didn’t have that ‘concrete in the head that won’t budge’ feeling that I used to get trying to swap, and lo and behold, the Spanish came flooding back and there I was chatting away in Spanish! Was I pleased with myself! Lucia is keen to improve her English so we’ve agreed to have language exchange sessions over Skype moving forward, selecting a topic beforehand so we can both research the vocabulary we need, then spending 15 minutes or so discussing the topic in one language, then the other.

And after my guests left, I immediately went back to thinking in Welsh! I might not be in the same category as some of the polyglots I’ve met, but I feel like I’ve climbed another rung of the ladder, and I’m definitely not slipping back down!

Cwcis – unrhyw un?

plate-of-cookies-clipart-2

Oes ‘na unrhyw un yn y byd ar lein sy ddim yn gwybod am gwcis? Unrhyw un sy ddim yn deall bod bron pob gwefan yn eu defnyddio i gadw tipyn bach o wybodaeth ar eich cyfrifiadur neu liniadur neu ffôn symudol clyfar er mwyn iddyn nhw wybod pwy ydych chi pan ewch chi’n ôl i’r un wefan?

Neu ydyn ni môr dwp bod rhaid i ni ddarllen tro ar ôl tro, gwefan ar ôl gwefan, bod nhw’n defnyddio cwcis, taw rhywbeth bach a diogel ydyn nhw, a digwyddith dim byd dychrynllyd os derbyniwn ni’r cwcis ‘na?

Wythnos ‘ma es i i un wefan ac yn syth daeth neges am y cwcis defnyddiwyd ynddi. Roedd rhaid i fi gau’r neges er mwyn darllen y wefan ond yr eiliad nesaf daeth neges arall i ddiolch i fi am dderbyn y cwcis! Pam?

Beth am i ni i gyd llofnodi rhywbeth sy’n dweud “Ydw, dw i’n derbyn cwcis arferol” fel rhan o ddechrau defnyddio porwr am y tro cyntaf, a chreu rhyw ddeddf sy’n mynnu bod rhaid i’r porwyr eu hunain sicrhau bod y cwcis yn ddiogel?

Dw i wedi cael llond bol o’r cwcis ‘ma!

And it just keeps raining!

It’s taken seven and a half years, but I think I might have reached saturation point when it comes to rain in Wales, if you see what I mean.

rain on pine needles

When I first arrived, back in 2008, it was after years of living in rain-deprived Western Australia, so it didn’t matter how much it rained – I was delighted! It was such a novelty to don my raincoat, unfurl my umbrella, and stride out into the tranquil greyness of what the weather forecast described as “heavy rain”, but to me – used to tropical downpours – it was more like persistent falling mist.

It felt gentle, soothing, and peaceful, and I loved strolling through places like Cardiff’s Bute Park, smelling the dampness of the earth and watching squirrels running for cover.

Lying in bed at night, listening to the rain on the roof, I felt very cosy and secure, a relaxing feeling.

Even when I first came to Llandysul and started going on longer walks in the countryside, replete with waterproof trousers, heavy walking boots, mittens, and a jacket zipped up to my chin, the rain didn’t bother me. It made the ground softer, the greenness of the leaves, mosses and lichens brighter and fresher, and added to the feeling of being at one with the beautiful Welsh countryside.

But I suppose everyone reaches their limit sometime. Could we have just one day sometime soon when it doesn’t rain, please?

Fun with Speaky

Speaky
It had to happen! Duolingo has the cute green owl, the Welsh version is hoping to have Dewi-lingo, a cute red dragon (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and now I’ve come across Speaky. Is it a bird? Is it penguin? Who knows? But Speaky is the character that represents a language exchange website that lets you find language ‘buddies’ for free and start practising your languages.

I thought I’d sign up today and have a look around to see what it offered.

I created my login and was asked to select the language/s I was learning and the language/s I spoke as a native speaker. As an aspiring Polyglot I chose Spanish, French, German and Esperanto as the former, and English and Welsh as the latter. You never know – I might find someone learning and wanting to practise Welsh!

Within 10 seconds a message popped up – “Hola” – and it was someone in Costa Rica happy to help me practise my Spanish. I didn’t expect that so quickly, but we chatted away using written Spanish for a few minutes, before I needed to think about other things such as cooking dinner and signed off again.

Next time I’ll make sure I have a bit more time available and explore some of the other options, like the voice chat. It seems the ‘live chat’ is still in Beta, but the interface is very user-friendly and it certainly seems like a great option for improving conversational ability in another language without the expense of actually going there.

Definitely worth a try!

Waiting for Infinity

Not Yet - Keep Waiting

On 6 August, Ofcom, the independent authority for the UK communications industry, announced that Wales is ahead of Scotland and Northern Ireland when it comes to superfast fibre broadband rollout.

The report states that 79% of premises can now receive fibre broadband (up to 30 Mbps). As my current download speed is 7.07 Mbps on a good day, that would be wonderful! Though it’s better than the alternative standard BT Broadband I was offered as a consolation.

A look at the top ten countries for internet speed around the world shows South Korea at number one with an average of 22.2 Mbps, so anything approaching 30 Mbps sounds fairly good in comparison (as long as you ignore some UK companies who offer packages of 50Mb, 100Mb and even 152Mb!)

The Superfast Cymru vision calls for “all homes and businesses across Wales [to] have access to fast fibre broadband” and aims to supply this capability to 96% of premises by 2016. A look at the rollout map shows that Llandysul is definitely in the “Superfast Cymru Intervention Area” which is good news, and some areas of the town have been given fibre capability.
Llandysul Exchange Sept 14, 2015

 

But 64% of us are still waiting for our cabinet to be converted with no indication of when that will be. The Superfast Cymru website lets you enter landline and postcode details to keep an eye on progress, but this is what I get when I enter my landline number:Check landline number

 

And when I enter my postcode … above not below as the message says:

Postcode Checker

 

An online chat with an advisor from BT confirmed that not only do I not have fibre capability to my property yet, they can’t tell me when it’s likely, and I really don’t like the sound of 2019 as mentioned in the chat log below:BT Conversation

A total of 45,887 Welsh premises, however, have been identified as being “not in scope” to receive this provision and they will fall under the Superfast Cymru Infill Project to supply them with an alternative means to achieve fast speed internet connection. This project will take three years to complete and Phase One is yet to begin. Is that part of the plan to be completed by 2019?

The Ofcom report also looked at the situation with mobile phone coverage, given that increasing numbers of people are using their smartphone for internet access. This is especially popular where 4G services are available, but Wales has the lowest 4G coverage of any of the devolved nations.

In west Wales, ANY consistent coverage would be welcome. While urban areas boast close to 95% 4G connectivity, it is not uncommon for visitors to the west to find they have NO mobile phone signal – not 4G, not 3G, NOTHING! This is a huge disadvantage for businesses in the area and makes a joke of the Welsh government’s desire to see Wales as a digital nation.

If Wales is to go ahead as a modern country we need to ensure that people can stay living in rural areas, running their businesses online and competing in a digital world. We need to keep people living and working in small towns, provide exciting opportunities for young graduates to return to their communities, and boost the economic situation of rural Wales but we can’t do it with a broadband service that is slow and unreliable and a mobile phone service that’s a joke.