A Welsh learner from Belgium, who was mistakenly informed at school that all Celtic languages were in decline, now speaks Welsh and hopes to make Wales his home one day.
Tom Peeters who lives in Attenrode, near Brussels, first heard about Welsh in school. Tom’s teacher told him that Welsh, and all other Celtic languages were in decline, and only spoken by elderly people in rural areas.
Years later, after seeing a Welsh Bible in a London bookshop, he took an interest in the language.
Tom explains: ‘‘At school I learnt French, German, Dutch and English, and one day had to write an article about the Celtic languages. I was made to believe that Welsh was in decline, until I stumbled upon this Welsh Bible in London. I’m so glad I did, as I’ve since learnt that an exciting and vibrant Welsh culture exists in Wales, and that my teacher was wrong.’’
Tom started learning Welsh with Duolingo in 2017. In 2020, during the pandemic, he joined a Learn Welsh course held in a virtual classroom. Tom now follows an Intermediate level course with Learn Welsh The Vale, which is run by the Vale of Glamorgan Council on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.
Tom visits Wales every summer, and is currently looking forward to returning mid-June to sit his Intermediate level exam.
Tom says: ‘‘After the exam, I want to travel to west Wales, and visit St David’s in particular. I’ve visited south and north Wales before, so I’m keen to discover what the west has to offer. One of my favourite places is Caerphilly Castle, especially at sunset. I also like Caernarfon, and was mesmerized when I heard a group of children speaking Welsh together there once.’’
Tom does his best to use his Welsh outside the class, as he explains: ‘‘I’ve read Welsh novels for children, titles from the Amdani series for Welsh learners, and my favourite, Plygain Olaf, a detective novel based in rural Montgomeryshire. I’ve recently bought The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales, and I’ve already learnt a lot from it. My goal is to be able to read Welsh books, without needing to use a dictionary.’’
Tom also watches S4C, listens to BBC Radio Cymru and joins monthly Sadwrn Siarad sessions to chat to other learners online. Last year, his visit to Wales coincided with Cardiff’s Welsh language festival, Tafwyl, and he wants to gain enough confidence to be able to visit and understand everything at next year’s National Eisteddfod.
Tom added: ‘‘I gained so much from visiting Tafwyl last year, I would love to be able to visit the National Eisteddfod next year and speak Welsh all day, every day. My ultimate goal is to retire to Wales when the time comes, so watch this space!’’