Cerys Paschali, originally from Dinas Powys, has spent most of her adult life living abroad, including Dubai for the last 18 years.
Back in April 2020, at the beginning of the first lockdown, she was on her own with her three sons in Dubai, as her husband was unable to return from a business trip to London for three months. Cerys decided to do something to take her mind off her difficult situation and started to learn Welsh.
Fourteen months on, and she is now a confident Welsh speaker, having taken every opportunity to learn and enjoy the language.
Growing up, Cerys attended English-medium schools, starting at Saint Andrew’s Church in Wales School in Dinas Powys and then St Cyres Comprehensive School in Penarth. She started learning Welsh in secondary school, but when she had to choose two languages to study further, she chose German and French.
Cerys says, “At the time, I thought of Welsh as a dusty language, irrelevant to the future I envisaged for myself in the shiny cities of Paris and Berlin. So I dropped Welsh. It took 20 years for me to regret that decision, and another 20 years for me to do something about it!”
Cerys has to go back to her great grandmother on her mother’s side to find a Welsh speaker in the family. She suspects her parents, after they married and moved to Cardiff, deliberately distanced themselves from the language.
She says, “My mother is originally from Tonypandy and my father from Maesteg and I think that they, like many in their generation, were trying hard to create a better life for themselves - I don’t think the Welsh language was relevant to this new life.”
Cerys was inspired to start learning Welsh by daily bitesize Welsh lessons broadcast live on the Facebook page of the National Centre for Learning Welsh during the first lockdown. Since then, Cerys has attended numerous online virtual classes provided by the Centre’s course providers.
Cerys explains, “I started formal lessons with Learn Welsh The Vale, one of the Centre's providers. I remember sitting next to the computer waiting for my tutor to call... I had no idea about Zoom and Teams and so on! Strange to think how much has changed in a year and that these are all now second nature to us.
“To be honest, I've started 'travelling' around south Wales with the courses - an intensive summer course with Learn Welsh Cardiff, another course with Learn Welsh Gwent and now I'm taking a course with Learn Welsh Glamorgan at Advanced level, for experienced learners.”
Cerys hopes to return to Wales when her youngest son finishes school in five years and looks forward to embracing the language in her home country.
She said; “I’ve spent most of my life living in foreign countries (Germany as a student, then Belgium, Dubai, and back and forth to Cyprus). I love living through a foreign language, seeing the world through different eyes.
“How lucky I am now that I’ve learnt Welsh to be able to come home to everything that’s familiar, where people know how to say my name (I can stop being Seris), but still have the thrill of not living in my mother tongue, still have that edge of difference.
“I have so much of Welsh history and culture that we were never taught in school to discover - even the TV and radio personalities are new to me. I look forward to it very much.”