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Scientist studies Welsh during Antarctica expedition

Scientist studies Welsh during Antarctica expedition

A climate change scientist from Aberystwyth University who spent Christmas Day in Antarctica, was glad to be able to keep up with her Welsh while on expedition, despite very limited internet access.

Katie Miles, who is originally from London, has been learning Welsh twice a week since 2020, with Learn Welsh Ceredigion-Powys-Sir Gâr, which is run by Aberystwyth University on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.   

Katie was keen to practise her Welsh during the eight weeks she spent working at the Rothera research station and on Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, where she was part of a project that looked at the way ice shelves break up, and contribute to rising sea levels. 

She enjoyed using the Welsh course on Duolingo, and had also downloaded BBC Radio Cymru’s ‘Podlediad Pigion y Dysgwyr’ (Highlights for Welsh Learners Podcast), which she was able to listen to out in the deep field, where there is no internet access at all.

Katie decided to learn Welsh so she could speak the language with friends and colleagues, as she explains;

‘‘I wanted to be able to chat with my friends, as I knew that they switched to English when I was around.  I also wanted to be able to use some Welsh at work, and I try to use it when I can.  Speaking to friends and colleagues in their native language and understanding so much more around me as my Welsh improves, is a wonderful feeling.’’

This was Katie’s first visit to Antarctica and she is hoping to go to East Antarctica for a similar research project later this year.  She loved every minute of the trip;

‘‘The flight home got delayed due to icebergs blocking the runway, and so we had to spend Christmas Day at the research station.  We were of course sad not to be at home with family, but everyone was so lovely.  We were taken out skiing in the morning, sang carols on the helideck of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, saw penguins, and had an amazing Christmas dinner later in the day.’’

Since returning to Aberystwyth, Katie has made the most of every opportunity to practise speaking Welsh and regularly meets up with her mentor, Caroline White;

‘‘Meeting Caroline once a fortnight has done wonders for my confidence, whether we practise things from class, go over past exam papers, or just chat.  She is so encouraging and was a great help when I was preparing for my Learn Welsh exam.  I’m so grateful to Caroline for giving me her time and for supporting me on this journey.’’

Caroline White added;

‘‘I love our catch ups and seeing how much Katie’s Welsh language skills develop.  She is so conscientious and even submitted her homework before leaving for the trip in case she fell behind.  We started meeting up during lockdown and met for the first time at the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron.  It’s lovely to be able to meet face to face now and support Katie with her Learn Welsh journey.’’