Final four in Welsh learner of the year unveiled

On Saturday, after a long day of competing, organisers announced the names of the four individuals who have reached the final round in this year’s Welsh Learner of the Year competition.

Twenty nine people competed for the coveted prize at this year’s Blaenau Gwent and Heads of the Valleys National Eisteddfod, and this is the highest number of entrants in the competition’s history, with entries from all over Wales, England, and Patagonia and Belgium.

The four who reached the final round are Shirley Cottam, Julia Hawkins, Helen Price and Dai Williams.

Originally from Manchester, Shirley Cottam now lives in Aberystwyth.  She was inspired to learn Welsh by her ten year old son, JJ, who has worked hard to learn Welsh himself, and who has now transferred from an English medium school to the local Welsh school.  Shirley says, “When I moved to Aberystwyth I saw – and heard – the language everywhere, and I felt that I had to learn Welsh.”

Julia Hawkins is from Crickhowell, a few miles from this year’s Eisteddfod Maes.  Her former Welsh teacher at school, Carys Whelan, was Julia’s inspiration to learn Welsh.  She says, “I felt strongly that it was important for me to be able to bring up my children through the medium of Welsh.  Ioan is now seven years old, and the twins, Manon and Erin, are now three years old.”

Helen Price from Black wood, in this year’s festival’s catchment area, was inspired to learn Welsh by her grandfather from Senghennydd, and her story is typical of so many in the area.  “Mamgu and Tadcu spoke Welsh, but like so many people of my generation, I couldn’t.  I felt that there was something missing in my life, so I started learning Welsh.”

Dai Williams from Ystalyfera has travelled the world, and it was while he was travelling he realised that he wanted to learn Welsh.  He says, “I heard so many different languages whilst travelling, but I couldn’t speak my own language.  I was inspired by my friend Pedro, from Spain, a teacher in Thailand who had learnt English and Thai, and this made me decide to learn Welsh.”

Almost a hundred people attended an activities-packed day held at Ysgol Glyncoed in Ebbw Vale.  The highlight of the day was the interviews with those who reached the shortlist after the morning’s first round.  Geraint Wilson-Price, Chair of the 2010 Eisteddfod Learners’ Committee, was delighted with this year’s competition, when he spoke following Saturday’s event:

“The standard today has been extremely high, and we’ve had a very enjoyable day.  The successful four were excellent, and will undoubtedly inspire many others to learn Welsh. Everyone’s experiences were so different and interesting, and all the competitors had their own reasons for wanting to learn Welsh.

“Today’s winners fully deserve  to reach the final which will be held during the week of the Eisteddfod.  We look forward to seeing them again, and we thank everyone who entered this year’s competition and those who took part in all the activities today.”

The competition is part of the Blaenau Gwent and Heads of the Valleys National Eisteddfod, which will be held in The Works, Ebbw Vale from 31 July – 7 August this year.

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