“I Can Learn Welsh in a Week”
by James McCarthy, Wales On Sunday
AN AUTISTIC man who picked up Welsh from road signs and children’s books during a two-week holiday has boasted: “I could learn it in a week.”
Genius Daniel Paul Tammet hopes one day to speak at the Eisteddfod and perhaps even win the coveted learner’s prize.
The linguist and writer, who lives in Avignon, in the south of France, discovered the tongue when he visited Blaenau Ffestiniog for a break in Snowdonia.
Mr. Tammet, 29, a Londoner, also has synaesthesia, which can affect language learning.
He said: “I saw the road signs in Welsh and saw all the public conveniences were in Welsh and it struck me as a beautiful language. I was told that was where Welsh was spoken widely, where it really thrived. So I got a dictionary and bought some children’s books in Welsh and read them, and enjoyed them.”
Mr. Tammet has also taught himself French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic and Esperanto. He has also invented his own language called Mänti.
He said it took him “not very long” to pick up Welsh during his visit.
He managed to learn Icelandic against the clock in a week for a Five documentary.
“In terms of Welsh it was little by little,” he said. “Every time I got hold of a Welsh person I would tease out as many words as I could. People are always frightened of a language like Welsh because it looks and sounds so different.
“But there is a lot in it that’s not so different. There is a lot of beauty in there and logic. It’s just a different kind of logic.
“There’s no reason why I could not pick up Welsh as quickly as I did Icelandic. It’s a case of exposure. ”
Ffred Ffrancis, of Welsh Language Society Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, said: “I’ve no idea about his system of learning, but it exemplifies that it’s no big deal learning a language and we should overcome the mental block in Wales and Britain about other languages.”
Aran Jones, chief executive of fellow campaigners Cymuned, said: “We shouldn’t look at Daniel and say ‘we can be like that’ but we should look at him and say ‘learning a language need not be that difficult’.”
Daniel Tammet’s new book Embracing the Wide Sky was published last week by Hodder & Stoughton.
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