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Parallel Cymru: An Interview With Neil Rowlands

2018-04-29
By: AmeriCymru
Posted in: Guest Articles

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Designing over coffee square.jpgAmeriCymru: Hi Neil and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your online magazine Parallel.cymru for our readers?

Neil: Shw mae Ceri! Great to be here on AmeriCymru- gwych i fod yma ar AmeriCymru. I'd be delighted to share with your readers more about parallel.cymru. Parallel.cymru is a digital magazine that presents articles about Wales and Welsh life in a unique format- each article is bilingual, with side by side Welsh and English (in parallel) . There are many Welsh-language magazines and books, but only a proportion of Welsh speakers feel comfortable reading them. The parallel.cymru presentation makes reading Welsh accessible to all- even for those who don't speak Welsh!

I publish first-person perspective articles by people who are doing things that in some way relate to Wales. Lots of authors have contributed about how and why they wrote their books; there are many articles about the history and development of Wales and the Welsh language; scientists have explained their subject in an accessible way; Welsh learners have shared their experiences; I've also put resources such as grammar and pronunciation guides on it. Unlike traditional magazines I don't take content off, so there's heaps more to explore.

Some of the highlights for a North American audience include:

Diplomat Shelley Hughes: What the Welsh Government office in North America does

Duolingo: Welsh for English Speakers course celebrates 1 million users

New York state's Michelle Fecio: Resources for International learners

Aberystwyth's Nicky Roberts: Learning Welsh with Say Something in Welsh

The History & Development of the Welsh language

For those of you who are fluent in Welsh, the magazine will give you unique and interesting content to read; for those who are learning Welsh, it is the best way to improve your reading skills while based outside of Wales, and for those who aren't familiar with the language, the English adaptations will allow you to enjoy discovering more about Welsh life and culture.

I forgot two things- all content is, and will remain, free for all to read; and it is available on any web browser, on any device, anywhere in the world.

AmeriCymru: What is the philosophy behind the site? What is its mission statement?

Neil: As an active Welsh learner, I found that making the step up from learner-specific materials to fully-fluent books and magazines to be difficult. When you have a limited vocabulary, constantly looking words up in dictionaries takes the enjoyment out of reading. Through speaking to many other users of the Welsh language, I realised that people experience the language on a spectrum of abilities; there isn't a black/white fluent/non-fluent division. However, it is not just learners who have a need for accessible content; many first language speakers don't use the language enough to read regularly, and also thousands of people all over the world aren't catered for by existing Welsh media. The digital aspect of the magazine and accessible presentation solves all of those problems.

The aim is to help everyone, whatever their ability, to enjoy reading in Welsh. The magazine contains good quality, interesting and unique content, and someone with a PhD in Welsh literature can read the same article as someone learning through AmeriCymru.

AmeriCymru: What resources do you provide for beginning Welsh learners?

Neil: Articles are arranged by the level of language. So they are grouped into the registers Simple, Informal, Formal and Literary, plus a section of items that are of specific interest to learners. This means that a relatively new learner can read a Simple article and not have to look at the English often. Welsh is traditionally written using an older form; spoken Welsh has evolved over the centuries and has a simpler and lighter approach. However not many publications reproduce spoken Welsh on the page or the screen; the Simple and Informal sections do this, so that people can read those without having to have learnt formal Welsh.

I've got a series of articles and news items that are in Simple Welsh only- without English- but with tooltips (i.e. hover over a word) to get the translation. I'm very pleased to host a grammar guide by Mark Stonelake . Mark has prepared Welsh for Adults courses in the Swansea Bay area for 20 years, and is an expert on the subject. He has also taught many courses in North America itself. I've presented his grammar work in bite-sized, themed sections that are sequenced in the order that they are taught. They have also been translated so that proficient leaners can read the Welsh version; there is also a search box to make it easy to find the item you want to learn or recap. This is not a course in itself, but it is a great supplementary resource to an existing learning method.

A volunteer, Huw Rowlands (no relation), also narrates many articles; those are denoted by the microphone symbol in the menu. This allows people to listen to the article and match how it is spoken to how it is written. This is particularly useful to people who don't have a lot of opportunity to hear the language, such as the enthusiastic AmeriCymru learners.

Swansea Castle square.jpgAmeriCymru: How might intermediate and advanced learners use the site?

Neil: For those with more confidence in the language the challenge is to read the Welsh and only check the English if there is a word or meaning that you don't understand. It is tempting to read the English and glance at the Welsh, as that feels much easier than taking longer to process and decipher the Welsh. However, being resolved that you will stick to the Welsh as much as possible will allow the content to be a learning resource instead of just a relaxing item to read. Most articles also have a PDF version to download at the bottom of each item, so people can print them off and write on them, share electronically, or use in a classroom setting.

There is a range of resources suitable for confident learners, such an overview of novels and books for learners , an online dictionary and pronunciation guide , themed glossaries and a weekly collection of Welsh-related weblinks.

AmeriCymru: For the general reader what aspects of Welsh life and culture are explored on Parallel.cymru?

Neil: Life itself is random and irregular, and parallel.cymru content reflects that. While common themes are grouped under menus with other, each article represents what one person or group is doing with the language. In the last week of April I published an article about an 85-year old skydiver , a new Welsh-language meditation app , an update from the Chief Executive of the National Eisteddfod (100 days to go until Cardiff Bay in August!), a 110-question quiz by Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society), a sports column about a rugby game  and an article reflecting on Swansea's contribution and losses in World War One .

AmeriCymru: How would readers go about preparing an article for the site? What is the selection process? What are the criteria?

Neil: One of the unique aspects of parallel.cymru is its emphasis on first-person perspective content, and this opens the content, style of writing, subject matter and access to being published to a much wider range of people than a traditional magazine can offer. There is a range of publishing options; most people write something from scratch; some may adapt other writings or create a concise presentation of their work; others will create a Welsh version of an item they have published in an English-language publication such as The Conversation .

Some people have interesting things to write about, but don't have the confidence to prepare a full article in Welsh; in that case I suggest they write what they can in Welsh to set out their voice and complete the English side, and I will organise a volunteer to complete the Welsh side. All articles are proofread prior to publication, so people don't need to be concerned about using perfect grammar.

The first step would be to drop me an email on parallel.cymru@gmail.com and say what you had an interest in writing about. The next step would be to consider what register of the language you'd feel comfortable writing in: Simple, Informal, Formal or Literary. I'd also suggest considering what do you want the reader to know or do after reading it- what are the key take-aways?

As this is an online-only publication, I don't have target publication dates or set word counts; this means that contributors can enjoy the process of writing, and whether that takes a week or 3 months is OK with me.

When receiving the article, I'd also like images to use and web links to your digital properties. I'll then format the article and organise proof reading, prepare an introductory paragraph and header image and then send a private link to you to look over. Once the article is signed off it will go live with a unique URL for you to share with your network!

You know, I don't have a particular selection criteria. While high-profile individuals and well-known organisations have contributed, all articles get the same home-page space. Learners who have never written in Welsh before have had an article published next to people with 100,000 Twitter followers. People who wouldn't normally have an outlet to share their work/experience/stories with the world have been read more than people who have published books and appear on TV/radio regularly, because what they have written about is unique and not available anywhere else.

So if you have ideas about preparing an item or writing a quiz, there's no reason to be shy- get in touch!

AmeriCymru: What's next for Parallel.cymru? How do you see the site developing?

Neil: As I'm working full time and operating parallel.cymru in my spare time, I have a limited amount of time available to work on the site. My main aims over 2018 are to continue sourcing unique content and to make the magazine more well-known. I've been working with the National Centre for Learning Welsh , the Conversation and the Welsh Books Council  recently, so I'll be enhancing those and seeking more partnerships. I've recently started putting quizzes on the site , and would like to do more inventive things where language and technology intersect. I could use a couple more volunteers to help with translation and ensuring high standards of Welsh language. From a content point of view, I'd like to establish regular columns on subjects such as sports, cookery, healthy & beauty, travel etc (but no politics). I've lined up going to lots of events to promote the site such as Welsh for Adults courses, Cardiff's Tafwyl  and the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay. I'm working on an iOS app at the moment and I've registered the venture as a non-for-profit company. The long term goal is to develop commercial partnerships that allow me to devote more time to the site.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Neil: The number of people in North America with an interest in Welsh life, language and culture is large, and the enthusiasm for this small and damp, yet beautiful and charming part of world is remarkable. On behalf of everyone in Wales, thank you for your time and interest in us; and particular thanks to those who are learning the language through AmeriCymru or other methods. If you are learning Welsh, don't get worried about mutations and other grammar complexities; just use the language as much as you can, and if you ever get a chance to pop over here and visit, go for it!

Please enjoy reading parallel.cymru, and if you have suggestions or ideas for contributions, do get in touch with me on parallel.cymru@gmail.com.

Ceri Shaw
04/29/18 10:11:49PM @ceri-shaw:
Many thanks for a superb interview Neil Wink

I wanted to take this opportunity to say that I think the site is excellent and will prove to be an invaluable resource to Welsh learners of all levels. Certainly I intend to use it regularly and recommend that others do also.


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