The American Learning Welsh in Ecuador: An Interview with David Shallenberger

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Saint David June 24, 2020

Meet Professor David Shallenberger – a semi-retired professor from the US, now living in Cuenca, Ecuador. While working full-time, David ran study abroad programs and taught interdisciplinary social sciences (mostly around intercultural topics). Now retired, he spends time pursuing his passion: languages.

We caught up with David to find out more!

Can you introduce yourself and tell as a little about your background?

That’s always a flexibly fun question. I am a semi-retired international educator, formerly of Vermont (USA) and now living in Cuenca, Ecuador. I live here with my partner of 30 years, Harvey, and our 23-year-old son, Carlos, still lives in Vermont.

I have worked in the field of study abroad and non-traditional education for some four decades, and done a smattering of other jobs along the way.

My work and my passion for getting to know other cultures has given me the opportunity to travel to over 100 countries, and to live for substantial periods in Brazil, Peru, Hong Kong, and Spain, in addition to Ecuador. It’s also introduced me to scores of languages, most of which I tried to learn – at least a bit.

How did you discover the Welsh language?

While I’ve been exposed to it for a long time, I feel like I really discovered it watching TV. I’d watch shows that had some Welsh dialogue and I’d try to make some sense of what I was hearing. In one show, there was a character named “Llew”, and I listened carefully multiple times to try to figure out the “ll” sound. That sent me to Wikipedia, other web sites, and finally Duolingo. And it’s been a sort of circular process. I’d study a bit of Welsh, then I’d be watching TV, and another word or sound intrigued me. I’d listen for “rh” for example. I struggled for a while with the “f” being pronounced like an English “v” and one day it “took” when I heard it being used on TV.

It’s hard to get Welsh radio here in Ecuador, but when I do get to listen to it, I just let it wash over me. I don’t understand much yet, but being “bathed” in Welsh is helpful.

“I kept hearing and seeing the Welsh language and wanted to learn more about how the f*** the language was pronounced.”

David Shallenberger

What was your experience like learning it, and what resources did you find most helpful?

I’ve been relying on Duolingo for my basic course. DL is fun. I never thought I’d be talking so much about red dragons and Owen’s parsnips. But then I turn to other resources to strengthen my use and understanding. For example, I found a comprehensive list of mutations (what they were, when to use them) in a text which I downloaded a sample of. And I’m making word lists and grammar charts.

I’m also reading “Coed y Brenin” and an issue of “Lingo Newydd” (downloaded on “ap Golwyg”). And I rely on the dictionary app “Ap Geriarduron”.

And I’m watching TV shows that take place in Wales and have some Welsh language dialogue, like “Hidden” and “Bang”.

I also keep a Welsh Pinterest board. It’s got about 45 pins so far.

What’s your favourite word or phrase?

I just love the sound of the Welsh language! Growing up speaking Spanish, I am thrilled by the rolled “r”, so I look for words and phrases where I get to make that sound (such as “ar hyn o bryd” – and I almost certainly exaggerate it). I love the sound of “cylchgrawn” and “daearyddiaieth”.

There are so many words and phrases I like – I can’t narrow it down to one favourite.

Have you been to Wales or have you had a chance to speak Welsh to other Welsh speakers?

Not yet!

What advice would you give people who are trying to learn the Welsh language?

Interesting question. After a few intense weeks at the beginning, I’ve slowed down, so I can focus and try to master the intricacies. I’ve turned off the parts of Duolingo that try to push you to do more and to do it faster. I now go slowly, do a little bit every day, and have fun. I make lots of notes to myself, in a way that works for me.

I’ve studied lots of languages, so I know what I like and what doesn’t help. For example, I like explanations of grammar, while that doesn’t work so well for others. I also look at other resources to answer questions and to take me out of the Duolingo track – TV, radio, books, the web.

Those are tactics that work for me – I don’t know that they’ll work well for others.

What language is next for you and why?

I don’t know. I was watching a Finnish show the other day and that made me wonder about some aspects of that language. I’ve got plans to go to Suriname, Israel and Madagascar when the virus has abated, and so I will undoubtedly return to Dutch (for Suriname), dabble in the Surinamese creole, and explore Hebrew and Malagasy.

And I need to get back to Kichwa, the most common indigenous language in Ecuador. I studied it intensively right after I got there, and then other things got in the way.

Resources

Duolingo for Welsh: https://www.duolingo.com/course/cy/en/Learn-Welsh
Ap Golwg for iOS: https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/ap-golwg/id486852547
Ap Geiriaduron for iOS: https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/ap-geiriaduron/id570171569