Patagonia hope of Powys Welsh language learner

Image caption, Julia Hawkins said she came home to Wales to bring her children up

The winner of the Welsh Learner of the Year award at the Ebbw Vale National Eisteddfod says she hopes to teach the language in Patagonia.

Mother-of-three Julia Hawkins from Crickhowell, Powys, won at a ceremony at Llanhilleth Institute on Wednesday.

She beat Shirley Cottam from Aberystwyth, Helen Price from Blackwood, and Dai Williams from Ystylafera.

The 2010 award had 29 competitors, including from Patagonia and Belgium.

She studied the language for a while in school, but as she chose to study science, she was unable to continue with Welsh lessons at school.

However, she received Welsh lessons outside school and studied for her O level.

She said she was inspired by her two teachers, Yvonne Matthews in school and Carys Whelan at home, and through them she came to realise that Welsh is a living language.

She lived abroad for many years as both she and her husband worked for the British Council.

The couple were determined to bring up their children - Ioan, seven, and three-year-old twins Manon and Erin - in Wales, and settled in Crickhowell.

She said: "I'm learning Welsh to raise my children bilingually and I think it will really emphasise to them just how important the language is.

"And I'm looking forward over the next year to helping other learners and to promote the language.

Julia now plays an active role in Welsh activities in her community and said she hopes to continue studying the language.

Real interest

She would even like to teach it in future in Patagonia, the area of South America where the language is still spoken by the descendants of Welsh settlers who moved there in 1865.

She said she has seen a real change in attitude to the language from when she was growing up since returning from 20 years abroad.

"There's a real interest to learn

"So many people come up to me, they hear me speaking Welsh to the kids. They come up to me and say 'I don't speak Welsh, but I'd love to speak Welsh and my kids are going to Welsh school'.

"There's a real kind of confidence now I think in being Welsh and [in] the Welsh language that wasn't there before."

Julia urged would-be learners to practice Welsh whenever they can.

"However little you have even if its only 'Bore Da' [Good morning] use it, and then you'll start thinking 'What else can I say?'

"It's just that confidence to use it all the time, and that is how I've learnt it, I've learnt it through using it."

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