Image and article by Clare Whitehead
The Welsh language is blessed with material written specifically for learners, where the language is clear, and useful on-page vocabulary provided.
Reading is a great way to improve your speaking and reading skills and increase your vocabulary. In conjunction with a Welsh language course, these books could accelerate your mastery of the language.
Where to start? Here are just some of the books and online resources that will be useful on your journey towards Welsh literacy.
Welsh dictionaries and grammar books
It usually doesn’t take long before students start asking about dictionaries and grammar books. Here are my top recommendations.
Modern Welsh Dictionary (OUP) - This is as a good place to start. The ‘Modern Welsh Dictionary’ gives examples of word usage, grammar tips, and differentiates between North and South Wales Welsh.
Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary - The Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary has more words in it, but it doesn’t offer examples and tips. There are plenty of online dictionaries too.
Glosbe English-WelshDictionary – The Glosbe English-Welsh Dictionary is an online resource that provides a range of options to help you choose the right word in the context required.
Google Translate - Using Google Translate can be useful if treated with common sense.
BBC Learn Welsh Grammar Guide by Ann Jones and Meic Gilby - The BBC Learn Welsh Grammar Guide is very clearly presented on the page and divided into ‘Beginners’ and ‘Intermediate/Higher’ sections.
Welsh Grammar You Really Need to Know by Christine Jones -This book sets out basic Welsh grammar very clearly, as well as including some finer points and exercises.
Cymraeg Da by Heini Gruffudd - Cymraeg Da is a fairly comprehensive, illustrated book which presents Welsh grammar in both written and oral forms - but it's all in Welsh!
Keeping up to date with magazines.
Lingo Newydd – As far as magazines go, ‘Lingo Newydd’ is a good place to start. Articles are written at three levels, which are colour coded, and some vocab is provided.
Golwg – The weekly editions of ‘Golwg’ will give you more depth on politics, arts, and sport, with an editorial, regular columns, and letters.
Barn – ‘Barn’ is a monthly magazine similar to ‘Golwg’, but the language is more formal.
Lost in the library; how about a short story?
Y Lolfa, a Welsh printing and publishing company, has published a series of short books containing short stories, poems, and songs, which are linked to levels e.g. Mynediad (‘Camu Ymlaen’), Sylfaen (‘Nerth dy draed’) and Canolradd (‘Ar Garlam’).
Ffenestri by Lois Arnold - Lois Arnold is a writer to look out for – she wrote ‘Ffenestri’, which is a collection of delightful short stories and poems for Welsh learners, with sections for levels Mynediad, Sylfaen, and Canolradd.
Cysgod yn y Coed by Lois Arnold - ‘Cysgod yn y Coed’ is a collection of nine entertaining short stories for learners.
Coed y Brenin by Colin Jones - This short book introduces the reader one by one, to the inhabitants of a fictional village called Aberarthur. The book includes vocabulary and notes for the reader.
Level Sylfaen – Ready for a novel?
Once level Sylfaen is reached, options for books begin to open out. Here are a few suggestions for books that are less than one hundred pages long, use clear everyday language, and have some vocab on every page.
Blodwen Jones Trilogy by Bethan Gwanas – ‘Bywyd Blodwen Jones’, ‘Blodwen Jones a’r aderyn prin’, and ‘Tri chynnig Blodwen Jones’ comprise Bethan Gwanas’ trilogy about the life of Blodwen Jones, who works as a librarian, keeps goats, and dreams of marrying her Welsh tutor.
Budapest by Elin Meek - This is another popular place to start. It’s a short novel in the Golau Gwyrdd series and includes on-page vocabulary. Follow a young couple as they decide to break up after their college romance goes wrong but are reunited by a chance meeting in Budapest.
Moving on…foundation and intermediate level novels
Sgŵp by Lois Arnold – This is a light and humorous novel about a journalist looking for the ultimate story, set at level Sylfaen/Canolradd.
Modrybedd Afradlon by Mihangel Morgan - In Mihangel Morgan’ ‘Modrybedd Afradlon’, two elderly sisters disappear with their nephew on a road trip, but there is a twist in the tale!
Cathod a chŵn by Mihangel Morgan - Short stories are always appealing and the collection ‘Cathod a chŵn’ by Mihangel Morgan ticks the boxes for more advanced readers. There’s no on-page vocabulary to assist this time!
BYOD – Bring Your Own Dictionary!
Here we have some very readable novels which are 150 to 200 pages long, but which don't have on-page vocabulary.
Nid yr A470 by Ian Parri charts the author’s adventures and the people he meets as he travels the length of this infamous road from Llandudno to Cardiff.
Yn y Tŷ hwn by Sian Northey explores an older lady’s ties to her house.
Môr a Mynydd and its sequel Plethuby Rhian Cadwaladr were published by Carreg Gwalch in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The main character tries to weave together two families in two countries, and the story follows the ups and downs.
Y Gemydd by Caryl Lewis is described as a portrait of people who scrape by on the edges of society. Here the main character makes jewellery and clears houses. One day she finds a jewel that completely transforms her life.
Got a bit more time?
The following novels are 200-300 pages long, and include more complex language, but well worth the effort;
Mab y Cychwr by Haf Llewelyn is steeped in the estuary country and people of NW Wales in the 17th century. You get a sense of the characters knowing and understanding the landscape, and the descriptions are beautiful.
Y Traeth is another excellent read by Haf Llewelyn.
Blasuby Manon by Steffan Ros - In this book, Pegi looks back on her life and the family and friends who accompanied her along the way. Some memories are sweet, and others more bitter. The chapters reveal attitudes towards food, from the intense urge to nurture, to the struggle with bulimia.
Y Castell Siwgr (2020) by Angharad Tomos is an emotionally challenging historical novel set in Penrhyn Castle and the sugar plantations in Jamaica, following the lives of two young girls. It explores the tortuous and shocking chapter of slavery.
Mae pawb yn cyfrif by Gareth Ffowk Roberts is a fascinating account of the Welsh and their relationship with numbers, based around a series of short stories. Mathematics is as Welsh as music, he says, as he tries to persuade the maths-averse reader to catch his obvious love of numbers.
Classic Welsh books
Moving on to some classics of Welsh literature for the reader willing to take on books written in an older style with some use of dialect.
O law i law by T. Rowland Hughes - A middle-aged bachelor prepares to move house after his mother’s death. The book focuses on memories held in the furniture.
Chwalfa by T. Rowland Hughes - Another good read by T. Rowland Hughes is ‘Chwalfa’ which is set during the Great Penrhyn Quarry Strike from 1900-1903. It chronicles its effect on one family as the community struggles to survive.
Martha, Jac a Sianco by Caryl Lewis is a portrait of a farming family in Ceredigion, where the farm itself casts a long shadow over their lives. It’s made its way into many a ‘top ten’ book list.
Te yn y Grug by Kate Roberts - No book list would be complete without mention of Kate Roberts, who is known as ‘brenhines ein llên’ (‘the queen of our literature’). Te yn y Grug is a delightful loosely-structured book with a series of short stories set in the area around Caernarvon.
I recommend to anyone learning Welsh to immerse themselves in literature. There’s no shortage of amazing Welsh books written for learners. This is just a taste of the Welsh literature you can sink your teeth into as you learn Welsh. Not to mention the vast range of Welsh literature that’s waiting for you once you’re fluent or confident enough.
Coupled with a language course, you’ll be able to learn and improve your skills much faster. At City Lit, we offer online courses in Welsh that take you from a complete beginner to an advanced speaker. You can view our courses and book your place online today.
World Book Day
It’s World Book Day on Thursday 4th March, so be sure to look out for new titles being released on that day!
About the author
Clare Whitehead was born in Bangor, North Wales. Coming from the land of song, it is no surprise that piano lessons were a seventh birthday present, and her musical studies took her to King's College, London, and The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She went on to run a successful piano teaching practice in East London, marking thirty years of piano teaching in January 2020, with a concert featuring former and existing students.
Clare has always been aware of her Welsh identity, and since 2008, the Welsh language has played an increasingly important part in her life. Welsh language studies started at City Lit, Bangor University, Nant Gwrtheryn Language Centre in NW Wales, Cardiff University, and with long phone calls to long suffering Welsh cousins. In 2010 she started teaching at City Lit, and has taught Welsh in various capacities ever since.
Clare is based in East London, and is married with two grown-up sons, and a cat called Zizi. Her pleasures include coast or country walks involving picnics or pub lunches, playing with other musicians, spinning and knitting, interwoven with reading Welsh novels