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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Welsh under Big Brother's gaze
Cristian, Franco and Nia Parry
Two from Patagonia - Cristian and Franco - with Nia Parry, one of the tutors
With 12 hidden cameras and a camera crew following them everywhere, 16 people are holed up in a former north Wales ghost village learning Welsh.

They have two months to become fluent and they are being filmed in the national language centre in Nant Gwrtheyrn for an S4C series cariad@iaith (Love for the language).

Cameras have been placed in the various rooms to record their struggles, hopes and frustrations - ten hours, seven days a week.

Nearly 300 applied to take part in the series, 70 from the Welsh community in Patagonia, Argentina, where one of the course tutors Nia Parry used to hold Welsh classes.

Paul Williams
Paul Williams hopes he can teach basketball to Welsh-speaking youngsters
Before choosing the final 16, many of the applicants spent three days being assessed.

The producers, Fflic from Cardiff, wanted a range of personalities with various levels of competency in the language.

Some had been on Welsh courses in the past; for some this was the first attempt.

But this is not a Welsh Big Brother.

So far there have been no quarrels, no one has been thrown out and they can leave the language centre once a week to visit the local pubs to practice their newly-gained language skills.

To make the course more interesting they are given a number of tasks la Survivor.

These vary from building a raft to writing poetry and short plays.

The winners are rewarded with treats, in the form of hearts which can be exchanged for such things as permission to phone home or go out for a meal.

So far, such is the camaraderie, that they have pooled their hearts so that everyone can go out together.

Tony Doggett
Tony Doggett has spent precious time from running his business to learn the language
"Although they didn't know each other before coming here, they are by now great friends," says one of the tutors Nia Parry.

"When they started on the course, they communicated in English but now - half way through the course - they all speak Welsh to each other.

"And when they've visited local pubs they speak naturally in Welsh amongst themselves and with the locals."

But learning a language is not easy. To overcome their frustrations the producers have set up a Bocs Bwrw Bol (Place to have a whinge) so that they can talk individually with the tutors about any problems they might have.

And naturally these conversations are recorded!

"This is not a television series about learning Welsh," adds Nia. "But learning Welsh is a vehicle to convey the various emotions and frustrations that they experience.

Angharad Parry from Trearddur Bay
Angharad Parry hopes to get work in Wales
"It is an emotional journey for all of them."

But what motivates 16 people to spend 12 weeks learning Welsh?

Ond of them is Tony Dogget who now lives near Caernafon but is originally from Essex.

Tony owns a number of pubs in the area and he felt that he could not join in the conversations.

"My wife and inlaws all speak Welsh and as I live in Gwynedd it will be a great advantage to communicate in Welsh," he says.

Angharad Parry comes from Anglesey. "I feel that I miss out on so much when I'm home by not speaking the language.

"You need Welsh to get a decent job in Wales. My name is Welsh, I am Welsh and I fell like a traitor especially with my Welsh accent."

Paul Williams from Rhos-on-Sea is a keen basketball player but he has lost many opportunities to teach the game to youngsters because he doesn't speak the language.

Sioned Geraint
Sioned Geraint, the director, is certain that it'll make good television
He hopes to be fluent by the end of the course.

Dean Owen from Fforestfach near Swansea realised that he was "missing the largest part of my national identity and heritage and wish to address this matter immediately".

But the ones that have travelled farthest for the course are the three from Patagonia.

Although their forefathers came from Wales, Franco, Cristian and Ioanna did not speak Welsh only Spanish, athough members of their families have been over to Wales to learn the language.

And since two of them speak no English, they were among the quickest learners!

"In the beginning everyone were aware of the cameras," said programme director Sioned Geraint.

"But once they started relaxing they were unaware of them."

"I expected more quarrelling; we got very little but we did get a lot of humour although everyone is serious about their Welsh lessons," she added.

There will be eight 30 minute programmes of cariad@iaith with the first broadcast on S4C in September.

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