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Joseff Oscar Gnagbo - Starting Out: Welsh Beginner Award Winner
Nominated by: Welsh Refugee Council 

Joseff Gnagbo was brought up on the Ivory Coast but due to unrest was forced to seek asylum in Wales. Then in just over a year, dedicated to immersing himself in the culture he became fluent in the language and is now teaching other asylum seekers basic Welsh.

He said: “My homeland was under siege, it was scary. There was a lot of fighting, so I was forced to flee to safety. I didn’t know anything about Cardiff let alone Wales, all I had heard was that it’s very green, less crowded and the people are really nice.

“I’ve lived all over the world and promised myself I would always learn the native language of the country I was in.

Joseff, who worked as a linguist in his West African home also speaks French, Swahili, Italian, Russian, German and Arabic. Attending the Oasis Centre in Cardiff the day after he arrived in Wales helped, he said, along with the ‘Say Something in Welsh’ app suggested by his tutor. He also followed courses with Learn Welsh Cardiff, run by Cardiff University on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.

Joseff now works as a carer, a translator and a teacher, and volunteers for Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the Welsh Language Society. He also gives half-hour Welsh language taster sessions at the Welsh Refugee Council – after learners have had an hour of English tuition.

He continued: “Some of my tutors were sceptical about adding Welsh to the English courses, they thought it may confuse people. But as so many signs are in Welsh and people speak the language, I think it’s important to know the basics, especially if you’re looking for work or have children attending bilingual schools.

“Learning has given me so much confidence and showed me I am still capable of learning something new. I wish I had started learning Welsh when I was younger but with hard work and practice anyone can do it. I love Welsh and am fighting for its survival just as much as a native Welsh person, it’s important to the country and should live on.

“I want to continue developing my skills but also learn more Celtic languages like Gaelic and Cornish. I love walking through the centres where I volunteer and hearing asylum seekers and refugees saying diolch!”