Meet the Russian teenager learning Welsh as thousands start online classes during lockdown

Nastya Lisitsyna is like any 16 year old. In her spare time away from studying in Moscow, she likes to socialise with friends, play a musical instrument and do embroidery.

She also speaks Welsh.

Nastya has no links to Wales, no family connections and she has never visited the country, but she loves speaking its language.

It is all thanks to the wonders of the internet, which gives those with access to it, the chance to learn about and explore other cultures and countries around the world.

"Last summer, probably around July, I found a post on Instagram with the name of the village Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and I thought it would be a funny thing to learn how to pronounce it", Nastya told ITV Cymru Wales.

"It took me about five hours to finally master it, and sometimes I still forget how to do it properly.

"I had to learn the Welsh pronunciation rules because just repeating it from recordings wasn't enough for me. I joked about it a lot with my friends and by the end of summer they all knew about the village".

Nastya Lisitsyna practicing her Welsh at home in Russia. Credit: Nastya Lisitsyna

Nastya has even managed to get 21 pupils in her class to sign up to an extra class to learn Welsh themselves. Unfortunately, her school has not yet managed to find a teacher to help them.

She started learning the language on the app Duolingo and has since taken part in the 'Sadwrn Siarad' online workshop run by Learn Welsh Pembrokeshire and the Nation Centre for Learning Welsh.

"I find it very beautiful, like listening to music. I love accents, I love languages. I love how Welsh sounds, it's musical and it brings me much joy", Nastya added.

"This led me to learning the language and after nine months, I am still as excited about learning Welsh as I was on the very first day.’’

Anglesey in on Nastya's list of places around the world to visit, along with Pembrokeshire and of course, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

There has been an increase in the number of people learning Welsh during lockdown with thousands making use of online classes.

More than 8,000 people signed up to digital courses with the National Centre for Learning Welsh - 1,300 of which were beginners.

During lockdown Welsh overtook Chinese as the seventh most popular language to learn in the UK on Duolingo.

The National Centre for Learning Welsh have run free courses, live-streamed daily lessons on social media and paired Welsh speakers with learners.

They aim to provide learning opportunities for people of all abilities.

Cheryl Georg from Pontypridd joined one of the online courses after she was furloughed from work.

She said: "Learning Welsh has been on my list of things to do for a long time. I have had a go before but work and life took over.

"I saw this course was available online and thought this is perfect. I was a bit nervous and worried about it being online - how would it work? The first Zoom session was brilliant! The tutor is fun and full of energy, which was felt by me and the group. We had time all together and break out sessions. I felt more ‘raring to go’ to learn more than perhaps I would have after a classroom session."

The UK turned to language learning more than any other county during the coronavirus lockdown. Credit: PA

In the first week of lockdown, the number of new learners on Duolingo in UK rose by 300%.

The app went on have a record numbers of learners in April and May.

More than 1.3m people from around the world have started learning Welsh on the app.

Colin Watkins, Duolingo's UK manager said: "The UK has really taken language learning to heart."

"Before Covid we saw people learn Korean because of Kpop and Japanese because of the Olympics, but during lockdown there has been a huge increase in people learning for a whole range of reasons. We have all wanted to do something positive with our time."