Author Archives: Pedro Maria de Aguirre

A Student Grammar of Euskara, or The Best Grammar Book I’ve Read So Far…

A couple of months ago, I was able to get a copy of Jon D. Patrick & Ilari Zubiri Ibarrondo’s, A Student Grammar of Euskara (ISBN: 3 89586 444 7). This book differs from others in my collection in that its main purpose is to explain and clarify the intricacies of Basque grammar whereas the others are self-study lessons with worksheets and exercises.

I’ve found the book to be a great help in my studies due to the numerous examples it gives, especially when it comes to word order as that is one of the main things I struggle with. Also, another great aspect of the book is the section on Typical Errors wherein they give you examples of commonly committed mistakes along with the corrected version of the phrase or sentence.

The only negative aspect about the book is that it is very expensive. I have searched for it on places such as Ebay, Amazon, and Abebooks and I’ve only found two copies available for the steep price of 92€ (about $117) and $120. However, I think the book is worth it as it covers the curriculum of the first three years of a University Basque language curriculum and according to the authors, “competency in all the contents of the book would ensure a student was at the uppermost end of the scale of 2nd language speaker competency”.

When I first received this book in the mail, I took with me on my commute and I bet the other riders on the bus could almost see the lightbulbs flickering on above my head as I started to fully understand things that were unclear or foggy at best. I now use it as my main source of information on Basque grammar whether I’m using the Bakarka books or the BOGA program.

Have you discovered a fantastic resource for learning Euskara? Tell us about it in the comments!

Language Learning Toolkit: Flash Cards

As a person learning Euskara online and far away from the Basque Country, I realised early on that I would need to take extra measures to help make the learning process easier and more effective. This is where the Language Learning Toolkit comes in. The Language Learning Toolkit consists of anything and everything I can find that will help me: learn vocabulary words, understand grammatical concepts, fine tune pronunciation, sharpen reading and comprehension skills, etc.

The first tool in the Language Learning Toolkit that I want to discuss are: FLASH CARDS.

Since Euskara is a language isolate, it is a given that a majority of the words used will not have any similarity with another language. There are some exceptions though. For example: merkatu is a cognate of the Spanish mercado as well as the English market, making it quite easy to remember. However, most of the words I have encountered so far in Euskara are completely different from its counterpart in English or Spanish. For example: zuhaitz is very different from its Spanish counterpart: árbol and its English counterpart: tree.

This is where flash cards come in handy. Whenever I encounter new words or whenever I am given a new vocabulary list (in the BOGA program, a new list is given every session and in Bakarka, a new list comes in every chapter) I immediately create flashcards for them with the English and Spanish translations at the back. Sometimes, I also end up including a little drawing to give myself a visual aid to further cement the word and its meaning in my brain.

So, here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on how I made my flashcards. I create all of my flashcards uniformly as I’ve found that this particular way of doing it makes it easier to do a quick study whenever I can.

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Goals are essential for language learning

Goals are incredibly important for any language-learner as having good goals will keep us going especially in times when we hit roadblocks. Roadblocks can come in many forms like: boredom, lack of time, difficult concepts, negativity, self-doubt, etc. If we make sure to write good short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals then the road to mastering a language will be easier and we can be assured that it will keep you going even when you’re ready to give up.

How do you go about setting up your goals? First, you must ask yourself two questions:

  • Why do I want to learn Euskara? – Some people want to learn a language because of an upcoming trip, others for work, and some want to learn because they want simply like the way the language sounds. Whatever your reason is, you must make sure that you know what it is, because there will come a time when things get tough and you will ask yourself “Why the hell am I learning this language?” and you will need to come up with a good retort. It is always easier to give up on something in which you don’t have a good enough reason to do.
  • How far do I want to go? – Some might be content to simply be able to get directions to a monument or museum whereas others might want to be able to live out the rest of their lives using their chosen language and to be able to handle it like a native-speaker. The amount of work and time that you need to put into learning a language is closely related to how far you want to go. It also affects the materials that you will need to use.

After answering those two questions, you will be able to come up with a few goals. To further give you guys some ideas, let me share with you a few (as I have many) of my own  goals for learning Euskara:

Short Term Goals

  • Send my friend Maite a postcard with a few lines in Euskara.
  • Read a basic children’s book.

Intermediate Goals

  • Write a journal entry in Euskara.
  • Be able to hold basic conversations beyond the usual “Hi. Hello. How are you?”

Long Term Goals

  • Have a passionate discussion about football (Aupa Athletic!) with a fan of a rival team.
  • Read a full-length novel.

I also suggest that you not only write down your goals but post them somewhere where you can see them every day. I have my list of goals tacked up on my pushpin board (next to my calendar) so I wake up every morning and I can use it to give me the necessary push I need especially when I find myself wanting to just relax and watch telly or sleep instead of study.

Also, don’t be afraid to revise your goals. Sometimes, you might find that the goal you initially put down isn’t working (we all tend to set unattainable goals sometimes) so instead of getting disappointed, just make the necessary adjustments.

In order for goals to be considered “good”, keep the following in mind:

  • Goals are better when they are concreteThis is not to say that abstract goals can’t be good but they are easier to stick to and identify when they are concrete. Make sure that your goal can be measured. For example, saying “Put in a little more studying time” is quite abstract in that it is hard to tell what a little more should be. So to make it concrete, we can say, “Put in 1 hour more of study time”.
  • Goals need to be measurableHow will you know if you are on the right path if you can’t measure your progress? In one of my intermediate goals, I want to be able to write a journal entry in Euskara and I am able to measure that goal by testing it out to see if I can manage to formulate the sentences I need in order to express myself. If I struggle too much, then I know that I’m not quite there yet.
  • Goals must be challenging but attainableIf you make your goals too easy then there really isn’t much joy when you attain it and if you make them unattainable then you will end up frustrated. Goals should challenge you to go further than what you thought you could reach. This is not to say that we can’t celebrate little victories or that we can’t dream big but make sure that the bulk of your goals are challenging and attainable.
  • Goals reached should be celebratedSometimes the completion of the goal is a reward in itself but I feel that some of the tougher goals should be rewarded, celebrated, and shared with friends. Whenever I complete some of my tougher goals, I usually celebrate by buying myself a little something that is also related to the particular language that I am learning (i.e. a CD, a book, even a meal at a Basque restaurant!). I also make sure to let my friends know about it, especially those who support me in my goals so they can share my victories with me.

So, I hope this has inspired some of you out there to go ahead and write down your goals. Please feel free to share some with us in the comments!

Music is essential to language-learning

ArgiakThere are many ways we can go about learning a new language. Some people choose total immersion, lessons focusing mainly on grammar, informal conversation workshops, a mix of grammar and conversation, and so on. My approach can best be described as: a little bit of everything. 

Of course, my main method of learning Euskara is through my online program: BOGA. However, I also make use of a self-study book in Spanish, I get lots of help from my friend Maite, and I also listen to a lot of music in Euskara.

To prepare for this post, I went through my catalogue of music in Euskara (some were lucky finds at Amoeba in LA and some were sent to me by my friends) and for starters, I’ve decided to talk about one of my favourite bands: Ken Zazpi.

Ken Zazpi, which means minus seven (ken = minus, zazpi = seven), is a Basque rock band formed in 1996 in Gernika. Of the 5 or so albums they have put out, I’m familiar with Bidean (2003) and my personal favourite: Argiak (2007).

One of the main reasons why I took a quick liking to Ken Zazpi, aside from the fantastic sound and touching lyrics, is that they sing their songs slow enough for me to be able to pick up certain words. Have a listen to this song called “Noizbait” (meaning: Someday) from Argiak.

Noizbait – Ken Zazpi

Here are the lyrics taken from Musikazblai – a very helpful resource for searching song lyrics in Euskara. Most come with translations into Spanish, and if you you’re very lucky, in English as well!

Isiltasunak non zauden galdetzen dit noiznahi
zure izena mila aldiz oihukatuz noiznahi
egutegiko orriak aurpegiratu dit
zenbat gau pasatu dudan itzarrik
zu ez zadenetik

Aska gaitezen malkoz esan zenidan noizbait
izango dugu gure aukera seguru noizbait
geroztik noraezean barneko ekaitzetan
arraunean ibiltzen naiz zure mezu baten zain

Bila nazazu izar bako gauetan
gida nazazu zure itsasertzera noizbait

Iritsiko naiz
argiak jarraituz
iritsiko naiz berriz saiatuz
itzuliko naiz
aurkituko zaitut
begiak itxiz gertu sentituz

Bila nazazu argiontziaz
gidatu nazazu itsasertzera

Iritsiko naiz
argiak jarraituz
iritsiko naiz berriz saiatuz
itzuliko naiz
aurkituko zaitut
begiak itxiz gertu sentituz

One of the things that “Noizbait” really helped me with early on in my journey was the pronunciation of zenbat (how much) wherein an N + B turns into an M, so you pronounce it as if it were sembat instead of zenbat. This song also helped me try and figure out how to pronounce the letter S in Euskara. It sounds almost as if it were halfway between an S and an SH and that’s something I would have really struggled with if I had not been able to hear it for myself.

Although music in Euskara can be hard to find outside of Euskal Herria, I’m happy to be able to say that Argiak can be purchased for $8.99 as a digital download on Amazon. With songs like “Gernikan”, “Olatuz olatu” and “Gaueko argiak” it’s well worth it. If Amazon is not your thing, you can also find great music in Euskara through: Elkar (they have a fantastic selection of books, CDs, DVDs, and games although the high cost of shipping and handling is such a turn-off) or Amoeba (I found a fantastic brand new copy of Jabier Muguruza’s Konplizeak for just $7.99)

That’s it for now! I sure hope this will inspire some of you guys to go out and discover some great Basque groups and musicians. Don’t forget to share your discoveries with me too as I’m always looking for more! Aio!

So you want to learn Euskara…

[Note: The following blog entry is a re-post, along with a few modifications, from EuskoCat. I will start this blog by transfering all old content first before uploading new entries, as I don’t want any new readers to miss out on earlier posts, especially this one, which will give you the resources to start learning Euskara!]

When I finally decided that I was serious about learning Euskara, I decided to search for a way to learn the language while at the same time not have to resort to eating ramen noodles for the rest of my life. I decided to do a little research into the methods people use to learn Euskara and here are some you can try out:

  • Euskara in the Basque Country – This could very well be the most expensive option for people living outside of the the Basque Country, however if you choose this route you will have the benefit of a total immersion in the language as well as the culture. There are many euskaltegiak (Basque Language Centers) all over the Basque Country and you can choose between public and private adult schools.
  • University courses – As far as I know, there are only two Universities in the United States that offer courses in Euskara. The first is Boise State University which offers a Basque Studies Minor and Certificate and the the second is the University of Nevada-Reno which offers a Basque Studies Minor both in-campus and online.
  • BOGA programBOGA is an online program designed to teach adults Euskara and to provide them with a knowledge base sufficient enough to pass the EGA (Euskararen Gaitasun Agiria)- which is a proficiency test and mandatory for anyone who wishes to work for the Basque Government. The BOGA program is, compared to the first two methods, quite affordable as the current tuition is $50 per semester and it comes with the support of a teacher whom you can email questions to as well as have Skype conferences with (to practise conversation and pronunciation).
  • Self-study books – There are a few books out there designed to help students learn Euskara and they range from the simple: Beginner’s Basque by Wim Jansen, to the more complex: The Basque Language: A Practical Introduction by Alan R. King. When I first started learning about Euskara, a number of people told me it would be sheer madness to try and learn it by myself, however I don’t think it would be wise to discredit all of the self-study books. I think that some could be used an introduction to the language, especially if you are not completely sure if you want to seriously pursue it or not and it can also be used to supplement your current program.

I am currently making use of the BOGA program as my main resource for learning Euskara. I chose it as the $50 per semester fee along with the online access was a great fit for me because it wouldn’t burn a big hole in my wallet and it wouldn’t require me to have to lose time for work.

The program itself is entertaining as it is filled with interesting sketches, exercises and tests. However, it also has its flaws, the major one being its propensity for crashing for a few hours. I also find that the explanations in English sound quite unnatural at times, as if it were translated into English by a non-native speaker and although that can easily be ignored, it can sometimes cause a bit of confusion. But I firmly believe that even with those flaws, it can be a very useful tool.

I am also studying Euskara through a book called Bakarka I: Método de aprendizaje individual del euskera by J.A. Letamendia. This teaches Euskara (or Euskera as it is called in Spanish) through the medium of the Spanish language. I find that whenever there is any concept or grammatical rule that I cannot quite understand when explained in English, I need only read it in Spanish and it suddenly becomes clear.

That’s it for now! On the next post, I’ll be talking about how music can very beneficial to any language learner. Aio!