Today was the first day of my one-month mini sabbatical from work. The excitement is mounting here at Howtogetfluent Towers as tomorrow I’m off to the Basque Country (northern Spain) for the fist time since I started learning the Basque language, a unique old tongue, related to no other. I’m bound for a one-month intensive language course.
It’s three years since I started Basque. It’s the first time I’ve reached a basic working knowledge of a language taking a gradual approach – “extensive” learning. There have been many breaks but my underlying pattern has been thirty minutes a day speaking practice, three times a week, plus some extra study. I’ve posted about my efforts many times on the site (my Basque Add1Challenge reports and two posts about tips for keeping going with your elementary language).
Below, I’m posting a video of a call I did this morning with Joseba, one of my regular Basque teachers, whom I book through italki.com. I make lots of mistakes, but you can also see that I’m now able to have quite a natural conversation in the language. You could achieve this – and more – in your language too. Just study a little regularly and keep going. It doesn’t matter that you can’t get to the country or take chunks of time off work.
Now, though, I have the chance to move from extensive to intensive study. I feel I’m at a level where I can make the most of it. There’s a strong argument for getting as good a grounding as you can in your language before you arrive in the country. You should be able to use your limited time there more effectively. You have context, “hooks” to help you remember things, you can get straight into real interactions with a bit more than “Tarzan”-style language. Well, that’s the theory! Let’s see how I do.
I’ll be at the Maizpide “Barnetegia” or residential language school, studying for six hours a day, five days a week for a month. I’ll record a similar conversation at the end of my visit, to help log my progress (I hope I’ll be better at the end!).
I’m breaking off from my packing to share my hopes for the coming months. I need to be realistic about what can be achieved in this time frame. I’m looking for the following wins:
- widening my vocabulary. I still don’t have some of the most frequent 2,000 words, so that it’s still difficult for me to describe my way round gaps in my vocab (a useful strategy when you’re an elementary or lower intermediate language learner).
- learning the past of Basque’s conjugated verbs. There aren’t many of them (it’s an easy feature of the language compared with, say, a Romance language like French or Spanish).
- learning the dative, potential, hypothetical and conditional verbal auxiliaries (a difficult feature of the language – rather than conjugating themselves, most verbs rely on a verbal auxiliary which expresses person, time, mood, direct and indirect object).
In addition to these specific gains in vocabulary and grammar, I’m of course looking to get more conversational practice than ever before. I’m wondering how I’ll do out and about en route to Lazkao, the small town in Gipuzkoa province (about an hour by train south of Donostia (San Sebastian in Spanish).
I’m also looking forward to learning about the language promotion and revitalisation policies followed in this part of the Basque Country (which forms an autonomous region with two of the other six Basque provinces). I’m always comparing with the situation in Wales. I’m expecting to be impressed by how far ahead the Basques are. I’m also wondering what methods and materials are used by the school.
The social side will be welcome. I’m hoping to meet some of my existing Basque friends and – as I don’t know any of the course participants – to meet some new ones. I wonder what range of motives, backgrounds and characters I’m going to encounter.
Exploring the Basque Country some more will also be great. I’ve visited briefly in the past, but not for four years. The setting of the school looks beautiful and the Basques love a knees-up. There will be several festivals on in the surrounding areas.
Are you learning Basque? Have you been on a short intensive course for another language? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below or by email (contact details under the About tab). Look out for my updates from “in the field” in the coming four weeks!
Here’s that pre-course call: