Beginner’s Japanese has been my main personal language learning focus since early 2019 but I’m also a serious intermediate Basque learner. Here’s an update on my Basque language journey and some tips, questions and conclusions that just might help you, whatever your language, whatever your level 🙂
While I love rapid progress and an (effective) quick fix as much as the next person, my history with Basque reflects my belief in the power of slow and steady language learning.
Playing a long game is far more realistic for most adults who are fitting a language alongside holding down a full-time job, bringing up a family (or, often, both).
I started learning Basque in September 2013.
In January 2014 I started I started Howtogetfluent and learning Basque has been the focus of several projects here on the site.
For a month in summer 2018, I ramped up my focussed study (“Basque Boost August”). I did the same last summer with my “Two language tango” (Basque/Japanese). The end of the “Tango” was my last full Basque update…until now 🙂 .
My Basque study log
I find language logging a useful motivational tool and I’ve been keeping a track on my “active” work on Basque for most of my journey with the language.
By “active” work, I mean focussed study slots (usually working with one of my course books) and one-to-one conversation practice with a teacher via Skype (arranged through italki.com).
My focussed study slot is usually lasts thirty minutes (sometimes more, not often less).
Unlike with my basic Japanese project, I haven’t had any “minimum” targets for Basque since last August.
It’s been a question of fitting my Basque sessions in around my Japanese.
As a minimum, though, I like to book one thirty-minute one-to-one conversation practice session a week.
Here’s the time I’ve put in this year to the end of June (all the Skype lessons were 30 minutes each).
January 2020: 30 mins study; three Skype lessons = 2 hours
February 2020: 15 min study: five Skype lessons = 2 hours, 45 min
March 2020: 30 mins study; six Skype lessons = 4 hours
April 2020: 9 hours study; 11 Skype lessons = 14 hours, 30 min
May 2020: 8 hours, 20 mins study; 6 Skype lessons = 10 hours, 50 mins
June 2020: 4 hours, 50 mins study; 4 Skype lessons = 5 hours, 50 mins
Total for first half of 2020: 49 hours, 44 mins (excludes informal listening and reading practice, on which there’s more below).
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been working from home since mid March.
Losing my commute means I’ve gained two hours a day and a whole lot of energy. As a result, in these figures you’ll see a marked increase the time I’ve been putting in at the Basque.
Vlogging in Basque in Asia
I was on the road in Asia for all of October last year and, en route, I took the impromptu decision to do some vlogs on the trip in Russian, German, Welsh and Basque.
There were nine vlogs in Basque in all.
I short the first one on humid sunny day in Singapore.:
The last one, after a week in Hong Kong, was shot in Tokyo’s famous Ueno park, where I was caught by a torrential downpour:
My Basque is pretty ropey in the vids, but I found the project a helpful way to keep me using the language.
At the same time, I was making a video record of a trip that it gives me great pleasure to look back on.
How about keeping some sort of diary of your life in your language? It could be in writing, short audio recordings on your phone or making a video. You don’t have to post to social media….
The power of community in my Basque learning
I’ve been in London’s Basque Society since 2013.
It’s provided a good way to meet native speakers and to use the language naturally several times a year.
Since I got back from Japan, I’ve only attended one London Basque Society Event. That was the Christmas meal (with dancing).
I’ve been in the Society since I started learning. I spoke a lot of Basque at the event and noticed some improvement in my fluency since I’d last met up with other members, several months earlier.
Are you using the power of community in your language learning? It could be physical meetups with native speakers or other learners, participation in an online forum or using the language with neighbours, relatives or friends.
One-to-one online conversation and my intermediate Basque learning materials
There are never many Basque teachers on italki. They were down to two at one point, but currently there are four.
I’ve been working with Irati since January 2019.
Very often, the whole of our lessons together end up as free conversation.
Other days, there’s time to work with the materials (pdfs) created by the HABE Institute for the teaching of Basque and Basque Language Literacy to Adults.
I have these from my days attending group face-to-face language classes arranged by the London Basque Society. This year, we’ve worked on Units 39 to 41.
Bakarka is a pretty traditional grammar/ exercises/ reading/ translation – based self-study course. I worked through Book 1 several years ago to consolidate the work with the HABE materials. I haven’t used Books 2 and 3.
In September 2018 I started on Bakarka Book 4. There’s no audio at this level but the grammar explanations, practice exercises and reading are very helpful for controlled practice of Basque’s rather complex verb forms and the extensive tense system.
At the end of last year I’d nearly finished Unit 5 (of nine) and by the end of this June is was halfway through Unit 7 (of nine).
I’ve mostly used the course for extra practice during my self-study sessions.
Also, I sometimes used to do Bakarka 4 exercises verbally with one of my former teachers, Eider.
It wasn’t a particularly effective use of time with a teacher but she wasn’t very talkative and conversation would often dry up after fifteen minutes or so.
When Eider dropped off italki in the middle of August 2019, I started with a new teacher who’d appeared: Gari.
It was very enjoyable to have lessons with him between summer last year and early June.
In addition to free conversation, I sometimes sent him copies of earlier units of the HABE course to provide some conversation topics (and consolidation for me: I’d already covered these units with Irati or one of my earlier teachers).
Gari is now available much less on the platform but several new teachers have appeared. In the middle of June I had my first session with Rodrigo in early July and I’ve had another since.
He only offers one hour slots. I used to have one-hour slots when I was working intensively on my advanced German and Russian but I felt a bit daunted about a full hour in my lower-intermediate Basque.
I’ve found, though, that the time with Rodrigo has passed quickly both tines.
In the first session, it helped that he was very chatty and we had Russia in common. We’ve both lived there and learned the language.
In the second lesson we did more free conversation and I .pdf-ed a couple of pages of Arian B2.1 over to him too, to provide some additional material to discuss.
Arian is one of the best-known courses published in the Basque Country.
There are two course books for each CEFRL level, along with work books and CDs for each level. The only level I have is B2.1, which I started Sept 18. I haven’t previously used it with any of my teachers.
I’m working through the course book in order and enjoying the reading material and associated exercises (the topics are genuinely engaging).I’m using the audio for dictation practice again.
By the end of June, I’d finished Unit 4 of 12 in the course book. This year, I’ve also started the workbook. I’m still in the first of the four (quite long) units.
Don’t reinvent the wheel! Make full use of a few key learner courses at YOUR level, whether in textbook or on-line course format.
Get lots of one-to-one conversation practice with a teacher. Online wins for convenience. Use several teachers. It makes for variety and means you’re not left high and dry if one of them isn’t available any more.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, I’ve been disciplined about scheduling in regular exercise. I’ve done a thirty minute run or a fifty minute walk round the local park most days.
Before the lockdown, I’d do that run two or three times a week and walk to the underground and back during the three days a week I was in the office (2 x 12 minute walk).
I was using that time to listen to my Pimsleur Japanese audio course. During the lockdown, I’ve been listening to native Basque radio news programmes instead. So I’ve been getting at least thirty-minutes a day listening practice.
While there’s still a lot I can’t understand, I can now follow enough of the content to have a sense of the substance of a report or discussion.
I also often have enough knowledge of the language to work out the meaning of words and “acquire” some of them naturally from native content of this type.
In addition to a daily does of high-quality audio, I watched twenty minutes or so of the evening Basque TV news two or three times a week. That’s one of the three news broadcasts a day available on the Basque TV web player.
In some ways, “news vocabulary” is easier because it’s very standard and can get repetitive.
Luckily, there’s a host of other TV material on the EITB site and it’s important to listen to different linguistic registers.
I’ve also started to watch a thriller series from the 90s called “Balbemendi”. There are 27 one-hour episodes. I’m still on episode two but have been enjoying it so far. It’s conversational dialogue.
I’ve also recently discovered a one-hour daily current affairs programme called “Eztabaidan” (In conversation) which includes reports and panel discussion all on one current topic. It gives me exposure to a wider range of registers than the pure news programmes.
Get lots and lots of listening practice. “Comprehensible input” is best: just at or above your current level, to consolidate what you already know and to help you “acquire” the language sub-consciously from context.
Reading Harry Potter
I’ve had a Basque copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on my shelves for a couple of years (as you may know if you’re a long-term viewer of my vids on YouTube):
I only started reading the book this spring. I’m now over half way through.
Though I know a lot about the story I haven’t read the book or watched the film in any other language.
There’s a lot I don’t understand, but I can get enough to follow the general course of the story and build a mental picture of Hogwarts and events unfolding. I’d say it feels a bit like looking through an un-evenly tinted window (more opaque in some places than others!).
Reading is a great way to reinforce your knowledge of language patterns and to expand your vocab. Presssed for time? A paragraph a day is much better than nothing. What are you reading at the moment in your target language?
Reaping the rewards of long-term language learning
This spring and summer I’ve really felt a shift in gear with my intermediate Basque. I have a sense of things coming together at last. It’s getting easier to understand native speech and to read native materials. My spoken language, though still limited, feels more fluent. I can say quite a lot of what I want and I”m now at a stage where I can usually talk round bits I can’t say.
The moral: Keep at it with focussed study, speaking and listening practice. It may not all be dramatic but you WILL see results, even if it takes longer than you might have hoped!
Are you learning Basque? How’s it going? Are your experiences similar to mine? Are you doing things differently? Let me know in the comments below!