Arantzazu Aizpurua: “My intention is to mix Basque culture with Basque language classes, focusing more on the language.”

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


For the purpose of raising the international profile of the Basque language and culture and creating opportunities for encounters with other languages and communities, the Etxepare Basque Institute promotes Basque studies at universities and centres of higher education through the lectureship and language assistantship programme. Subjects related to Basque language and culture can be found among the courses offered at various universities around the world thanks to collaboration agreements.

The new programme organised by the Etxepare Basque Institute in partnership with the University of Zurich, ´Introduction to Basque Language and Culture´, will begin on Friday 24 February. Classes will be held every Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon for the next six months, ending on 2 June. The lectureship is coordinated by the University of Zurich’s Department of Romance Languages, as part of the Institute of Comparative Linguistics.

We caught up with Arantzazu Aizpurua Arconada, instructor for the new programme at the University of Zurich, to see what she thinks about the new lectureship and her outlook for the coming academic year. Arantzazu, who taught Basque at the University of Konstanz (Universität Konstanz) for a year and a half, will be begin the new programme at the University of Zurich on February 24.

You’ll launch the new lectureship programme ‘Introduction to Basque Language and Culture I´ at the University of Zurich. How did you prepare for the course?

When I arrived at the University of Konstanz a year and a half ago, I soon met the Catalan lecturer who told me that she was teaching in Konstanz and Zurich. I contacted the Etxepare Basque Institute and they immediately spoke to Johannes Kabatek, head of Romance Languages at the University of Zurich, to see if there was any possibility of organising something in Zurich and preparing a new lectureship programme. They agreed to offer one course per semester: Introduction to Basque Language and Culture.

From the time I was told that the assistantship in Zurich was going forward, my preparation has been mainly administrative. The first thing the university asked me to do was to fill out a subject sheet where I had to describe the materials I’d be using, the content of my lectures and how they would be evaluated. The university added this information to its catalogue of subjects so that students could see the course description.

The main difference between the programmes at the two universities is that at Zurich, the subject of Basque is on the syllabus of their Institute of Comparative Linguistics. This makes it easier for students to validate Basque in their curricula.

What will the focus of the course be?

Since it’s a single subject, I intend to offer a mix of Basque culture and Basque language (Euskara) classes. Perhaps more time will be spent on the language itself, especially grammar. As I said before, the students attending the classes will be part of a linguistics programme. The dynamics and priorities may change when the classes start, depending on the students’ interests.

I normally start my classes with a news item concerning a particular aspect of Basque society or culture. I give a brief presentation on the subject of the news, and then ask students if they have similar customs where they come from. I´ve always had students from diverse backgrounds in my classes, not only Germans but also students from other nations, so it generally leads to lively discussion.

Who is the course designed for? What is the student profile?

I accept anyone interested in coming to my classes. It doesn´t matter what degree programme they’re in. However, since I am part of a linguistics programme, it’s mainly philology and teacher education students who come to my classes. I do hope that when the classes begin and word starts to spread to the student body, people from other specialisations will also come. From my experience at the University of Konstanz, the most remarkable thing is the diversity of backgrounds. I’d like it to be the same in Zurich. I think it makes the experience much richer for everyone.

What has it been like so far to teach Basque abroad?

It can be hard at the beginning. It’s difficult to attract students and this is something that all the lecturers have commented on. Perhaps because of the lack of visibility, the fact that it’s often an elective course, lack of familiarity... I’ve had students come to my classes who didn´t even know how to place the Basque Country on a map. They’re eager to learn, but know nothing about us. For this reason alone, my first class is always a kind of express seminar on the Basque Country and language.

I have noticed that once they get a taste of the Basque language and culture, they tend to want to continue. At the end of the semester someone always says: "On my next holiday I´ll go to the Basque Country".

What do you think it will be like to teach Basque at the University of Zurich next semester?

I’ll be there on Friday. Right now, there are now nine people signed up for the course, a pretty good number for a first time in Zurich. As I said before, the fact that the course is part of the curriculum helps a lot. I can also see that the university is interested, which is very much appreciated.

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