“I want my students in Chile to know how important it is to use the Basque they already know”

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2021-02-11

It has been a long and winding road to Lazkao (Basque Country) and they are just about to finish their time at the Maizpide euskaltegi-barnetegi, where they have been immersed in the Basque language and culture. “It hasn´t been easy, but I really wish I could take the atmosphere here home with me,” said Lautaro Pincheira, who has enjoyed his time at the barnetegi. Lautaro is on a two-month stay together with ten other members of the Basque diaspora, all from Argentina, Chile or Uruguay.

They are part of the Etxepare Basque Institute’s Euskara Munduan programme aimed at promoting the Basque language at Euskal Etxeak Basque centers around the world. The goal of the students is to reach the next level of Basque literacy during their time at Maizpide: those with B2 level will do level C1, and those with B1 aim for B2 certification. They will then go back to home to teach Euskara at their respective Euskal Etxeak Basque centers. The students from Argentina will teach at the centers in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Necochea, San Nicolás, Tres Arroyos and Villa María; those from Chile and Uruguay will teach in Santiago and Montevideo, respectively. The group started learning Euskara as beginners in 2013 and this is their first being fully immersed in a Basque-speaking environment.

Pincheira has been teaching Basque language and culture at the Denak Bat Euskal Etxea in Mendoza, Argentina, for two years. His great-grandfather was from Tolosa and he remembers how his grandmother used to say words in Basque. Pincheira started studying Basque in 2004. Later, at university, he met people from the French Basque Country, or Iparralde. “They didn´t speak Spanish and I don´t speak French. Basque is what we had in common.”

Pincheira´s background is unique in that he did have a Basque-speaking environment in Argentina. Even so, the experience in Lazkao is new to him. Despite the restrictions and public health measures, in town he and his companions do everything in Basque. “When I make mistakes talking in shops or anywhere else, they usually answer me in Spanish until they realize that I’m Argentinian. Then they start talking to me in Basque.”

Chilean student Christian Echeverría says that the best part is being fully immersed in the language. “My suitcase arrived a week late and I had to go clothes shopping. Doing it in Basque made me realize my own linguistic ability,” he said.

Naturally speaking

In Chile Echeverría speaks Euskara at his ‘mintzalaguna’ (groups that bring together Basque speakers with people who want to practice) and in his classes. Even so, he says there is an ‘artificial’ feel to the atmosphere. "At the end of the class we start talking in Spanish among ourselves,” he added.

“What I’m enjoying the most is the chance to make mistakes, to be corrected and to ask all my questions,” said Etxeberria. “I want my students in Chile to know how important it is to use the Basque they already know. The classroom is the place where only Basque should be spoken. I’ll encourage students, even if they have a more basic level, to use what they do know.”

Echeverría followed his own path to Euskara. Raised by his grandmother, he decided to change his surname to hers and began to wonder about his origins. "She was a very silent woman,” he explained. “She never told us where she came from, she didn´t talk about her ancestors. I came across her language after she passed away."

Begoña Tisera did hear Basque spoken at home: “mainly orders,” she explains with a laugh. Her mother was born in Bilbao but the language was prohibited at that time. Her grandparents, on the other hand, did speak it, which is what sparked Tisera´s curiosity.

Tisera teaches and studies Euskara at the National University of Rosario and at the Euskal Etxea in San Nicolás, Argentina. The first teacher she had there had also studied at Maizpide. In a certain sense, she feels like she has come full circle.

She will try to take the Basque atmosphere of Lazkao back home with her. “I want to use my experience to motivate students and use what I’ve learned here to make that motivation last. I want them to speak Basque naturally.” Tisera believes that therein lies the key.

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