«We have total freedom to teach however we want»

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


This year’s summer course, Bikaintasuna Euskal Ikasketetan (Excellence in Basque Studies), will be held in San Sebastian’s Miramar Palace on July 11th and 12th The name of this year’s focus is ‘Egon eta egin, sustraiak sendotuz aurrera begira’ (loosely translated as ‘Strengthening roots’). One of the speakers is Araitz Claramunt, who will talk about her experience as a Basque language and culture assistant at the University of Helsinki since 2019. Course participants will reflect on the work carried out so far in teaching the Basque language and culture and how to face the challenges that lie ahead. Registration for the summer course is now open.

We caught up with Araitz to ask about her experiences in Helsinki.

- You’ve been working at the University of Helsinki for the past three years. How has it been so far?

- Each year has been different. I really think we’ve come a long way. The first year I had two Basque language classes. The second year, a third class was added, plus a Basque culture class and another class focusing on oral expression. This past year we created a fourth class combining language and sociolinguistics, although that one is taught by a colleague, not me.

- How much freedom do the Basque language and culture assistants have when it comes to teaching their classes?

- I focus on diversifying my classes and going into greater depth. Students have reacted very positively. We have total freedom to teach the curriculum however we want. I insist on explaining everything in Euskara from the first day.

- You’ll be taking about exactly that in the summer course, explaining step by step how you go about teaching Basque, won’t you?

- Yes. I feel it’s important to create a Basque-speaking environment to understand Euskara when you’re not in the country. In fact, I think that when you’re learning a language that’s not used locally, it’s important to associate a space and a person with that language, in this case Basque. It helps to identify oneself with the language. They associate me and my classroom with Euskara. We also work on this relationship through things like music.

- What type of students study Basque in Helsinki?

- Most of them have a background philology and language studies, motivated to learn a language that’s completely different. There are also a lot of students of linguistics, and a smattering of physics and mathematics students. There really is no typical Basque student but there is one thing they seem to have in common: they know someone, either a friend or a boyfriend/girlfriend who is Basque. I think it comes down to having that closeness with the language.

- Are you going to show us how you teach Euskara?

- I don’t want this to be too much of a spoiler but I can say that I’ll put the course attendants in the place of my Finnish students. I want to show them that even if I speak to them entirely in Euskara, they can follow the class perfectly, that it’s a method that works. There are people who like to learn through purely grammatical explanations, but this other way of teaching has worked really well for me in recent years. I’ve designed a dynamic way of teaching that will help people in the course see my students’perspective.

- Is there usually something in particular they like about the Basque language or culture? What surprises them the most?

- Many of them have never been to the Basque region, so our culture is new to them. They’re interested in politics, folklore, or the language itself. I’d say that Basque music, dance, and rural sports are what they find the most curious. Other people have Basque-speaking friends or have visited the Basque Country, so they’re more familiar with the people and food, which they also like.

- What are your thoughts for next year? Any new ideas or activities?

- So far, I’ve seen that establishing my relationship with students in Euskara has worked well and my plan is to take it a step further. They get into the habit of talking to me in Basque but it’s a lot harder to for them to use Basque among themselves. That’s why I’ve decided to focus on encouraging them to speak Euskara in their own conversations. My idea is to use different sorts of games to promote this dynamic.


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