18 February 2010

Learning Basque at EiTB.com!

This is just to let everyone know that I'm writing a blog on the English website of EiTB and it's called Learning Basque. So what does this mean? It means that when it comes to posts regarding Euskara, I post them all at Learning Basque. BUT, when it comes to general posts about language-learning, shared posts about Euskara and Català, as well as posts on Basque culture- all of those will be posted here.

I hope to see some of you guys over at Learning Basque!
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20 January 2010

Accents: When a J can be a Y and when an A can be an E

A few years ago, I read Barry Farber's How to Learn Any Language. Aside from being filled with a lot of helpful tips on how to study languages, it also included this gem on accents:

"Nobody is arrested for indecent exposure just because he dresses poorly. On the other hand, a person unconcerned about dress will never impress us with his appearance. It's the same with a proper accent. As long as you're going to go through the trouble of learning a language, why not try -at the very little extra cost- to mimic the genuine accent." [Barry Farber]

If there's one thing I'm obsessed about, more so than grammar tables (which wallpaper my room), it's nailing an accent down. I suppose it's because of my training in theatre arts that I have this trained ear for accents but the obsession with it is certainly something I was born with. I have always loved mentally filing away phrases, sentences, and monologues in accents that I found interesting. This would explain why I spend so much time repeating troublesome words out loud, over and over, until I can be sure that I have nailed it. I see correct pronunciation not only as a way to make myself understood better by native speakers, but also as an outward sign of respect for the language itself.

When I decided to learn Euskara and Català, I took some time to explore the different accents and dialacts from each language. Here is a very simplified explanation of what I learned: (it's simplified because even I, who sometimes enjoys a lesson in grammar, can find the entire thing quite tedious)

Euskara: Dialects and Accents

Depending on the source, Euskara has about 6-9 distinct dialects which differ from Batua (Unified Basque):

- Bizkaian
- Gipuzkoan
- Upper Navarrese
- Lower Navarrese
- Lapurdian
- Zuberoan

Of all six, perhaps the one I would be most familiar with would be Gipuzkoan as Batua is based heavily in Gipuzkoan vocabulary. I'm not quite at the level wherein I can identify differences between dialacts however I can identify small differences in the way certain letters are pronounced. For example:

- the letter J: according to Gorka Aulestia, the letter J is normally pronounced like a Spanish J, especially in places like Gipuzkoa. However, in Batua, the letter J is pronounced as a Y.

- the letter H: many years ago, particularly in Iparralde, the letter H was actually pronounced like an English H, however this is rarely heard nowadays and in Batua it is silent (as it is in Spanish and French). This would explain why the only time I have ever heard it pronounced was in a program featuring an interview with a very old Basque priest from Lapurdi.

I originally wanted to pronounce the letter J the Gipuzkoan way (I imagine that my ancestors from Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa would have pronounced it that way too... unless Hondarribia had its own now-lost dialect) and for a time I did just that, however, as my main form of studying Basque is taught using Batua, I have slowly ended up pronouncing the J as a Y.

Here are some samples you guys can listen to:

- Andoni Iraola (football player for Athletic Club) in a press conference. He has an interesting accent that I'm assuming is typical of Gipuzkoa (he's from Usurbil). He also seems to favour phrases such as "baina, beno" and "ba, beno".

- Amaren Alabak. One of the first few songs I listened to in Euskara were songs by Amaren Alabak. If you listen closely, you'll be able to detect nasal tones that are reminiscent of French. Also, I have read that the Zuberoan (or Xiberuan) dialact has one extra vowel: ü

- EiTB.com. I'm not really at the point wherein I can watch a series in Euskara and understand it but I still take time to watch some clips or an episode here and there just so I can get a feel for the language, the accents, and the speed in which people speak it. You can check out shows like Goenkale or Wazemank.

Català: Dialects and Accents

In broad terms, Català in terms of dialect can be divided into two:

- Western Catalan (this would include Valencià, Andorrà, Lleidatà, etc)
- Eastern Catalan (this would include Rosellonès, Barceloní, Mallorquí, etc)

I've read quite a bit about the differences between the dialects but what really catches my attention are the accents. The accents that stand out the most for me are those from Valencia, Lleida, and Mallorca.

I don't quite know exactly how to explain the differences between the accents so instead of trying to bungle my way through a half-baked explanation, I might as well just provide some samples for you guys to listen to:

- Canal 9. This is a channel broadcast in the Valencian language. To my ears, Valencià sounds like Català but with a more distinct Spanish pronunciation. Of course, there are also quite a few differences in terms of grammar as well. (I would have also placed a video of Raúl Albiol giving an interview in Valencià as he has a very intesting accent but since his traitorous move to Real Madrid, I haven't been to keen to listen to him speak, so...)

- Hat Trick Barça interviews Bojan Krkic. Whenever I would hear Bojan give an interview, I always wondered if his accent sounded so different because he might have grown up speaking Català as second language or something like that but a friend later on told me that his accent is typical in the province of Lleida.

- Carles Puyol interview. Like Bojan, Puyol also has a strong accent. In fact, I think the carefully crafted central Catalan accent I'm working in is now mutating into the sort of accent that Puyol has. I listen to his interviews as well as Xavi Hernández's a lot and at times, I end up mimicking Puyol's accent and at time's Xavi's. Compare the real Puyol's accent with the spoofed version created by Jordi Rios in Crackòvia.

- Crackòvia's Rafa Nadal. I know, I know, it might not be a good idea to use spoofs and sketch comedy to illustrate accents because they are so overdone (for comedic effect) but I must point out that in my program for learning Català (the wonderful Parla.cat), the Mallorquí accent of one of the characters is exactly the same as Xisca's. Now that I think about it, the Lleidatà accent of one of the program's characters is also exactly the same as Bojan Krkic's...
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30 December 2009

Goals are essential for language-learning

As the New Year approaches, I'm sure that aside from making preparations for New Year's Eve celebrations, some people are already getting to work on creating their New Year's resolutions. I myself am already starting mine (though I prefer to call them goals) and I have also decided to expand the one that I have for the languages that I am learning.

Goals are incredibly important for any language-learner as having good goals will keep us going especially in times when we hit roadblocks. Roadblocks can come in many forms like: boredom, lack of time, difficult concepts, negativity, self-doubt, etc. If we make sure to write good short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals then the road to mastering a language will be easier and we can be assured that it will keep you going even when you're ready to give up.

How do you go about setting up your goals? First, you must ask yourself two questions:
  • Why do I want to learn [insert language here]? - Some people want to learn a language because of an upcoming trip, others for work, and some want to learn because they want simply like the way the language sounds. Whatever your reason is, you must make sure that you know what it is, because there will come a time when things get tough and you will ask yourself "Why the hell am I learning this language?" and you must be able to retort with something other than "..." It is always easier to give up on something in which you don't have a reason to do.
  • How far do I want to go? - Some might be content to simply be able to get directions to a monument or museum whereas others might want to be able to live out the rest of their lives using their chosen language and to be able to handle it like a native-speaker. The amount of work and time that you need to put into learning a language is closely related to how far you want to go. It also affects the materials that you will need to use.
After answering those two questions, you will be able to come up with a few goals. To further give you guys some ideas, let me share with you a few (as I have many) of my own language-learning goals:

Goals for Euskara
  • read a short children's book [short term]
  • write a journal entry about daily life [intermediate]
  • obtain EGA certification (it's a proficiency test for Euskara) [long term]
Goals for Català
  • read a novel (short term)
  • converse with ease about Barça and fútbol in general (intermediate)
  • obtain certification from the Institut Ramon Llull in Nivell superior (another proficiency test) [long term]
I also suggest that you not only write down your goals but post them somewhere where you can see them every day. I have my list of goals tacked up on my pushpin board (next to my calendar) so I wake up every morning and I can use it to give me the necessary push I need especially when I find myself wanting to just relax and watch telly or sleep instead of study.

Also, don't be afraid to revise your goals. Sometimes, you might find that the goal you initially put down isn't working (we all tend to set unattainable goals sometimes) so instead of getting disappointed, just make the necessary adjustments.

In order for goals to be considered "good", keep the following in mind:

  • goals are better when they are concrete - This is not to say that abstract goals aren't good but they are easier to stick to and identify when they are concrete. Make sure that your goal can be measured. For example, instead of saying "Put in a little more studying time" is quite abstract in that it is hard to tell what a little more should be. So to make it concrete, we can say, "Put in 1 hour more of study time".
  • goals need to be measurable - How will you know if you are on the right path if you can't measure your progress? In my short term goal for Català, I want to be able to read a novel (maybe Mercè Rodoreda's La plaça de diamant) and I am able to measure that goal by having the novel with me and seeing how much I can understand easily. If I struggle too much, then I know that I'm not quite there yet.
  • goals must be challenging but attainable - If you make your goals too easy then there really isn't much joy when you attain it and if you make them unattainable then you will end up frustrated. Goals should challenge you to go further than what you thought you could reach. This is not to say that we can't celebrate little victories or that we can't dream big but make sure that the bulk of your goals are challenging and attainable.
  • goals reached should be celebrated - Sometimes the completion of the goal is a reward in itself but I feel that some of the tougher goals should be rewarded, celebrated, and shared with friends. Whenever I complete some of my tougher goals, I usually celebrate by buying myself a little something that is also related to the particular language that I am learning (i.e. a CD, a book, even a meal at a Basque restaurant!). I also make sure to let my friends know about it, especially those who support me in my goals so they can share my victories with me.

If this has inspired any of you to write out your own goals, please feel free to share some with us in the comments below.
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23 December 2009

Eguberri on! Bon Nadal! ¡Feliz Navidad! Happy Christmas!

I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas!

I've just noticed that when people greet you a Happy Christmas in Euskara, they say: Eguberri on! but if they are greeting you a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year as well, they say: Zorionak eta Urte berri on!

I'm not 100% sure but I think Zorionak eta Urte berri on! = Happy Holidays and Happy New Year whereas Eguberri eta Urte berri on! = Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. In any case, I use both styles. Leer más...

Olentzero and Tió de Nadal

First, let me apologise for the three weeks of silence. Apparently, studying two languages, taking classes at the university, and working can be quite time-consuming... who knew?!

Second, I haven't really had much material to blog about anyway seeing as I've been hard at work trying to figure out the concept of nominalizazioa in Euskara. I have been emailing my teacher, Mireya, back and forth trying to figure out the difference between Nongo, Nongoa, and Nongoak. Unfortunately, the first two translate to pretty much the same thing in English and the third is the plural version. This is one of those concepts that I am not 100% sure I've understood it but as I use it more, it starts to become a little bit clearer.

Third, I think I want to expand this blog and take it beyond just Euskara and Català. I want to include the cultural aspect of the Basques and the Catalans. This would include anything from music to football. The only thing I will be keeping out from this blog (or at least, I will try to as there are times when I will not be able to help but speak out) would be POLITICS because although I enjoy it (I did just switch from Theatre Arts to International Relations after all...) I realise how polarising it can be and how it could turn people off.

Now to the good stuff. Christmas is just a day or two away, depending on where you live, and to celebrate I want to explore different things about the Basque and Catalan Christmas.

[an Olentzero from Hendaia, Lapurdi/Hendaye, Labourd]

[Tió de Nadal]

Growing up, I was raised in a mix of Spanish, Filipino, and some American Christmas traditions but two traditions I did not grow up with are: Olentzero and Tió de Nadal.

Olentzero (I've also seen variations such as: Olentzaro, Olentxero, Onentzaro...)

I first read about Olentzero in a brief one paragraph mention in Mark Kurlansky's The Basque History of the World. In that book, he was described as a "pre-Christian evil sort of Santa Claus who slides down chimneys on Christmas Eve to harm people in their sleep. Fireplaces are lit for the holiday to keep him away."

There are many descriptions and stories of Olentzero and they differ from village to village. Some have him as belonging to the race of the jentilak (giants) who looked up to the clouds and saw in it a sign that Jesus would be born. The other jentilak threw themselves off the cliff, leaving Olentzero behind. There is also another version wherein Olentzero is an orphan who is bestowed gifts by a fairy (an English translation of this tale can be found in Buber's Basque Page).

It was in around the 1950's when Olentzero received a bit of a makeover and the more gruesome aspects of his personality as well as some of the pagan elements were removed. In his modern aspect, Olentzero is slowly starting to look like the Santa Clause of the west (i.e. the one Coca-Cola has seared into our brains for all eternity) rotund, jolly-faced and sometimes with a beard!

On Christmas Eve, an effigy of Olentzero sitting on a chair is carried around the streets as children and adults sing Olentzero carols and ask for food, sweets or sometimes money to be given to a humanitarian cause. At the end of the night, it is sometimes customary to burn the effigy of Olentzero.

Some Basques only celebrate Christmas with Olentzero whereas some do both: Olentzero and the Spanish Reyes Magos (Feast of the Three Kings, celebrated on 6 January).

To wrap up, here's a fantastic Youtube video of an Olentzero kantak. It's set up karaoke-style so you can sing-along! It's a version called Olentzero and performed in the children's program, Txirri, Mirri eta Txiribiton. I was unable to find translations for the entire song but it seems to be a mix of the two carols found in this Wikipedia article.

Also, there is a website dedicated to Olentzero. It comes in four languages (Euskara, English, Spanish, and French) and it is loaded with pictures of Olentzero, people dressed up as Olentzero, celebrations, recipes, and more. It's very interesting although actual articles in English are minimal.

BONUS: Here are some funny Olentzero-related sketches featured in my favourite Spanish-language comedy sketch show, Vaya Semanita (if you can understand Spanish, this is also a funny way to learn a bit about Basque culture and politics). All are in Spanish.

- Olentzero secuestrado
- Olentzero Gandalf
- Olentzero Begins
- Olentzero vs Reyes Magos
- He matado a Olentzero

Tió de Nadal

This is one of those lovely Catalan traditions that I became aware of through the comedy sketch show called Crackòvia. Unfortunately, I cannot find a clip of this sketch on Youtube or on Crackòvia's website. In the sketch, Carles Puyol invites Andrés Iniesta and Samuel Eto'o to his home to make the Tió poop by beating it with a stick. The laughter comes in when a large log, which Eto'o thinks is the Tió turns out to be just the stick that will be used to whack the gigantic Tió outside the house.

The Tió de Nadal roughly translates to Christmas log. In the early days it was quite literally just a rough log which was used to bring heat and light to the home. In a symbolic way it also brought presents of sweets, wafers, and turróns. Now, the image of tió has changed dramatically. It is now a hollowed-out magical log with a painted smiling face, a barretina (red sock hat) on its head and little sticks beneath it for legs.

On 8 December, the tió comes calling on a family's doorstep and the member who goes out to answer the door must care for him by giving him something to eat (dry bread, carob, orange peels or other fruit) and drink (water) each night as well as a warm blanket to keep him from getting cold. It is through the gentle care that the tió is later on able to poop presents.

On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (depending on the household), the family come around and beat the tió with a stick and sing caga, tió (literally an order to: "poop, log!"). After the order is given, the tió has pooped out a treat that can be found underneath his blanket. The tió never brings large gifts as these are brought by the Reyes Magos. The tió tends to bring sweets such as turrón, wafers, dry figs, and chocolates. When the tió is finished pooping treats, it drops a salt herring, garlic, onion or it simply pees. The beating of the tió with a stick is relatively modern as in the old days they used to stick part of the tió in the fireplace to make it poop treats out.

Here are two different version of songs that one can sing to make the tió poop:

caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!

poop log,
poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't poop well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
poop log!

caga tió
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que son més bons!

poop log,
log of Christmas
don't poop herrings,
which are too salty,
poop turrón
which is much better!

I've also found a cute video one Youtube of two little kids giving the tió a whack with their Mum and also singing a version of the Caga, tió.

Anna, who runs the blog: This curious thing called Catalonia, has written an entry talking about the tió, along with personal pictures and a song. Fantastic stuff!

If anyone knows of any other Basque or Catalan traditions, please feel free to share. Also, if you've grown up with Olentzero or the Tió de Nadal, please feel free to share any personal stories of memorable events and the like. I'll be back later tonight to officially wish you all a Happy Christmas.

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28 November 2009

Basque Cuisine plus recipes and vocabulary words

A week ago, I bought two cookbooks on Basque cuisine: The Basque Table by Teresa Barrenechea and the bilingual Cocina Vasca/Basque Cookery by Juan de Echevarria. I'm quite fascinated by Basque cooking, even more so after having two fantastic lunches at a Basque restaurant in Chino Hills called Centro Basco, so I've decided that I want to try and learn to cook as many Basque dishes as I can. I've already made quite a few (some have been a part of my family's staples for so long that I was surprised to find out they were traditional Basque! And here I thought my family made those recipes up...)

Aside from using food to learn more about Basque culture, it has also helped me learn and memorise words. This is why it's easy for me to recall that in Euskara an onion is kipula, water is ura, and salt cod is bakailaoa. Sometimes, this is easier to do than flash cards although I use both.

A few months ago, one of my friends from the Basque Country sent me a recipe for Intxaursaltsa (also: Intxaursalsa) which in English is sometimes known as Walnut Cream or Walnut Purée. Through that, I was not only able to add more words to my vocabulary but it was also very much appreciated in my family, especially by my Pops who loves sweet things and nuts.

Seeing as I haven't asked her permission to share the recipe, I won't be posting it here. Instead, I will give you guys the recipes found in the two books I mentioned earlier. There is a slight difference in each but both remain quite simple.

The first is from Cocina Vasca/Basque Cookery:


500 gms walnuts (crush with a mortar and pestle until it has become a paste)
2 litres full-cream milk
4 eggs (beaten)
450 gms sugar
1 stick of cinnamon

- Put the milk to boil with the sugar and stick of cinnamon and when it boils, take the cinnamon stick out.
- Remove the milk from the stove and when it has cooled a little add, the walnut paste and the beaten eggs.
- Put the mixture on low flame and constantly mix for about 20 minutes. (If you stop mixing it will start to boil and separate).
- Transfer the intxaursaltsa into a serving dish. It will thicken as it cools. Eat alone or serve with ice cream.

This next one is from The Basque Table:

Creamy Walnut Purée

1/2 lb walnuts
4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar

- Using a mortar and pestle, crush the walnuts until they are ground fine but not quite a paste. (You can use a food processor for this if you take great care not to overprocess the nuts.)
- In a large saucepan, combine the water and cinnamon stick. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add the walnuts, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the water is almost completely evaporated and the ground nuts are very thick. Discard the cinnamon stick.
- Add the milk and sugar to the saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened. If you'd like a thicker mixture, cook it for 5-10 minutes more, or even longer. Let the purée cook in the pan, then cover and chill the purée for at least 2 hours.
- Spoon the purée into small bowls, and top each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serve immediately.

The great thing about Intxaursaltsa is that you can eat it cold or warm and by itself or topped with ice cream or whipped cream. I usually prefer it at room temperature and by itself.

Although both recipes posted here are in English, here are some vocabulary words you can use if you try the recipe out:

  • intxaurra - walnut (intxaurrak - walnuts)
  • esnea - milk
  • ura - water
  • kanela - cinnamon
  • azukre - sugar
  • arrautza - egg (arrautzak - eggs)
My next Basque cooking project will be either chicken or Gateau Basque so hopefully I'll be able to post pictures next time!

BONUS: While watching one of my new favourite shows on EiTB, Objetivo Euskadi, I noticed that this week's episode which deals with traditional Basque dishes includes intxaursaltsa. In the show, the couple who make the intxaursaltsa add the crumbs of 5-day old bread. It looked pretty interesting!
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12 November 2009

Euskara and Català: Disparities in Language Promotion

These past few days, I have been going through my online resources for Euskara and Català as I previously mentioned doing a master list so anyone reading this blog can look through and select what can be of use. As I was doing this, I realized that resources in Català dominate in quantity, quality and availability. I then started to wonder, "What can the Basque Country learn from Catalunya when it comes to promoting their language?"

Before I go on, I would first like to make it clear that my goal in all this is to share my observations and maybe inspire people (as well as myself) to help make a change. The last thing I would want is for anyone involved in creating the resources in Euskara to feel that I am in any way putting them down or belittling the hard work that they put into it. Far from it! I have made use of and benefited from a lot of resources but I feel that there is still room for improvement especially when it comes to making these resources available for the use of people who would can only learn it through English and not Spanish or French.

In order try and find solutions to the language promotion problems in Euskara we must first find out what is not quite working or what needs to be improved upon. As I was forming my list, I kept in mind that I needed to look at it from the perspective of my target audience: English-speaking language-learners who do not live in the Basque Country.

  1. There are not enough resources in English - When I first started looking for materials I could use to learn a bit more about Euskara, I wanted something light, something that would give me a bit of an idea about how the language works without doing my head in with all the complex grammar rules (i.e. textbooks). I was only able to find one book that met those requirements: Beginner's Basque by Wim Jansen.

  2. There are few quality online courses/programs - One of the reasons I ended up using the BOGA program is because it was the only choice that would meet my requirements: good quality and low cost. The other program I was looking into, UNR's Basque Studies course, failed on the low cost department. I think that there are a lot of other study guides for Euskara online but only a few actual structured programs that will take a person through all necessary levels.

  3. Books in Euskara are hard to come by - I remember early on I wanted to get a children's book in Euskara so I could at least read something basic along with the help of my dictionary. I did find a couple of online bookstores with great books at reasonable prices, except shipping to the US was something to the tune of 27€.

  4. There is a stigma attached to Euskara - There is a website I sometimes visit that has a chat where language learners can meet up for language-exchanges. When I joined the chatroom in Spanish, I met more than a couple of people living in Spain who tried to talk me out of learning Euskara and I got reasons such as: "It is the language that the terrorists use", "It is the language of the radicals", "It's too difficult- you will never be able to learn it", "It's a language of the rural folk" and so on. Now, I personally found some of those reasons to be ignorant and offensive however, that sort of mindset is unfortunately quite common.

Now that the problems have been identified it is time to answer (or at least try to) the question: "What can the Basque Country learn from Catalunya when it comes to promoting their language?"

In truth, I don't really know what can be done to improve the quantity and quality of resources for learning Euskara. I would like to say that more funding is necessary however I am not completely sure that lack of funding is indeed the reason behind it. I sometimes think that maybe it's also because the resources created are targeted mainly for a certain audience (the Spanish or French-speaking audience) and because of this, there is a disparity in quantity of resources available. When it comes to finding resources for learning Català on the other hand, I have been able to find a lot of books in English as well as a lot of good quality and low cost online programs and each and every one of those programs is can be accessed in at least three languages (Parla.cat can be accessed in five).

As for finding books written in Euskara, I would really love to find out one day that there is a US-based online bookstore that would meet those needs. One of my main sources for finding books in languages other than English is Bookmooch and it is far easier to find books there in Català (in fact there are a lot of members from Catalunya) than in Euskara. I think that if those books are readily available then the learning process would be much easier.

The last part is the most difficult one of them all. How does one go about changing other people's negative perceptions of their language? How can we go about convincing people that Euskara is a language for everyone and not just for a certain set of people or a certain set of political beliefs? I believe that this is particularly a cause for concern because it could turn off people who want to learn Euskara, people who were searching for support and found nothing but negativity instead.
I believe that more needs to be done to present Euskara (and Basque culture, as a whole) in a more positive light. I think that it would be unrealistic to try and occult the negative aspects but if the positive aspects can be brought to the forefront, then the negative will not be so overwhelming.

When I first thought of writing about this topic in my blog, I didn't want to set out to try and find concrete answers but I felt that if I saw something that needed to change, I should at least try to find a solution. I may not have figured it all out, but I hope I at least got some wheels turning. Maybe this could be the start of great things to come.
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