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Why learn Basque?

by Aitor Agirre

You've probably heard many reasons for learning a new language: more job opportunities, broadening your horizons, meeting new people, having better travel experiences and so on- but when it comes to learning Basque, the motivations include and go beyond these.

The Basque language is spoken only by around 1 million people, and only in the Basque Country, a small country located in the north of Spain. So you might well ask yourself, "Why should I learn such a minority language?" But hang on! Keep reading and you'll be amazed by the uniqueness of the Basque language, called Euskara by its native speakers.

Such a mysterious language!

What are the origins of the Basque language? This question has been asked many times, but there is still no clear answer. Basque is an isolated case; it has always been surrounded by other languages and yet is unrelated to any of them. Although the Basque Country is located in Europe, Euskara is not Indo-European. What's more, it's thought to be the last language to have existed in Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages.

There are many theories with regard to the origins of the Basque language. Some say that Basque is the last vestige of the languages that were once spoken all across the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, if we have a closer look at this hypothesis, Basque and Iberian may well have been the same language. Others have found that Basque is related to African languages; there is also evidence that links Basque to Caucasian languages. Debate is guaranteed, and mystery still hangs about this language.

Challenge yourself

An old myth says that since there weren't any Basques going to hell, the devil decided to learn Basque, so he could talk to them, lead them to the wrong path and send them to hell. But he was to be disappointed, as after several years, the devil still couldn’t understand what the Basques where saying! Myths are just myths, but a study conducted by the British Foreign Office did conclude that Basque is the hardest language to learn in the world. As an isolated language, it has no syntactic parallels in English, Spanish or French and its grammar is exceedingly complex. This article is not the place in which to go into details.

If this wasn’t enough, the linguistic variations between the different Basque dialects are huge. They differ in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. Such a small territory, with such an expansive language. Anyway, don’t worry; you can always start with the Standard version of Basque.

And I don’t mean to frighten you off! If you love languages, and you are looking for challenges, this is the right one to pick.

Difficult is not impossible

If you've read this far, it might mean you are ready to accept the challenge. So let’s have a look on the bright side. For starters, let's follow Benny Lewis’s advice (one of the most famous polyglots in the word), and think of all the reasons why Basque can be easy to learn:

Let’s take a look at the cases of some public figures. Reyes Prados, a Spanish journalist and TV show presenter, learnt Basque after studying it at the Basque academy of languages for just one year!

"We have to break with the clichés" – said Reyes. "It’s too difficult, I wouldn't even be able to learn it in a lifetime, so how am I to learn it if I’m already 30? You can think that, or you can say: I’m going to find out if it’s as difficult as they say, I’m going to start studying it and I’m going to break with the clichés".

Since then, she has even presented a Basque TV show! Another famous person that lived in the Basque Country, William Petersen (famous in Spain for the TV Show CSI), also admires Basque and shows his language skills in this video:

Nothing can stop you learning Basque

Basque and its speakers survived through all the upheavals of European history; through Iberian, Celt and Carthaginian settlements, the Roman Empire, the Visigoths, the Frankish Empire, the Spanish Civil War and many other adversities. If none of these could beat the Basque language, is there really anything that can stop you learning it?

About the writer

This article was written by Aitor Agirre of Langademy, which supports all languages, including minority languages. They wish you the best of luck in your language learning process, and remember, the best way to learn a language is using it!

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