Hey friend, if you already have a grasp of the language and you intend to keep going until an intermediate level of Basque, this guide is for you.
Learning Basque is no walk in the park: congrats on making it this far! 👏
Uhm, what? You’re not yet there? No prob: you can find here how to start learning Basque –> Learning Basque: A Guide for Total Beginners
Allow me to share a few more things with you below:
- a paragraph about Basque-speaking lands,
- the situation of the Basque language today,
- what to use to reach a B1-B2 level,
- how and why to do it.
Let’s get started.
Where is Basque spoken
In three Spanish and three French provinces:
- Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Álava;
- Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule.
To these, we must add Navarre proper, Spain’s region which capital is Pamplona (Iruña, in Basque): it’s a region with an identity, to put it simply, halfway between Basque and Spanish. Such peculiarity is acknowledged in their Statute of Autonomy, that is, the body of laws under the constitution governing the regional competencies.
With different degrees, Basque is spoken and taught all over these areas, which are collectively called Euskal Herria, the country of the Basques. Beyond having common DNA and common physiognomic features, the Basques, protected by mountain ranges and an unyielding character, have developed a unique culture.
They are Christians, they move and mix comfortably between Spain and France, they embrace the 21st century with cutting-edge industries and research centres the world envies. They get loads of tourists and export high-tech goods, launch culinary trends, fish, research and innovate.
In a word, they live in the present, but after the Basque fashion. Basqueness transpires from plenty of elements:
- autochtonous breeds, 🐄
- place names,
- names and surnames,
- social structure,
- land property,
- agriculture, 🚜
- inheritance rights and succession,
Spain: A History, by Raymond Carr: I have found this book an excellent starting point, to learn about Spain and how Basque history is connected to the Spanish.
Intermediate Basque: the language today
The question many will ask themselves: “Are there any Basques who do not speak Spanish?”, and the answer is: not any more, they are all bilingual. However, it is useful to point out that:
- Not all Basques speak Basque,
- a good chunk of Basque speakers have learned it at school because in their families Basque wasn’t used,
- many native bascophones have absorbed a dialect at home and learned Euskara batúa at school. 🏫
Nowadays, Basque can be studied in various ways, either in the Spanish or the French side. Besides compulsory schooling, the language is taught in universities, associations, private and public language schools, not to mention those who go the self-teaching way. 📚
It’s in Spain where Basque enjoys the greatest prestige. The largest part of the Basque Country is located here; moreover, the French model of “one country, one language” has been a strong deterrent against the linguistic diversity in the République.
All well, then, in Spain? Hmmm, not all. Some believe Basque schools shouldn’t promote so much the teaching of the language, neither institutions support its usage financially. 💰
It’s the argument of those who state that nobody in the world speaks Basque but the Basques, that our kids would benefit from more math at school, that Spanish is a good enough mean of communication. It’s the utilitarian argument, which clashes head-on with the identity argument.
From the opposite side of the spectrum, there are also complaints about the lack of fluency in Basque of local public officials. Surprisingly, you can find people with poor or no command of Basque even in the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party).
Such criticism is also heard in other parts of Spain: in the Valencian Community, the public opinion rebukes those in office that establish harsh linguistic requirements for civil servants (ie, they have to be highly fluent in the Valencian language) without being proficient Valencian speakers themselves. 🤨
Nevertheless, this somewhat messy situation reveals the unique dynamism of the Basque language.
But there is more to it: for the society at large, Basque is entangled with the so-called cuestión vasca, and for any political party in Madrid, it’s still an open wound.
Banners written in Basque to call for ETA prisoners being sent to Basque prisons; disagreements over road signs (are Pamplona and Iruña the same city?), a degree of mistrust to deal with the issue in open debates… these are vestiges one encounter when visiting Euskal Herria.
Below, I’ll give you hints on where to look for more info on this; now, allow me to get back to the language and how to achieve an intermediate level of Basque. 🤓
Intermediate Basque: how to conquer it
Sadly, there is nothing available with English as a base language, for learning something beyond an A2. So, I have different proposals.
👉 If you manage only English: as said, nothing suitable for a self-learner. Then, an option is Aurrera! Volume 1: more or less, it covers the same content you find in the Colloquial Basque suggested in the previous guide.
Why suggesting this? Because the approach is different, and Basque as a language is difficult enough to make it worth repeating it. The University of Nevada, the publisher of this volume, has an outstanding tradition of Basque Studies (maybe because Nevada has been the destination of generations of Basques in the 19th and 20th century, for the most part working in animal husbandry).
👉 You master Spanish: well then, you can pry a new world open. Go right to the Spanish section of the website and check the resources suggested there. There are several recommendable resources out there, but as you’ll see there, I believe the Arian collection is the best. 🎉🎉
👉 You know French quite well: I’m have browsed little of the French bibliography on the matter. Excluding Assimil’s Le Basque Unifié, as it is not apparently on catalogue anymore, all is left for me to recommend is this:
Parlons Euskara, by Txomin Peillen. I love the book as almost anything published by L’Harmattan. It has extremely reliable information, in a pleasant way and with a hint of vintage that drives me crazy. Buttttt in my view this is not your typical self-teaching book, more a portrait of the language. 🖼️
Intermediate Basque: graded readers for a B1 level
As in the basic level, approaching an intermediate one, some graded readers will be beneficial. There are many, these are but a few I deem useful at this stage:
Lurtarrak by the well-known Xabier Monasterio: published by Erroa Argitaletxea, specialized in teaching Euskera.
Titare Bete Zorion, by Miren Agur Meabe: published by Elkar, also one of the sacred cows of books in Euskera.
Infernurantz, by Estibaliz Vivanco: published by Elkar, also one of the sacred cows of books in Euskera.
Generally speaking, any book of these publishers can be trusted.
Intermediate Basque: Strategies to make it yours
You don’t have to obtain a C2 certificate, enrol in Basque Studies at university or become a euskalari (Basque expert): learning Basque is an adventure, a pleasurable one with some occasional obstacle as in any adventure worth embarking on.
To get the most out of your studies, without losing your enthusiasm, here are a few tips.
#1 Get a private tutor or a coach
Outside the Basque Country, finding teachers for face-to-face private lessons is difficult: luckily, the Internet comes to our aid. It is easy to find Basque tutors and teachers online: at Italki, for example, you have plenty, whatever your time availability, your budget and preferences. 😸
You can benefit from a private tutor right from your first days. The more, the better. But if you can’t, keep in mind you can learn A LOT on your own. Money should never be a limitation when learning Basque, as any other language.
#2 Language exchanges
Euskaldunes (Basque native speakers) are more than happy to share their language with enthusiasts: in real life or the Internet, you will be able to have pleasant exchanges.
Remember that language exchange is for practising what you have learned elsewhere, expanding your vocabulary, receiving corrections (and providing all these things in return). A language exchange partner IS NOT there to teach you the locative or the ergative case: that is work for teachers. 😒
#3 The importance of knowing Spanish (or French)
The overwhelming majority of the material on Basque is written in these two languages, unsurprisingly.
Should you have a B2 in Spanish, I’d suggest you read the Spanish version of this very guide (above –> switch to the Spanish flag) and put to work the instructions written there.
There is also some bibliography in French, which I haven’t used much: and my impression is that it pales in comparison with the breadth of the Spanish when it comes to the Basque language. I will suggest something below, in any case.
#4 Don’t use other languages
If you’re practising and you don’t recall a word, don’t switch to English, don’t replace it with a Spanish one, just don’t! If you resort to languages other than Basque for every word you ignore or have forgotten, you slow down your learning.
If you want to say something like “I saw a lynx in a documentary” and you don’t remember that “lynx” in Basque is katamotz, try saying “big cat”, or “wild cat”, or imitate the animal! 🐆 If it’s not a matter of life and death, what’s the issue? You will all have a laugh and you’ll never forget that word.
#5 The difference between batúa Basque and real Basque
You might be told that batúa is an artificial, foreign language that doesn’t belong to the Basque Country.
The fact is that when the Euskaltzindia (the British Institute of the Basque language, so to say) set about standardising the language, it considered its main variants to create a language which was, well, unified. Some didn’t like the project. 🤨
Some elders have not understood the initiative; a few intellectuals and activists disagreed. It’s a minority that defends their own Basque, the specific variant spoken in their county.
Anyway, I have never seen or heard any discrimination towards a student: they will all be delighted that you’re learning Basque and more than willing to help. 👐
You may wonder, at this point: what if I move to a place where a local variety is more spoken than euskera batúa? Don’t worry! We’re not talking about languages light-years apart.
My suggestion would be to first learn batúa: then, when you’ve already achieved an intermediate level of Basque, pick up the local variety.
The History of Basque, by Robert Lawrence Trask, is an extensive small collection of first names, mountain names, mythological beings and Basque place names. You have to have a B2 in Spanish.
Intermediate Basque: 9 good reasons to achieve it
#1 Zero interference with other languages
On the other hand, it won’t interfere with any other language you know or are learning, because there is nothing on the planet resembling Basque.
#2 Basque names are cool
Exotic and full of meaning: Itziar, Maitena, Leyre, Unai, Aitor, Gorka, Edurne, Nagore, Aritza. Every name is a journey. 🚗
#3 Moving to the Basque Country with an intermediate Basque in your pocket
Relocating to Euskadi is the main reason, among non-Basques, to learn Basque. You could spend a lifetime there without knowing the language, but well, I would suffer from linguistic claustrophobia.
I don’t know about you, but me, I’m here on earth to live to the full.
#4 Unleash the Indiana Jones in you
The Basque language is shrouded in mystery even more than we can guess. It is no coincidence that people have gone looking for answers in all kinds of theories, about the language and about the people: Atlantis, Armenia, Japan, Etruria.
It is a deeply fascinating field of research, even more so because so far very little has been discovered. We need people skilled enough to cross disciplines and come with a plausible hypothesis about the origin of the Basque language. 🕵️
My hope is that the convergence of the latest scientific advances in several fields will eventually allow us to solve the rebus. One of the ingredients of the solution is surely linguistics.
What can I say: despite all, we live in exciting times. 🤩
#5 Basque history is terrific
One of the many contradictions of Basqueness, is that of being simultaneously deeply rooted in the Basque country, but also full of initiative. Basques migrated, fished, worked, traded extensively, often far before other populations.
Basques explored the Americas far and wide a few years later Columbus’ discovery (if not earlier); they colonized every corner of the new world early on; they (practically) gave the world the Society of Jesus.
They have been in command of entire industries, such as that of whaling: the North Atlantic right whale’s name (Eubalaena glacialis), contains references to the Basques in several languages: 🐋
- Spanish: Ballena de los vascos
- French: Baleine de Biscaye
- Basque (obvious): Euskal balea
- Galician: Balea vasca
- Danish: Biscayahvalen
- Polish: Waleń biskajski
- Slovakian: Veľryba biskajská
They were enterprising enough to stay with locals and allows for the emergence of Basque-based pidgins, such as the Basque-Icelandic and the Basque-Algonquian. Basque was a disproportionate amount of soldiers, merchants, clergies travelling with the Spanish imperial troops, from Mexico to The Philippines. 🇵🇭
In later years, they moved again to North America and brought what they were uniquely good at: sheepherding, breadmaking, woodworking. They left pelota courts, words in the local languages, arboglyphs and typical housings.
Invoking the Akelarre: Voices of the Accused in the Basque Witch-craze, 1609-1614 by Emma Wilby: one of the craziest pages of European history. The witchcraft phenomenon had a notable relevance in the Basque Country.
And this is just a glimpse of the last few centuries.
#6 Doing business with companies from the Basque Country
Again, many would argue: what for? If all Basques speak Spanish after all.
Because for many Basques, Basque is the language of affection, of the family, the language that best expresses who they are and their place in the world.
If you are a businessman, instead of spending a load of pounds on marketing campaigns whose return is difficult to predict, you could implement any of these:
- make your catalogue available in Basque,
- hire a Basque-speaking salesperson, 👔
- translate your website into Basque,
- attend trade fairs in the Basque Country with bascophone staff, 🛒
- employ a Basque-speaking accountant in administration.
Someone with an intermediate level of Basque can already work profitably in most companies and roles.
#7 Working for Basque employers
The Basque economy is one of the most dynamic in the world: Basque companies are established everywhere on the planet. 🌏
Outside the Basque Country, fluency in Basque is usually not a requirement; however, that does not mean that it is not appreciated. I know many cases in which speaking Basque has tipped the balance in favour of certain candidates.
#8 Working in the Basque Country
Besides living in Euskadi, if you look for a job there, chances are you’ll HIGHLY benefit from speaking Basque.
Spanish or French may suffice in the private sector, but in some cases, you may still need to have some degree of fluency; and if you intend to work in the public sector, or in public-private enterprises, then Basque may well be a requirement.
The most requested Basque certificate is the EGA (Euskararen Gaitasun Agiria), which proves you have a C1 in Basque. It’s an insanely high level. Of those who hold a certificate in Basque:
- about 60% have the EGA;
- 20% a B2 certificate;
- 18% a B1 certificate.
You can check on this governmental website all Basque official certifications available.
#9 Basque is aphrodisiacal
As Amaia says in the blockbuster Ocho Apellidos Vascos, the Basque language is a turn-on. Use this info in the way you find fit. 😶
To know more
A Basque Diary: Living in Hondarribia, by Alex Hallatt, is a funny account of his time in the Basque Country. He has a style halfway between a chronicler and Guy Delisle. You’re going to love it. 💚
This is a heavier, but sensational, one:
Tragic Sense of Life by Basque author Miguel de Unamuno: is one of his famous book. It’s also one of Unamuno’s easiest reads. The Basque essence permeates it.
What does not need any introduction is the following:
Homeland, by Fernando Aramburu: it’s been more than a bestseller. Loved, hated, criticized, read. I won’t spoil any of it, but you have to read it. 👓
The Basque Country: A Cultural History, by Paddy Woodworth: it rarely happens that I go through a book and I don’t complain, for one reason or another. It happened with this one: the author got the alchemy to write dense content in an incredibly flowing manner.
This is the end of the second post, about how to improve your fluency up to an intermediate level of Basque.
This was the first one –> Learning Basque: A Guide for Total Beginners
It’s a long road to the top, but luckily an enjoyable one. However, if you already are at this level, perhaps stuck at the infamous intermediate plateau, you may want to check the guide about advanced Basque –> Euskera Avanzado: Cómo Estudiar Para Alcanzarlo, which is in Spanish only, also because if you’re to earn total fluency in Basque, my suggestion is to do it from fluency of Spanish first, to handle comfortably materials written in Spanish.
However, with an intermediate Basque, you can already:
- engage in conversations of a certain complexity,
- use it at work, 👔
- flirt on Friday night,
- read some good books (eventually). 📖
It’s an immense blessing to be conversational in Basque and to discover the vast, deep ocean Basqueness is.
If you have found this post useful, would you please share it? It’s a way to tell me eskerrik asko and to make sure that this project would be sustainable in the long run. And thank you also for the time taken to read this. 🙏
Sarri arte 🖖
Your personal euskalari,