Jan 31, 2010

La Nacion Article

Although it is still unusual for language schools in Buenos Aires to teach native languages, some already offer this option and are driving more and more attention. As the Buenos Aires University Language Center (CUI), which in three years multiplied by eight the number of students of Quechua, Mapuche, and Guarani.

The Native American Language Program began in 2006 with an enrollment of 30 people. While in 2009 the figure rose significantly, enrolment surprised the organizers and reached 258 students. In 2009, enrolment for the course of Quechua rose up to 164 students, for the Guarani, 77, and the Mapuche, 17.

"The funny thing is that much of the spreading of these courses is from mouth to mouth. It's the the same students who promote them and they do not drop out. They are hooked to the classes and cultural activities," said the coordinator of languages at the CUI Monica Gonzalez Thompson.
There are no limits, no specific age ranges for these classes. "I have very young students, who just finished high school, to people over 70 years. All with different motivations," explained Professor of Mapuche, Tulio Cañumil.

Tulio belongs to the Mapuche community and has spent several years teaching at various cultural centers and, since 2006, at the CUI. "My idea has always been to reappreciate our culture through language and, thinking something more adapted to the guariache, (actually, wariace, the Mapuche word for town people), I did the project for this course", said the teacher.

But the task was not so simple. To teach Mapuche there are no specific literature in bookstores, therefore Tulio and staff of the institution thought up teaching materials and a dictionary of about 2,000 words with which students learn.

"It looks old, but it is pretty used," said Elpidia Carrasco, 69, as he showed the Mapuche dictionary she carries in her purse. "I am (from) Gulumapu (from the other side of the Andes in Mapuche - Note: actually, Land on the West) and always wanted to learn Mapuche, for my ancestors. But due to time constraints I couldn't before now, so now I'm doing it, "said Elpidia, who was born in Temuco (Chile) and has lived in Argentina for more than 50 years now.

Edgardo Hager, 39, is not a descendant from any original community - indeed, their ancestors are German, but does not hesitate to highlight the value of learning the culture of the country through the Native Languages. "Without realizing it, in Buenos Aires we use a lot of Mapuche toponyms. Like the names of some cities, like Cariló, meaning 'Green dune'", said Edgardo.

Foreigners at home

With the course of Guarani something similar happens: students seek to rescue the language that is still spoken in a vast region of Argentina, especially in the North-East of the country. "Many are descendants and others come by anthropological interest, to learn phonetics and to communicate with people from the community," said Professor Ignacio Baez, who is an Avaguaraní, from Paraguay.

Maria Cristina Anari is one of her pupils and said that for her it is a challenge to study Guarani. "It is the sixth language I learn, but Guarani is one of the most difficult. I'm from Buenos Aires and I always had some affinity for this language, I'm interested in understanding it in order to know my husband's mother tongue," she said.

According to the teacher and Marta Saldivia, a student from Entre Rios, the teaching of this language was not encouraged for a long time. "That there is greater openness now to teach this language and to respect the origin of our culture is significant," said Marta.

"We thought it was an obligation, from the ethical point of view, to offer these courses that seek to reach deep in different cultures through language. Sometimes they look like foreign languages, but the are spoken in our territory, so we owed ourselves a program like this", said the director of CUI, Roberto Villarruel.

The classes in Quechua, Guarani and Mapuche begin in March and enrolment is now open. In the city of Buenos Aires, the Centro Cultural Rojas also teaches Quechua. And in the suburbs, the National University of La Matanza teaches Guarani, Quechua and Aymara.

Silvia Barrojo

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Out of curiosity, family roots or workGrowing interest in learning to speak Native American Languages

Quechua, Mapuche and Guaraní classrooms multiply their students

lanacion.com | Culture | Sunday 31 January 2010
(Article in Spanish)