ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Declared one of Paraguay’s official languages along with Spanish in 1992, Guaraní is regarded not just as an idiom, but as a symbol of Paraguayan identity.
Though many Paraguayans are reluctant to give Guaraní the importance it deserves, the language has remained prevalent throughout the years thanks to its strong tradition.
Guaraní is part of the curriculum at primary and secondary schools. Children learn basic concepts such as word meanings and grammatical rules from the first day of school.
Despite these efforts, the level of teaching is not satisfactory, according to many educators.
“I think that [teaching Guaraní] could be more motivational [for the students],” said Nilza Florentín, a Guaraní language teacher. “It was a big achievement to have Guaraní included as part of the education reform and to be given the same instructional hours as Spanish, but it is not enough.”
Methodology and scope are the main hurdles for the teaching of this language to younger generations, according to Florentín, who has a communications degree.
“It is important to put aside technical lessons to teach more literature and stories in Guaraní,” she said. “The oral tradition is fundamental. I dare say that it is more important than having perfect spelling and grammar. To be able to speak and express yourself in Guaraní is something beautiful, but it is sad to see kids learn words, lines, phrases from memory, without even understanding what they mean.”
David Galeano, author of several books on Guaraní and creator of the Ateneo de Lengua y Cultura Guaraní, a Guaraní language and culture center, said the language has survived persecution throughout its history.
“Despite being repressed throughout history, Guaraní is more alive today than ever. It was prohibited in some families and until not so long ago, those who spoke it received some form of punishment. Now, we are seeing a more positive attitude towards the language,” he said.
Galeano said that in universities, students of law, medicine, journalism, psychology and liberal arts enroll in Guaraní as an additional course. Still, students say that there are better ways to teach the language.
“We have complained to the ministry of education about the need to improve the teaching. We proposed better content, methodology, testing and bibliography in order to make Guaraní stronger,” he said.
Galeano said the support offered by the Paraguayan government is not enough.
“There are more than 25,000 Guaraní teachers, but not because the government created courses to teach the language,” Galeano said. “Rather, it is because a private group like the Ateneo [that does not receive government funds] took charge of educating them [the center] and put them at the service of the ministry of education.”
Regina Ríos, who just graduated from secondary school, said the time allotted to study Guaraní is insufficient.
“We should give more time and interest to Guaraní as a subject of study in the education system,” Rios said. “I completed secondary school last year and I have learned practically nothing because of the lack of practice and the methods offered by the [teachers]. As a Paraguayan I think that we should value Guaraní more so that students can really feel a love for our language. Guaraní would really let us identify ourselves as Paraguayans who genuinely love our country.”
Many polkas and guaranias, two of the country’s folkloric musical styles, are pure expressions of Guaraní. Fans of both styles, such as José Giménez, say that it makes them appreciate and value Guaraní even more.
“The polkas and guaranias say many pretty things in Guaraní. You can identify with them because they speak our everyday language,” Giménez said. “I identify with these songs. They make me feel more Paraguayan and I feel like Guaraní is something of ours that is authentic.”
The emergence of the Internet has offered an important way to maintain the language. Today there are thousands of Web portals for Guaraní, including Google and Wikipedia.
Paraguayan movies such as “Paraguayan Hammock” from director Paz Encina have been filmed all in Guaraní, and the upcoming movie “7 Cajas” by directors Tana Schémbori and Juan Carlos Maneglia also features the language
“Guaraní is part of my identity as a Paraguayan,” Florentín said. “It is part of our being, a symbol of belonging.”