Reasons others learned Esperanto  

Don HARLOW <donh /c`e/ NETCOM.COM>,

past president of the Esperanto League for North America:

laforte /c`e/ (Christian Laforte) skribis en lastatempa afi^so:

>> I heard about esperanto two or three years ago, in a science-fiction book (Le fleuve de l'eternite in its french title, from Jose Farmer), and <<

_Riverworld_, I expect.

>> I started reading the course and became quite surprised: I understood the esperanto part more easily than the german part! I took a concentrated 90 hours german course and yet, after 30 minutes learning esperanto I would probably have less problems expressing my thoughts in this new language than I would in german... And I really like the fact that there are no exceptions, no genders to learn by heart, etc... <<

Just to quote a similar case of my acquaintance. My best friend studied English for nine years in high school and later in college, to become an English teacher (a job at which she later spent more than twenty years).  In her last year of college, shortly after she decided to take Russian as a second foreign language, an official appeared in her Russian class and said, "Next year's World Esperanto Congress is going to be held in Tokyo [a 2-3 hour flight across the China Sea from her home] and we need a cadre of dedicated young volunteer enthusiasts to learn Esperanto and represent our country in Tokyo. Those dedicated young volunteer enthusiasts will be you ... you ... you ..." She was, to her distress, one of the "you"s. I somehow gather that the word for "volunteer" in her native language (it is also found in the title of her national anthem) does not cover exactly the same semantic terrain that it does in English...

Anyway, she tells me, after a semester of Esperanto she found it much more comfortable to read books and write letters in Esperanto than in English, after almost nine years of the latter language.

Bruce Sherwood <bas+ /c`e/ ANDREW.CMU.EDU>,

Center for Innovation In Learning, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA:

In response to the question about the time required to learn languages:

I did not have any language classes in high school, but I learned to read and write Esperanto by self-study starting in high school.  During my 4th year in college I took two semesters of Italian by correspondence to get ready for study in Italy (my university did not offer Italian).  In Italy I knew a couple who spoke Esperanto at home (he was Italian and she was Bulgarian), so I learned to speak and understand Esperanto simultaneously with learning to use Italian.  I spent a year in Italy and took physics courses in Italian.  Later I studied Spanish on my own, and on numerous occasions I've given talks or workshops abroad in Esperanto, Italian, or Spanish.  I also tried to learn Russian on my own, but I never got good enough to read Sputnik with high comprehension, to say nothing of speaking and understanding.

Now here's the kicker.  Despite living in Italy for a full year, and despite LOTS more time spent working on Spanish and Italian than on Esperanto, including reading literature widely in the original, I am MUCH more expressive in Esperanto.  Why?  Because with a relatively small vocabulary I can be very expressive in Esperanto, but MUCH less so in languages like Spanish and Italian.  This is due to the extraordinary word-formation capabilities of Esperanto, which offers expressiveness not by the European-language schemes of a huge vocabulary but by the elegant scheme of highly flexible and inventive word coinage on the fly.  Also, between trips to Spanish-speaking countries I can't retain a facility in using the past absolute (which moreover is highly irregular for many verbs), so I simply use circumlocutions and avoid using it, thus losing expressiveness.  In contrast, the Esperanto verb system is very simple and completely regular, yet has enormous expressive power.  Related comments apply to many other areas of grammar.

It takes no more time to learn to say "Where is the railroad station?"  in Spanish or Italian or in Esperanto.  But it takes a TREMENDOUSLY longer time to reach in Spanish or Italian anything approaching the fluency and expressiveness of one's native language.  In fact, I would say that I couldn't do it unless I lived for a decade or two in Spain or Italy.

Although it seems hard to believe, I have personally known of several cases (not me!) of young people who acquired a respectable command of Esperanto in a matter of weeks.  On the other hand, from my own experience I am rather dubious of the claim that "it isn't unusual to have a very good command of the language in 6 months (Spanish) if you were able to devote 4 hours or so to it each day."  On the other hand, this may be irrelevant, because who can devote 4 hours or so to Spanish every day for 6 months?

Ian Fantom <Ian /c`e/>, Esperanto-Viva online multimedia course:

b-marks /c`e/ (Bruce Marks) writes:

>> I am a 12 year old boy in Surrey BC. I am in grade 7, and have to talk about what I think about an international language. I know that esperanto is an international language, and many people speak it. I have my thoughts about the subject, but I want to know what others think. I value the internet as a resource, and I would greatly appreciate some responses. Thank you!!!!!!! <<

Hi, Justin!

I first learned of Esperanto when I was 13, so you're ahead of me. A headmaster from a nearby school gave us a talk, and explained why he had started teaching Esperanto at his school. He wanted to improve the pupils' level in French! He had heard that learning Esperanto can help with language learning, so he decided to try it out. The cleverer pupils were in the A-stream, and they learned French for four years. He introduced Esperanto to the B-stream pupils for one year, and then taught them French for three years. When the four years were up, he compared the two groups' performance at French, and found that the B-stream had caught up with the A-stream. So the B-stream went faster in French _and_ they could speak two languages, whereas the A-stream had only one language.

So I bought a little booklet on Esperanto and started reading it in the bus on the way home. It wasn't till I was 16 that I learned it, though. I studied German for two years, took my exams, and then looked around at other languages. One of these was Esperanto. After two _months_ I found I had reached the standard I had reached in German after two _years_!

Esperanto is the ideal language for kids to learn. If my booklet had been suitable for a 13-year-old, I'd have probably learned Esperanto when I was 13. It's fun to do. You don't have all the exceptions that you have in other languages - everything is straight-forward.

Every year there is a World Esperanto Congress, and usually there's a nearby International Children's Congress (Internacia Infana Kongreseto). This is really just for the more fluent speakers of the language, though some less fluent children do come as well. They come from different nationalities, and they are encouraged to mix, so you don't have English children playing just with English children, French children playing just with French children, etc. The children enjoy it. This year's one is near Prague in the Chech Republic. I'm one of the leaders, and if enough children bring in musical instruments, we'll form an orchestra. We've done this before. In Austria we played in public in the grounds of a monastery (with permission) and collected money for children's further activities.

What I would like is for primary schools to teach Esperanto to their kids.  That will prepare them for learning other languages in the secondary school.  They are doing that in a few schools in Australia as an experiment to see whether this speeds them up at secondary school. Of course, if that were done on a large scale, we would have a generation of school children throughout the world who could all speak Esperanto to each other.

The Spanish minister of education didn't believe it was possible for children as young as 6 to be speaking and playing in Esperanto together, until he sent a representative to a Children's Congress. The representative was amazed!

So, perhaps you'll get your teachers interested. I've got a file somewhere of what teachers in the USA think about Esperanto - I'll send it you if I can find it!

Best of luck with your talk.

Regards - Ian (England)

D Gary Grady <dgary /c`e/>:

scotterb /c`e/ (Scott D. Erb) wrote:

>> Why learn esperanto when I can study Italian and then go to Rome, Florence and Venice and understand much of what's happening? <<

I by no means disagree with the thrust of your point. But...

I don't think you're looking at the whole question, which includes not just advantages but costs. I would certainly be better off going to the Library of Congress rather than to library in a small town, but the latter may be a good deal easier to reach, and doesn't preclude my going to the Library of Congress as well.

Similarly, for almost everyone, the time investment needed to learn Esperanto is only a fraction of that required to learn Italian (or English), and the greater the linguistic distance one has to cross in getting from one's native language to Italian (or English), the more pronounced the relative ease of Esperanto is likely to be.

Of course, that in itself doesn't mean that Esperanto is necessarily useful enough to repay even the relatively modest cost of learning it.  But it's worth noting that research (at Columbia University in the U.S., at Sheffield in England, etc.) has tended to show that students who learn Esperanto and then go on to another foreign language learn that other language much more rapidly.

Or course, the same is true of almost any sequence of languages.  But Esperanto can be learned much more rapidly, so that the time required to learn it is not much greater than the time savings in learning a subsequent language.

That is, a student can learn Esperanto and (say) Italian in only a little more time than would be required to learn Italian alone.  The additional cost of learning Esperanto is so small that even a modest level of usability for Esperanto could repay the effort.

Clyde Price <Clyde.Price /c`e/>, Christian Digital Library Foundation:

This message was originally addressed to dooley /c`e/ (John Dooley Craddock)
and a carbon copy was sent to you.
CCP:(I've spent enough time and thought on this reply that I want to share it with other folks. Attributed quotation and reproduction in whole is permitted and encouraged. I SPEAK ONLY FOR MYSELF!)

>> Am I wrong in believing that the aim of an INTERnational language like Esperanto is ultimately ANTInational, in that part of its purpose is to encourage communication and contact, and to eliminate the barriers that make such contact difficult? Aren't the borders between nations one of the worst kinds of barrier?   John <<


Obviously, nobody can "speak for" all Esperantists, but to the biographical material I've read about Ludwig Zamenhof, _his_ purpose in creating "the International Language" was to facilitate _communication_ between people of diverse linguistic and ethnic groups. In his own personal political views, he was probably more of an internationalist than I am, and his daughter Lidia definitely was, but the "neutral" Esperanto movement, as represented by the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA), and the Esperanto League for North America (ELNA), are religiously and politically neutral.  There actually do exist "non-nationalist" (meaning ANTI-nationalist, i.e. one-worlder) groups, most of which are openly socialist.

The closest thing to religious or political bias in the Movement is an admiration for Zamenhof, a truly admirable man, and a WILLINGNESS to communicate with people who are _different._

Some religious groups have either "officially adopted" Esperanto, or strongly encouraged its use.  Ludwig and Lidia Zamenhof both wanted the Esperanto Movement to _avoid_ "identification" with any particular religion, philosophy or political view, because somebody might look at --for instance-- Lidia's Bahai belief and say, "I don't like Bahais, so I won't learn Esperanto." Apart from the fact that racists resent inter-ethnic fellowship, and tyrants don't want their people communicating directly with people in other countries, you CANNOT GENERALIZE about the political views of Esperantists. (The Esperanto.FAQ talks about this eloquently.)

I'm DEFINITELY not "religiously neutral".

I'm an evangelical Christian and very interested in world missions and Christian education. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is, as He claimed, the only way to the true and living God; and it is my responsibility together with other Christians to tell the message to all nations (ethnoi, ethnic-groups) and TEACH all who believe to be disciples of Messiah in every area of life.

I see Esperanto as a strategically valuable _introduction_ to the study of languages in general (including, notably, English), and also an easily-learned medium of communication and instruction_ in itself. I believe that Esperanto is too good a tool NOT to use in education -- including religious education.

Working with international students helped me develop a positive "attraction" to people not of my culture or ethnos: I _enjoy_ getting to know them personally and in the context of their own culture(s), and I unashamedly want to introduce them to the Scriptures and the adorable God of whom they speak.  The word translated "hospitality" in the English New Testament is _filoxenia_, or "love of foreigners"; sometimes I talk about "xenophilia": a positive predisposition to be interested in _different_ folks (the opposite of xenophobia). I was predisposed to be attracted to Esperanto as soon as I learned a little about it, and I believe that other evangelical Christians should be, too, as soon as they know something about it.

I've already joined the Kristana Esperantista Ligo Internacia (KELI) the Protestant Christian Esperanto group.  Their publication, _Dia Regno_, is a little higher level of the language than I'm yet comfortable with, but I'm _growing_ in Esperanto studying material written about my favorite subject.  (I don't have the address for the USA contact-person at hand.  Correspondence with KELI should ordinarily be in Esperanto.  The editor of _Dia Regno_ is Philippe Cousson, email: diaregno /c`e/

I like the idea of "politically neutral" promotion of Esperanto, even though I'm NOT politically "neutral" myself. [...] I favor free enterprise (responsible capitalism), smaller Federal government, freedom for homeschoolers and private schools, and religious freedom. [...] I am NOT a socialist!  I do NOT want the UN to command US military forces directly.  I do NOT want American troops donning UN uniforms or being removed from strictly-US chain-of-command. I do NOT want the Klinton "health-care" plan that would have nationalized 1/7th of the US economy and OUTLAWED ALL 'PRIVATE' CARE. I say all this to illustrate that I am a politically-conservative 'Usono' who is committed to the use and promotion of Esperanto... even while I'm still erratically studying to become more fluent myself.

To your question: _I_ do NOT favor the elimination of borders or the creation of a One-World Government, because I fear a monolithic State would eventually _eliminate_ freedoms I want [...]

Clyde Price <Clyde.Price /c`e/>:

This message was originally addressed to dfb /c`e/ and a carbon copy was sent to you.

The questions you raise are mostly answered in the ESPERANTO.FAQ, but since your questions closely resembled my own, I'll pipe up too. A booklet by E.Symoens is available (as roles_eo.txt/zip) that addresses most of these issues better:  "SOCIO-POLITICAL, EDUCATIONAL & CULTURAL ROLES OF ESPERANTO by EDWARD SYMOENS (English translation by Maire Mullarney & Malcolm Jones)"  This is available on the Web at "", home of the Christian Digital Library Foundation files. (The Symoens' file is _not_ "religious", and it is also available in print-media from ELNA.)

>> I've been told that if I visit a foreign country, I shouldn't expect to ask directions on the street in Esperanto,...  no one to talk to except for a special club. <<

I think the current estimate of Esperantists is at least 2 million in at least 120 countries. Maybe looking up an Esperantist in a "special club" directory is a hassle, but Esperantists are reputed to have a _friendlier_ attitude than folks who learned English for economic reasons. Before "everybody" speaks Esperanto, lots of individual "somebodys" must learn it first, _whatever_ their motivations. I chose to be one of those "somebodys".

Years ago, I discovered that talking with international students here in Atlanta was loads of fun, though communication was often VERY frustrating when students who could read medical textbooks in English were completely unable to express themselves about _life_issues_ (& sometimes unable to understand ME) via spoken English. The possibility of TALKING AS EQUALS with a widely varied international community was the "bait" that hooked me.

>> But most people who study a 2nd language...would rather study English!  So why not change the vocabulary so that all of the Esperanto words are from English,... but with everything else being as in Esperanto. ...Look how much more quickly & easily the student of English could begin speaking if s/he used the Esperanto grammar. <<

I'll probably get flamed if I cc: this to SCE, but I've read that Esperanto is more closely cognate with English than with any other national language, and native-English-speakers generally have an easier time learning Esperanto than speakers of any other language. (I think this is hilariously ironic!) Although many Esperantists would vociferously object to this, Esperanto has already been called "streamlined English." It already _almost_is_ what you're asking for. Look through an Esperanto/English dictionary and see how many roots are NOT cognates with words in English: not many.

According to Symoens, a non-English-speaker who wanted to learn English would SAVE TIME AND EFFORT if s/he studied Esperanto first for 6 months or so, and THEN began English (although this "headstart" factor also applies to the study of other languages).

The study of Esperanto is a very advantageous introduction to language-study in general, easily teaching visually recognizable parts of speech, verb tenses, etc., even helping students learn their native-language grammar (since with E-o, you don't have to keep stumbling over exceptions when you're trying to teach a concept).

Incidentally, since enough Esperanto can be learned in six months to _study_other_subjects_IN_E-o_, I've become VERY interested in developing tools to use E-o as a medium for education. If we
insist that minority-language-speakers must learn ANOTHER language in order to go to college, let's use an EASY language!

An un-hidden benefit to the "preparation" study of E-o, is that in addition to SAVING TIME on the "other" language, the student learns enough Esperanto to _communicate_ with other schoolchildren all over the planet. Let's promote Esperanto ALL OVER THE WORLD as "language preparation" to study the locally favored ethnic languages.  It will WORK for that purpose... and as a BY-PRODUCT we'll have a worldwide generation of people who CAN TALK TO EACH OTHER.

>> Make Esperanto an International language.  Give it a vocabulary that people want to learn! <<

Ludwig Zamenhof diligently selected word-roots that were already in international use.  Esperanto includes the internationally recognized (mostly European) word-roots of medicine, science and economics pretty well. While you were proposing _English_ roots, the English lexicon MOSTLY draws from the same well of international roots that Esperanto is drawn from. LLZ's final product is so similar to what you ask for, --IMHO-- it would be pointless to Anglify Esperanto. Esperanto performs the functions you're asking for quite well. It WORKS: It doesn't need "fixing".


[edited by Don HARLOW]

I take an interest, as a philologist, and as every philologist should, in the international-language movement, as an important and interesting linguistic phenomenon, and am sympathetic to the claims of Esperanto in particular. I am not a practical Esperantist, as it seems to me on reflection an adviser should at least in some measure be. I can neither write nor speak the language. I know it, as a philologist would say, in that 25 years ago (1) I learned and have not forgotten its grammar and structure, and at one time read a fair amount written in it, and since I am trained to that sort of thing, I feel competent to have an opinion concerning the defects and excellencies. That being so, I feel that I could make no useful contribution, except as a philologist and critic. But it is precisely my view of the international language situation, that such services, however good in theory, are in practice not wanted; in fact, that a time has come when the philological theorist is a hindrance and a nuisance. This is indeed the strongest of my motives for supporting Esperanto. (2) Esperanto seems to me beyond doubt, taken all round, superior to all present competitors, but its chief claim to support seems to me to rest on the fact that it has already the premier place, has won the widest measure of practical acceptance, and developed the most advanced organisation. It is in fact in the position of an orthodox church facing not only unbelievers but schismatics and heretics -- a situation that was foretold by the philologist. But granted a certain necessary degree of simplicity, internationality, and (I would add) individuality and euphony -- which Esperanto certainly reaches and passes -- it seems to me obvious that much the most important problem to be solved by a would-be international language is universal propagation. An inferior instrument that has a chance of achieving this is worth a hundred theoretically more perfect. There is no finality in linguistic invention and taste. Nicety of invention in detail is of comparatively little importance, beyond the necessary minimum; and theorists and inventors (whose band I would delight to join) are simply retarders of the movement, if they are willing to sacrifice unanimity to "improvement".

Actually, it seems to me, too, that technical improvement of the machinery, either aiming at greater simplicity and perspicuity of structure, or at greater internationality, or what not, tends (to judge by recent examples) to destroy the "humane" or aesthetic aspect of the invented idiom. This apparently unpractical aspect appears to be largely overlooked by theorists; though I imagine it is not really unpractical, and will have ultimately great influence on the prime matter of universal acceptance. N** (3), for instance, is ingenious, and easier than Esperanto, but hideous -- "factory product" is written all over it, or rather, "made of spare parts" -- and it has no gleam of the individuality, coherence and beauty, which appear in the great natural idioms, and which do appear to a considerable degree (probably as high a degree as is possible in an artificial idiom) in Esperanto -- a proof of the genius of the original author...

My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: "Back Esperanto loyally."

--The British Esperantist, 1932

Editor's notes:

(1) This would have made Tolkien 16 years old at the time he studied Esperanto; see also below. It may be wondered just how much his study of Esperanto influenced his interest in constructed languages, which later led directly to _The Hobbit_ and _The Lord of the Rings_.

(2) Tolkien may be being a bit disingenuous here. There is evidence -- specifically, a notebook, in Esperanto, written at age 17 by Tolkien -- in the Bodleian Library to indicate that his knowledge of, and interest in, Esperanto was, at least during part of his life, considerably greater than he acknowledges in this article.

(3) "N**" is not further identified, but given the time of writing we may, with some confidence, assume that Tolkien was referring to Otto Jespersen's recently-promulgated Novial.


This article has appeared in several places in recent years, including on the net and in the pages of _esperanto usa_. This posting is copied from pp 11-12 of Tolkien, J.R.R.: _La Kunularo de l' Ringo_.  Translated by William Auld. Ekaterinburg: Sezonoj, 1995.

(English version available at

Ken Caviness <caviness /c`e/>, in response to Martin Fox:

>> Better yet, why don't we all try to learn a little of other people's languages?
I can struggle with four languages besides English.  Believe me, it is a struggle.  The sense of accomplishment isa what matters when I am abroad and manage to communicate, e.g., to order a meal in Paris entierly in French and then get what I expect.  My proudest moment in this struggle was when I figured out how to ask for senior citizen museum tickets in French. <<

You are right, it's a great feeling.  I only began learning languages other than my own in college, and getting to the point of moderate fluency is very hard, getting to the point of being able to function at near normal level is a tremendous struggle, but WELL worth it.  Some of my most pleasant memories have been when I was mistaken for a (south) German in Austria, in Rwanda for a Belgian.  They knew I wasn't "from around here", but at least my German and French were good enough that no one thought I was American!

But it's a lot of work.

I only decided to learn Esperanto as a kick, an intellectual challenge, like doing crossword puzzles.  Believe me, you can learn it in one tenth the time it takes to reach moderate fluency in a "wild" (unplanned) language.  And it's fun!  After 10 lessons I subscribed to magazines and could read them!  I had to check a dictionary about once per page.  And in less than a year, I was tutoring others in the language.

Now I'm working on Spanish, and will eventually get back to the Russian I started 15 years ago, but I use Esperanto every day on Internet.  Think of conversations between people of greatly differing cultures, on an "level playing field", no one at a disadvantage because of having to speak the mother tongue of another.  Think what a different viewpoint this gives!  I frequently have to realize that things I take for granted are not at all obvious to others in the discussion.  It's invigorating!

People who learn Esperanto frequently go on to learn one or more other languages.  It is another door that opens onto the world, and makes it easier for people of one culture to learn about others.

Amikajn salutojn! / Friendly greetings!


Ken Caviness <caviness /c`e/>, in response to Gene Greathouse (inkygrr /c`e/

>> Esperanto is neither dead nor alive just as COBOL or HTML is neither dead nor alive. Languages are alive. They grow, flourish, change, create offspring,  wither, and die. Esperanto does none of these things. It is a very clever artifice that immitates a language, but it is not a language. <<

Dear Friend,

Although some wishful thinkers (most of whom don't even speak Esperanto) exaggerate the numbers, it is nonetheless a fact that Esperanto IS a viable language, used to some extent by perhaps 2 million people around the world, according to encyclopaedia entries you can look up.  I started learning it 3 years ago merely for the fun/challenge, and was amazed at how fast I was able to reach a level of acceptable fluency.  I like the "level-playing field" idea:  No one at a disadvantage:  I don't make you learn my language, you don't make me learn yours (since it would take years in either case!) but we all spend a _small_ amount of time learning an easy interlanguage.  It's like coming halfway to meet your neighbor.

(Though I personally intend to keep studying other languages for the enjoyment of it.)

But before you say that Esperanto isn't a language, talk to some of the thousands of people who go to the "Universala Kongreso" held in a different country every year.  (Yes, thousands: 3000 - 6000, depending on location)  Read a few of the 30,000 books that have been published in Esperanto, including a great deal of original literature, and translations from many languages, retaining much of the "feel" of the original, since Esperanto is such a flexible language.  Talk to some of the people who met and married their spouse using Esperanto, and speak it at home with their children.  (There is even an Internet mailing list for "denaskaj parolantoj" (from-birth-speakers).  Everything you or I have ever done in English has been done in Esperanto.  After all, it's been around for over a hundred years.

Salutas vin kaj deziras al vi tre bonan tagon


P.S.  I'm currently well on the way toward reading the Bible through in Esperanto.  Talk about literature!

Daniel Cotarelo Garcia <Daniel.Cotarelo.Garcia /c`e/> in response to Paul:

>> I'm trying to study Esperanto because I've long been interested in the language and the concept of created languages.  However, I often get to the point where I ask myself 'why waste my limited time studying an artificial language when I could be studying a "real" language.'  I'm sure other people must have felt this way while studying Esperanto.  How did you overcome this and successfully learn Esperanto? <<


Paul demandas kial oni uzu sian limigitan tempon por studi artefaritan lingvon anstata vera lingvo. Mi notas ke Esperanto estas vera, ^car oni povas konversi, legi kaj skribi en ^gi. Mi anka notas ke ^ciuj lingvoj estas artefaritaj, kaj do sugestas reskribi la demandon jenmaniere: Kial oni uzu sian limigitan tempon por studi malgrandskalan lingvon anstata grandskala?  Tamen la demando estas erariga, ^car estas ^generale agnoskite (kaj mia sperto konfirmas tion) ke oni povas lerni Esperanton en dekono de la tempo bezonata por samgrade lerni nacian lingvon. Do mi sugestas jenan finversion: Kial oni uzu sian limigitan tempon por studi malgrandskalan ligvon anstata dekono de grandskala? Kaj mi konsilas lin konsideri por kio li deziras lerni la malgrandskalan lingvon kaj ^cu dekono de nacia lingvo garantios al li tiun celon.


How silly were the people in Hiroshima! If only they had realized that the bomb was not "real", since it was "artificial"...

You see, Esperanto is a real language. The proof is that one may talk, write, and read in it. You may say Klingon is real too, and I answer that if one may talk, write and read in it, then Klingon is also a real language.

Esperanto is also a living language, and the proof is that original literature is now being written, and periodic publications are now appearing.

OK, Esperanto is artificial, I admit it. It is artificial, since it has been made by man. English, Spanish, French, etc., already existed in the world when I was born, but from the usual prejudice against Esperanto because of its artificiality, I have come to deduct that these languages were probably found in nature, say, written in flowers, or spoken by rivers, or something of the sort, and not made by human beings. If anyone knows more than me about history of languages, please tell me where in nature people found these non-artificial languages.

Esperanto is similar to most languages in the world, in that it is spoken by no more than a million users. Unlike this majority of languages, a handful of them (e.g. the three mentioned above) are spoken by many millions of people.

The question could then be worded more accuarately this way: "Why waste my limited time studying this small scaled language, when I could be studying a widely used one?"

The question, however, is misleading. It presupposes that if you swith your aim, the same amount of time will give you the same results with the widely used language. This seems not to be the case.

It is often asserted that, as an average, Esperanto requieres 10 % of the time needed to achieve the same degree of knowledge of a national language. Though I have no statistics at hand, I may compare my experience with the three languages I speak.

The most difficult of them was my mothertonge Spanish. I needed full five years of intensive, everyday, all-day-long use just to achieve the necessary oral (not to dream of written) skill as to be able to enter the elementary school!

It seems that such a huge struggle to learn a language, however, eased me the way to learn others. English was much more easy. Though I studied it during nine years, it was only twice a week plus sometime at home, say, some 6 hours a week.

Esperanto, however, proved much easier than English. I studied it during only one year, and less hours per week than English. So I may say that in my case, the 10 % assumtion was proved right.

The question must then be re-worded this way: "Why waste my limited time studying this small scaled language, when I could be learning one tenth of a widely used language?"

Now the answer just lies in what you are studying this small scaled language for, and if one tenth of a widely used language may grant you that goal or not.

Ken Caviness <caviness /c`e/> in reply to a message by Mike Wright <darwin /c`e/>:

Dear Mr. Wright,

I have enjoyed reading a few of your posts which found their way into the soc.culture.esperanto newsgroup.  I admire your knowledge of various languages, and applaud your interest in learning others.  I myself manage fairly well in French and German, besides my native English, and have studied Spanish, Greek, Russian, Hungarian, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kinyarwanda and Swahili to varying degrees.

I don't mean to say that I speak these languages, only that I have studied them.  Even in French and German I make mistakes.  To learn a "normal", unplanned, language takes years (maybe a lifetime).  For instance, as a child I studied Tamil for two years, but never could really carry on a conversation.  This is different for a planned language such as Esperanto (or many others).  Studies show it to be up to 10 times easier to learn.

But the impression I have gotten from your messages is that you may think that Esperantists want to do away with this diversity.  Let me assure you that this is not the case.  You say that in Polland you would learn Polish, implying that there is no need to learn Esperanto, since there is no "Esperantoland" in which to speak it.

I *firmly* believe that one should work very hard to learn the language of whatever country one is living in.  As you know, this is hard work, but it is extremely rewarding, and there simply is no substitute for it.

It was with extreme hesitation that I decided to study Esperanto 4 years ago.  I didn't have the time to "waste" on it, but reasoned that if it really was as easy as was claimed, I wouldn't have to spend much time.  What finally tipped the scale for me was the huge number of books (about 30,000) that have been written in or translated into Esperanto.  In my lifetime I will only be able to study a fraction of the languages and cultures which interest me, but through Esperanto I can gain some insights into many cultures.  (And it is a recognized fact that translations into E-o can be far superior than into another "unplanned" language.  It is more flexible than wild languages, and translations are generally done from language X by a native speaker of language X into Esperanto, a far better system than that which is normal for translation work:  a work is translated from language X into language Y by a native speaker of language Y.)

The bottom line is that excellent fluency in Esperanto can be achieved in a remarkably short time.  In my case, I could only devote about an hour per week, but was comfortable enough to tutor others a year later.  Now even though I have been unable to travel from the U.S. for several years, I take part in international multicultural discussions on the net in E-o, with all participants on a "level playing-field", no one having the home court (native speaker) advantage.  I also take part in other discussion groups with speakers of other languages, some in which the language of choice is my mother tongue, others in which it isn't.  Both types have their points of interest and their problems.  Neither gives the freedom and equality of a discussion group in Esperanto.

Studies also indicate that learning Esperanto increases the chances that one will later study and master another language.  Language enthusiasts take note!

>> Although I do not like Singlish, I feel that it is so "natural" and not "artificial" as the Esperanto. We have to take the "natural" way to unify our languages. <<

The goal of Esperanto is not to unify our languages, but to give people from different backgrounds and cultures an easy way to communicate using an easy _second_ language.  Maybe someday all people will speak one and only one "mixed" language, but it will surely be hundreds of years after I die.  Whereas with Esperanto I correspond daily with people all over the world, no one forcing others to use the language of another, no one at a disadvantage.

You speak of "artificial" as if it were a bad thing.  Perhaps this is your real complaint about Esperanto.  Esperantists usually refer to Esperanto as a "planned" language, not "artificial".  In fact, L. L. Zamenhof was a talented (amateur) linguist and poet, and created Esperanto almost as a great artist creates a work of art.  Esperanto does not have the "artificiality" that one might expect:  it is very flexible, can easily give shades of meaning, it also continues to evolve and develop, but on the basis of 16 simple rules, and no exceptions.

Yes, Singlish is "natural", as are Chinese, English, and all other unplanned human languages.  However, in this case, is "natural"  better?  Weeds naturally grow in my vegetable garden, but I prefer other, more useful, plants.

>> the more people speak the language, the more problem you will have! Others tend to be reluctant to learn YOUR language. <<

Perhaps you are right.  Other people have also expressed this concern.  It would seem that Esperanto should be kept as everyone's SECOND language, so that no-one is at a disadvantage.  But consider the present language situation in the world:  it seems that more people are studying English than any other language.  Now I love English as my mother tongue, but it is not a good choice for a world language.  It does have (relatively) simple grammar, but has very difficult pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and more exceptions than rules!   One of its great advantages is its flexibility and shades of meaning.  Imagine my delight to discover
that Esperanto has even MORE flexibility, besides being completely logical, very easy to learn, with simple pronunciation and spelling, no exceptions, and vocabulary where every word I learn gives me perhaps 50 new words, using standard endings!  (Of course, you have to learn the endings, but only one time:  then the endings can be added to any word to adjust the meaning.)

I too was skeptical, two years ago.  But I took the free 10-lesson course (by mail in U.S.A.), and only worked on the lesson for about an hour, once a week.  After ten weeks I subscribed to an Esperanto magazine, and was able to understand almost all of it.  Naturally I couldn't talk so quickly, but could read.  Many people tell me of similar experiences that they have had.

If you overcome your natural skepticism towards this "unnatural" language, send an e-mail message to the coordinator of the free Esperanto course on the network:  marko /c`e/

Or perhaps you will do what I did.  I first heard of Esperanto in 1970, but seeing that there were so many artificial and pidgin languages, didn't learn any of them.  Again I read something about Esperanto in 1983 and 1988.  But I didn't begin to learn it until 1992.  I regret waiting so long.

Wishing you all the best,



Ken Caviness:  "My experience with Esperanto"

Some years ago I read a science fiction series "The Stainless Steel Rat" by Harry Harrison.  In it he describes a future where most people in the galaxy use Esperanto as a matter of course, whenever dealing with people from a different planet or people group.  This is quite peripheral to the (very interesting) plots of the books, but it caught my attention, and after rereading the series two years ago I finally wrote to the address given in the back of one of the books.  It was ELNA.  They sent me their initial sample leaflets and Lesson One of the free 10-Lesson Postal Course.  Before deciding to devote the time to learning Esperanto, I talked to a member of a "local" E-o club. ("local" means that I only had to drive 1 1/2 hours one way to get there).  I read the entries in Encyclopedia Britannica on Esperanto, Volapuk, Interlingua, Basic English, etc.  I was surprised to find out how much literature is available in E-o, translated and original, poetry and prose, more than 30,000 books (I think it was) in the British E-o Society's library.  I decided it was worth my time trying the free course, at least.  After finishing, I bought "Teach Yourself Esperanto" and worked through that.  Then I discovered the Internet courses and took (for free, obviously, it's Internet) the advanced course.  [See FAQ or email me for details on signing up!]  But I had already joined ELNA before finishing the first free postal course, in October '92.  I asked to have my membership begin in January '93, but they insisted on immediately sending me the books I ordered (at a member's discount), as well as the magazine EsperantoUSA.  I was (and still am) impressed.

Aside from following (or skimming over) messages in the forum, I've never put in much time, but now I can easily read anything in E-o.  (Writing is another story!)  I have started attending monthly meetings of the E-o club in Dallas.  Every day I get messages in E-o from all over the world.  I've never felt so international before, even when living overseas.  Will Esperanto ever be used world-wide to help people easily communicate?  I don't know.  But I do know that it is worth the small time-investment just to use it _now_.  Where else but at an Esperanto Congress or on an E-o mailing list / newsgroup can you find people from 30 different countries, freely exchanging their views, in (usually) a spirit of tolerance for differences, no one handicapped by having to speak the native language of someone else?

Ken Caviness (soon after learning Esperanto):

My name is Ken Caviness, I teach Math & Physics at Southwestern Adventist College in Keene, Texas (near Dallas/Fort Worth), and only recently started learning Esperanto.

I had read about Esperanto, Volapuk, Interlingua, Basic English, and other planned languages many years ago, but couldn't decide if any of them would be worth the effort to learn.  About 12 years ago I read a series of sci-fi books (The Stainless Steel Rat) by Harry Harrison, in which the future inhabitants of the galaxy use their own languages on their own planets, but use Esperanto to communicate with people from other planets.  At the end of one book HH gave the address of the Esperanto League for North America.  I didn't follow up on it.

Two years ago I reread the SSR books and this time decided to get more information.  First I read everything that the latest Encyclopaedia Britannica had to say about the various planned languages to see how they had fared in the past 25 years.  I was surprised to learn that many original works of poetry, essays, novels, have been written in Esperanto, and of course literature from many different languages has been translated into Esperanto.  I think what impressed me the most was the statement that the British Esperanto Association has a library of 30,000 Esperanto books.  So I took ELNA's free 10-lesson course by mail, one lesson a week.  The only reason it took a week was because of the time-delay in using the U.S. Mail, since I did each lesson in about an hour.  But the delay gives you a chance to practice the vocabulary, so it's not so bad.  After 10 weeks I joined ELNA, and was very excited to find I could read much of their magazine/newsletter EsperantoUSA without looking up words in the dictionary.  Since then I have read through a couple of further Esperanto-learning books, taken an intermediate-level Esperanto course on Internet, read many magazines and several books in Esperanto, read and written responses on the Esperanto newsgroup soc.culture.esperanto = esperanto-l /c`e/ = ESPER-L%TREARN.BITNET, started attending the monthly meetings of the North Texas Esperanto Club in Dallas, and now I'm helping as a tutor for the Free 10-Lesson Course on Internet.

I am American, but lived in India for 2 years as a child and so became very conscious of different languages and cultures.  [I never actually learned an Indian language, though. :-( ]  In college besides getting a major in physics I also spent a year in Austria studying German.  Later I taught (physics) for three years in Rwanda, and so had to learn some French.  I have learned some very valuable language-learning techniques, but always had trouble learning vocabulary.  Well, that's exactly where Esperanto shines!  Because of its regular word-building features, after you've learned the standard prefixes and suffixes, each new root word you learn is equivalent to learning ~50 new words in an unplanned language.  No wonder Esperanto is said to be 4-10 times (depending on the person) easier to learn than other languages.

Also there is a feeling of fairness about Esperanto:

Why should I impose my language on other people?  Or why should someone else impose his/her language on me?  Is that fair?  Many people spend years in the U.S.A. and never really master the English language.  No, let everyone learn an EASY international language, and then no one is at an unfair disadvantage.  At this time, Esperanto really seems to be the only candidate for the job.  By means of translated literature it gives us a taste of other cultures, but it has also formed an international culture of its own.

What to do to get started:

1.  To sign up for the on-line Esperanto course, send email to Marko.Rauhamaa /c`e/

2.  Call the Esperanto League for N.America toll-free at 1-800-828-5944, or email: elna /c`e/ for an introductory packet including the first lesson of the postal course.  ELNA also stocks a large assortment of books, tapes, games, etc., in Esperanto or for learning Esperanto.

 ^Cion bonan! / All the best!


 ^Gisdatigita je la 1 septembro 1997 fare de Ken Caviness     --    Bonvolu averti min pri eraroj!