The Payoff of Esperanto


Esperanto flag


Something that many Esperantists have to contend with is the perception that a planned language is somehow useless, something on a par of Pig Latin. (One of these is a co-worker and friend of mine, who often reminds me of this opinion.)

But consider this… On Friday, I IM-ed a complete stranger in a foreign country and we chatted for an hour completely in Esperanto… After introducing ourselves, we discussed our respective blogs, programming languages such as PHP and C#, languages in general, mystical perspectives in Buddhism and Christianity, personal experiences and viewpoints, etc.

What’s remarkable about this, is I’ve only studied Esperanto seriously for about five-and-a-half months. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve spent at most 120 hours actually concentrating on the language, and probably less than that. Although I made many minor mistakes, I was well-understood by my fellow speaker (whom I now consider a friend). This was confident and easy communication that enabled me to say whatever I wanted to. Esperanto enables me to have the ability to communicate easily with any of the hundreds of thousands throughout the world who have taken the time to learn it, whether they’re Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian, Chinese, Japanese or Iranian… And that investment is miniscule compared to what’s required even with relatively "easy" Indo-European languages like Spanish.

Last year, I studied Spanish for twice as long as I’ve studied Esperanto, and I was nowhere near having the ability to converse easily about anything… I’ll return to studying Catalan and Spanish soon, and I expect the experience of attaining proficiency in Esperanto will help greatly in learning those languages more quickly and easily. (Numerous studies have shown that to be the effect.) My suspicion is that it will go like this:

T(Esperanto + other language)   <   T(learning other language alone)

16 thoughts on “The Payoff of Esperanto

  1. My grandfather was a fan of Esperanto and spoke it fluently. I still have his little dictionary from 1926. I’ve never learned it but your post made me take a closer look at the dictionary. Besides Dutch and English (fluently), I speak German and French (reasonably) and a little Bahasa Indonesia/Malay, Finnish, Italian and Spanish (just enough to get around, nothing fancy), so I never felt the need. My first impression is that the vocabulary is mostly based on the latin languages, with a bit of germanic. For someome who already knows a latin language reasonably well and even English with its heavy French influence, learning the vocabulary should be almost intuitive. What about idiom? Has it developed expressions of its own that are not obvious to understand/translate?
    Interesting! Do you know of any free online course you could recommend?

    (photo of dictionary size 2 by 3 inches, which is too much of a task for my shoddy digi-cam)


  2. Margreet,

    Cool to hear about your grandfather… And your curiosity about it. Esperanto was really taking off in the early 20th century and really might have become universally taught in schools, except for the rise of the 20th century dictators… Hitler and Stalin sent Esperantists to death camps, Franco and Salazar to prison… And when UNESCO drafted a resolution in favor of universal Esperanto education, the US government said they would veto it if is was ever presented in the General Assembly, so it never was.

    Since this site is primarily focussed on spirituality, I keep most of my Esperanto discussions on our club’s blog:

    You’re right about vocabulary being a cinch for English and Romance speakers. Grammar has a case marker for direct objects, which allows for extreme flexibility, but is 100% regular, no exceptions. Even the verb esti (to be) is completely regular.

    The language is definitely evolving, but the happy thing is that the changes are happening simultaneously around the world… Esperanto in Japan remains the same as Esperanto in Brazil. Some of the developments are using the adverb marker to replace adverbial phrases. Trajne = “train-ally” i.e., going by train. vendrede = “on Friday.” Another trend is to use the suffixes as independent words, so the “-em-” might be used as emi “to inclined to” or emo “tendency” etc.

    However, Esperanto wants to always be clear, so slang vocabulary remains somewhat small, but it’s there… krokodili“to crocodile” means for two Esperantists to speak in a national language instead of Esperanto. On the podcast Radio Verda, someone suggest using kameleoni “to chameleon” for those who use Esperanto as a private language.

    In the sidebar of the club site, I’ve got many sites listed for learning resources. Hope to see you there!

    Thank you for asking!

  3. Dankon, Jon!

    Amazingly, I found out that the secretary of the Esperanto club in my city lives one block away from me! I had no idea she was an Esperantist.

    It took me about three hours to be able to read wikipedia in Esparanto, which seems normal for polyglots. Just need to practice speaking and writing. That shouldn’t take too long with a neighbour to converse with!

    I’m quite sure your knowledge of Esperanto will help you a lot learning other languages. I also think it makes learning Hebrew (biblical or modern) easier, because that language also works with pre- and suffixes. I suppose Zamenhof’s Jewish background accounts for that.


  4. You know, I’ve never heard that opinion of Esperanto. Few people know about it and those who do don’t think it’s worth their time to learn, but they don’t disparage me or the language for its lack of value (only for a lack of speakers).

  5. Ho, Keith,

    Dankon por via vizito. Mi ne forgesis Zamenhofa Tago–Mi ankoraŭ skribas la venontan afiŝon!

    Bonan blogon vi havas! Mi devas legi pli!

  6. Certe. Mi trovis vian blogon per la Esperanto-Tago blogero en Esperanto-USA. Mi provis skribi pri Esperanto-Tago, sed mi sentas, ke Esperanto-Tago ne estis bone traktita ĉi-jare. Skribanta pri Esperanto-Tago estas verŝajne senutila en mia blogo, ĉar mi skribas ĉefe en Esperanto, sed kial ne?

  7. Viabloge, ĝi pli sencus ol en la mia, ĉar mia blogo temas pli pri “la sovaĝaĵoj de Dio.”
    Tamen, mi volis afiŝi ion pri Esperanto, sed mi havis aliajn aferojn fari, kaj miaj pensoj estis aliloke. Ankaŭ, mi jam afiŝis ĉi-tiu blogeron antaŭe… Ne ŝajnas al mi akurate reafiŝi Esperante ĉi tie, tiel baldaŭ, ĉar miaj legantoj ne tre interesiĝis pri ĝi.

  8. Saluton el Aŭstralio! Mi estas lernanta Espernon por unu monato nun, kaj jam mi havas multajn amikojn de la tuta mondo.

  9. Nur unu monato! Via Esperanto estas bonega! Daŭru vian lernadon, kaj ĝi repagos vin multe!

  10. Saluton,
    ĉi tiu estas bona loko por babili en Esperanto,
    kaj ankaŭ tiu ĉi

    mi ŝatas skribi belajn E-literojn, tial mi uzas “abcTajpu”,
    kio estas aldonaĵo al “FireFox” jen

    abcTajpu estas bonega por plurlingva skribado
    certe – bona rego de la internacia lingvo forte instigas (kaj plifaciligas)
    lernadon de aliaj naciaj lingvoj

    vizitu mian

  11. Mi pensas, ke mi uzis abcTajpu kiam mi ankoraŭ uzis Vindozon, sed ekde mi ŝanĝis Mak-e, tajpado la Esperantajn literojn estas tre, tre simple!

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