Why I Learned Esperanto

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I had known about Esperanto, the world’s most widely spoken artificial language since I was a teenager. Connected to the noble ideas of internationalism and equality, it attracted me even then.

Esperanto was created in the second half of the 19th century by a Polish ophthalmologist, Ludwik Zamenhof. Growing up during the time of the Russian empire in what today would be eastern Poland, Zamenhof was surrounded by several different ethnic groups all having their own mother tongue: Yiddish, Polish, German and Ukrainian, for instance. To communicate with each other they all spoke in Russian. The idea behind creating Esperanto was that it should be an easy-to-learn language for international communication, putting everyone on an egalitarian level. Nobody would be forced to learn the mother tongue of another.

When I started looking into Esperanto last year, it was out of sheer curiosity, not with the intention to actually learn it. But as I read about it, I soon noticed I was already picking it up. I realized it would take me a minimum effort to acquire, so I went for it. I started with this website. It is the biggest Esperanto online forum, with interactive lessons and access to a huge community of speakers.

Esperanto flag
The flag of the neutral international language Esperanto [via Wikipedia]

Esperanto grammar is as simple as possible, while still allowing one to express complex concepts like any natural language does. It is 100% logical, which means that there are straightforward rules and no exceptions. Anyone who has ever tried to learn a natural language will know how frustratingly difficult it can be to memorize all the exceptions which usually occur.

While Esperanto grammar can be said to be a simplified version of the grammar of Romance languages, the vocabulary has several origins: Romance languages, German, English, Russian, and Greek. This facilitates learning for speakers of any one of these languages. The bulk of Esperanto verbs come from Romance roots, for example, the verbs labori (to work), legi (to read) or dormi (to sleep). Many people around the world either speak a Romance language or had a bit of French or Spanish at school. Even if they never began to really speak these languages and forgot most of the lessons they had, many words will come back up from the depths of their minds if they try to learn Esperanto. English speakers will also recognize these words from somewhere since English has absorbed a lot of French and Latin loanwords over the past millennium. Isn’t labori close to “labour”, legi close to “legible” and dormi to “dormant”?

Since I am a speaker of German, English, Russian, French, and Spanish, and have also done five years of Latin in high school, I will admit I was predisposed to absorbing most of Esperanto’s vocabulary very quickly. The only words I really had to learn from scratch were those of Greek origin. I can honestly say it felt like I learned how to use Esperanto in only two weeks. For a language lover like me, it was like being given a free toy.

While I may have personally picked it up with exceptional ease, it is generally accepted that anyone can learn Esperanto in three to six months. Especially for individuals who would like to become polyglots, that is, for people who want to learn not just one specific foreign language but several ones, it can be a good idea to master Esperanto early on. Because, as all language lovers know, language learning gets easier with each language you already have under your belt.

One of the things that struck me when I first listened to Esperanto was how pretty I thought it sounded. That definitely surprised me for an artificial language.

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Nina Nooit

Nina is a traveler, an adventurer and a polyglot, On top of her mother tongue she speaks ten foreign languages and dabbles in many more.

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2 comments on “Why I Learned Esperanto”

  1. Gratulon pro via bona prononco, Nina.

    My view is that learning any language is worth doing, although life is simply too short to learn them all. We need to ask ourselves which language we are learning and why. Learn Mandarin, and you’re tongue –tied in Japan. Learn Portuguese and you can’t even ask for a loaf of bread in Germany. Learn Arabic and you are reduced to miming in Russia. The obvious solution would be to make wider use of Esperanto, which is well-established as a good introduction to learning languages.

    Esperanto works! I've used it in speech and writing in about fifteen countries over recent years - although I have travelled less than you. I recommend it to any traveller, as a way of making friendly local contacts.

    About 200,000 people have signed on for the new (beta) Duolingo Esperanto course in the last couple of months.

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