Esperanto Language Profile
Esperanto - Difficulty: *
This man-made language was created by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof in 1887. It was designed to be an international language, that is, many people' second language, and not to replace any national tongue. It was also designed to be an easy-to-learn second language, and is apparently here to stay and is by far the most popular of the man-made languages, though not without its critics. Esperanto means hopeful, and its speakers are hopeful that it will be accepted for what it is. Because Esperantists (Esperanto speakers) are dispersed throughout the world, it sometimes unites people who speak vastly different languages (i.e. China and Mexico) and who do not necessarily speak English well if at all.
Usefulness: Because it is a man-made and not a national language, one may doubt the usefulness of Esperanto.However, if you compare it to national languages with the same number of speakers (over 2 million, the same as Lithuanian, Latvian, Slovenian, or Tongan), the national languages mentioned are considerably less useful than Esperanto because their speakers are generally concentrated in only one geographical region. Compare this to Esperanto, which boasts small numbers of speakers spread throughout the entire world. The fact that you can find speakers of a language in a large number of different countries would make Esperanto appear more useful than it appears at first glance. Also, Esperanto has been proposed by some (though not all agree) computer linguists to be used to program and interact with a computer on the grounds that it would be easier to teach a man-made language to a man-made computer than to teach it an irregular, exclusionary national language.
Beauty: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the rhythm of Esperanto reminds me of Italian and the cadence of the spoken language feels like Latin mass, with the difference being that it is easier to understand. It is beautiful in its poetic rhythm, and logic.
Chic factor: This seems to be a touchy subject among Esperantists, because many speakers are intellectuals, by that I mean, intelligent, highly well-read, and somewhat independent in spirit. Esperanto has received a lot of criticism (much of it undeserved) for the fact that it aims to be neutral, and not allied with any nation. As a result, some Esperanto proponents are a little defensive on the subject, but if you try to learn it, other speakers will welcome and encourage you to succeed. In my experience, I have met only hard-working, intelligent, and genuinely helpful volunteer tutors who really want Esperanto to be respected as a language should be.
Speakers Over 2 million.
Countries: Total Countries: Speakers of Esperanto are located (via various Esperanto clubs) throughout the world, including but not limited to: U.S. (in practically every state), Canada, U.K., and most other English-speaking countries, China, Japan, Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Brazil, and many other countries.
Regional Variations: One could argue (as some opponents of the language have) that each Esperanto speaker inadvertently adds his own mother tongue accent to Esperanto and thus creates an individual dialect of this intended international language, but if the simple pronunciation rules are adhered to, this does not constitute a problem. One factor which helps to prevent this problem from occurring is that many Esperanto speakers communicate through the internet, which currently remains a written medium, so the accents do not enter into the communication. Speakers of the language do speak it together when meeting, however, and accents do not seem to hinder communication. Look at English for example, English speakers, with exposure, easily learn to understand most non-native attempts at speaking, and this has increased, not diminished, the effectiveness of English.
Travel: An International Esperanto Congress is held annually, past cities which have hosted it include Seoul, Prague, and Adelaide. Theoretically, you can travel anywhere in the world and be able to find a club of Esperanto speakers near you, though it will not get you through any airports or custom checks, so as a second or third language, it doesn't hurt to speak it, and you will definitely make friends if you find another person who speaks it. Unfortunately, there is no Esperanto cuisine, so you can't get free food portions by speaking it as you can with some languages, and you would need to seek out Esperantists to find them when travelling.
Culture: The Internet has been a boost for the Esperanto community, allowing a proliferation of chat rooms and clubs, as well as dissemination of scientific papers, novels, science-fiction, poetry, translated works, and other real literature in Esperanto. Not surprisingly though, Esperantists seem to spend a lot of time discussing Esperanto, and defending it from skeptics.
Phonemes: The pronunciation is reminiscent of Spanish or Italian. There are only five vowel sounds, each represented by only one letter and the sounds correspond to the vowels of Spanish and Italian. The 23 consonants present no real problem but English speakers will have to learn to recognize a new letter (accented g) for the j sound, and the letter j is pronounced as a y, etc. However there are no exceptions to the rules so they are easily learned. The consonant sounds are familiar to most westerners, though the letters representing them may be slightly different.
Syntax: Esperanto parts of speech are easy to identify instantly because they end in a designated letter. For example, nouns end in –o, plurals in –oj, adjectives end in –a, verbs are not conjugated and end in -as in the present tense. Word order is simple and is the same as in English. Prefixes and Suffixes can be added on to virtually any word, even verbs, to create new meanings.
Vocabulary: 70% of the vocabulary words are derived from Latin roots common to English or Romance languages, and some of the remainder is derived from German roots. An example of how close some Esperanto words are to English: bird is birdo, and river is rivero, while others are easily recognizable to someone familiar with a Romance language or German. Learners sometimes complain that the words are not as close to English as they could be, but you have to realize Esperanto is an attempt at a compromise, not a panacea.
Ortograph: In Esperanto, each letter represents only one sound, and each sound is represented only by one letter. The next to last syllable of each word is always stressed, and every word is spelled and pronounced exactly as it looks. It is a 100% regular, orthographic language.
Overall: difficulty Esperantists claim that their language is four times easier to learn than other languages, and I tend to agree, though individuals do vary in their learning speeds. I believe it is several times easier than Spanish. Also, the simplified grammar and absence of gender articles and verb conjugations for person and number were designed to make it easier to learn than any national language, although if your native language is non-Indo-European, it will take considerably longer to learn.
Time needed: If you already speak a Romance language, or English, you can learn to read and write Esperanto in a matter of weeks, and for the slowest learners, in several months. The free e-mail course offered below took me only three weeks to complete, and within six weeks I was participating in Esperanto-only chat rooms. Speaking in person requires practice at first, but remember that it is the mother tongue of nobody in particular, so there is no need to feel self-conscious about speaking it. The key to progress as in any language is regular practice, either through live meetings at Esperanto clubs or through the Internet.
Books and tapes: I recommend the following for a good introduction to the language:
Beginner's Esperanto (Hippocrene Beginner's), by J.Conroy, D.Mladen, 1994. Teach Yourself Esperanto, with cassettes, by J.Cresswell, J.Hartley, 1994
Esperanto the International Language (Concise Up-to-Date References), W.E.Arnold, 1995.
Teach Yourself Esperanto Dictionary, by J.C.Wells.A good dictionary and reference book for students.
Esperanto Aktuell is a magazine published in Esperanto, and can be ordered through the internet links listed below.
Also look for the movie Incubus, the only U.S.film made entirely in Esperanto, with English sub-titles, (starring William Shatner).
Schools: Presently, I am only aware of the Esperanto Summer School session offered by The Esperanto Federation of Victoria and Monash University in Australia: e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org .Remember that summer school in Australia is in January.
A very active group and extremely helpful to the curious:
The Esperanto League of North America: email@example.com
For information on the free 10-lesson Esperanto course offered via e-mail: .In my experience, the volunteer instructor for this course was prompt, polite, and very helpful in responding to my questions and grading my assignments quickly. At the completion of the course, you receive a very handsome diploma for your achievement. This Esperanto e-mail course is available not only in English, but in six other languages, and an advanced free course is offered in Esperanto via e-mail, entitled Gerda malaperis and conducted in Esperanto. Contact the Esperanto League of North America for more information.
Listening to Esperanto broadcasts on shortwave radio (there are some) or through the internet (you will need to download Real Audio to listen to it) is indispensible to improve your listening skills in Esperanto.
I recommend the following: AERA: Amikaro de Esperanto en Radio: http://osiek.org/aera/ Esperanto Interreta Radioelsendo: http://esperanto-radio.net/ This home page is in Esperanto and in Korean.