Esperanto's attraction: What pulled you in, what kept you in?
(I originally wrote most of this post as a reply to a thread titled "why exactly are you learning esperanto?" ( https://www.duolingo.com/comment/15285402 ), but then realized it would fit better in a separate. Anyway, here it is.)
I've noticed that many who begin learning Esperanto are attracted to it for one reason or another. But once we learn a fair amount, we sometimes leave, or continue learning. And if we continue learning, it's often for different reasons than those that attracted us in the first place.
So what first attracted you to Esperanto? And if you stayed with it, what keeps you attracted?
I'll go first:
(If this post is too long for you, I'm including a condensed version down below.)
Years ago, having "conquered" Italian and learned some Spanish, I was interested in learning a little about other languages, like French, Latin, German, Japanese, and even Esperanto. (I wasn't so interested in learning all about them, but curious enough to learn a few chapters from each.)
Esperanto was intriguing because it was supposed to not have any irregularities, and be easy to learn. Besides, I had given much thought on the idea of how I would create my own language, and I was eager to see how one had constructed the world's most popular artificial language.
What I found, though, was that Esperanto was not quite as easy as I had been led to believe. Yes, it had almost no exceptions to its rules (which I appreciated), but the vocabulary was daunting -- despite much of it being similar to English, Italian, and French -- and, to be honest, the vocabulary did seem to be rather contrived (somewhat cobbled together).
So I lost interest in it for several years. However, I still kind of admired it for being an international language that did succeed in breaking the language barrier for those who were persistent enough to learn it thoroughly. I've seen the attitude among my peers that "English is already the international language, so why should I learn another language? Just let people speak to me in English!" (An attitude I'm sure most of us have met at least once.)
Much later I stumbled across a post written in Toki Pona, a constructed language that I knew was created by an Esperantist. Toki Pona was designed to be an easy and small language, and in trying to decipher the messages written back in forth, I fell in love with it and learned it through several on-line tutorials.
Unfortunately, Toki Pona isn't as widespread as Esperanto, and while it can break language barriers to some degree (you can easily express that you're hungry or you want to go home, but it's not so easy when discussing philospphy or finances), it left me wanting more. In fact, it ended up giving me an appetite for learning Esperanto!
And like Toki Pona, I started (re-)learning Esperanto using an on-line tutorial, and soon I discovered that Duolingo had a free on-line Esperanto course. So I thought, why not?
I believe that learning a foreign language is easier the second time around, and Esperanto is no exception. (So don't feel bad if you took four years of a language in high school, and can't speak any of it now; it'll be much easier each time you go back.) So the second time, Esperanto was considerably easier for me (and more fun). Yes, some words still sound a bit contrived at times, but so what? The more Esperanto I learned, the more I realized that there was usually a good reason for a word being the way it is.
I short while ago I realized that, concerning all the conversations between two people ever spoken on the planet Earth, in 99% of them at least one person knows the other's mother tongue. This is true when a foreigner speaks to me in my native tongue of English. It's also true when I speak Italian to an Italian. And in the few cases I got to speak Italian to Japanese people, they also had knowledge of English!
But with Esperanto, if I find an Esperantist who happens to not have knowledge of English (or Italian), then I am having one of those rare conversations where we do not have the convenience of falling back on a native tongue. We have no knowledge of each other's native tongues, yet we are still communicating! Other than Esperanto, we have nothing in common!
Take that, language barrier!
To conclude, I'd like to say that I want everyone who wants to say something to me to be able to say it to me. Already knowing English is nice, but let's face it -- I shouldn't have to require everyone who wants to speak with me to learn English. So I'll meet everyone half-way: I'll learn Esperanto, and if they desire to speak with me, they can learn Esperanto as well. (Or they can choose English or Italian. But think about it -- if you lived in a county very far away, would it be easier to learn English, Italian, or Esperanto?
Since many English, Italian, Swedish, Chinese/Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean Esperantists agree that learning Esperanto is easier than learning any of the other languages mentioned in this sentence, then I'm happy to say that I support the wide-spread use of Esperanto!
Why I started: Curiosity. I wanted to know what an "artificial" language was like. I wanted to know if it was as easy as they say. (All languages take work, but yes.)
Why I pushed on after the above curiosity was answered (6 months to two years as an Esperantist) - I found I got off on the feeling of making and hearing sounds that previously would have been nonsense to me -- and understanding them! I also started making friends through the language.
Why I took the plunge and made Esperanto our family language (2 - 10 years as an Esperantist). Curiosity again (can we do this?) and a conviction that knowing another language is a good thing. This took a LOT of work, but it was possible for us in a way that it was not so for other languages. It brought us some experiences and knowledge which we wouldn't have come by otherwise.
Why I am still involved now (10 to 20 years as an Esperantist) - friends, and the good feeling of seeing things planned and pulled off OK - whether this means answering questions here and seeing that be a benefit to others, or (especially) planning an event and having people not only want to come, but apparently having a good time there.
(This is a condensed version of the above post.)
I started learning Esperanto because I was intrigued by the thought of an international language free of practically all exceptions: What would it look like? What would it sound like? How would its grammar behave?
And as for now...
I want everyone who wants to speak to me to be able to do so, and not be constrained by the language barrier. Already knowing English is nice, but let's face it -- I shouldn't have to require everyone who wants to speak with me to learn English.
So I'll meet everyone half-way: I'll learn Esperanto, and if you desire to speak with me, you can learn Esperanto as well.
After studying various languages and having different levels of ability in each I wanted to learn Esperanto because I wanted to know what being truly bilingual was like, and Esperanto seemed a faster way to do that.
What I would like to see one day is Esperanto taught to school children, showing that language study is not hard and doesn't take away from subjects considered more important. Then about two more languages by the time they finish highschool. After that it depends on one's own interest. This is how I think Esperanto can still help lead to world more understanding of other cultures and people.
"What I would like to see one day is Esperanto taught to school children, showing that language study is not hard and doesn't take away from subjects considered more important."
Now that's an interesting idea and one I quite like. Maybe just one year of Esperanto and then after that allowing them to choose another language to learn if they'd like or not. I enjoy that idea thoroughly, it's a shame that you and I likely will not live to see something like that happen at least in American schools where I live. There's much politicization (Whew, my mouth) in learning languages here which is not a good thing.
There were several tries in this direction. In my city there was an „Esperanto class“ in a school specialized in teaching French (every year a group of children learnt Esperanto first and then started French). It is not always easy because of bureaucracy in this field (not an obviously bad thing, I'd prefer educational system to be somewhat traditional and slow-changing).
I am actually toying with this idea for next school year. I started this January with having my students get a Duolingo account. Many are learning Spanish, but a 5-pack of girls are working on Italian, one boy is learning Portuguese, 3 are learning French, and a pair of kids are learning German. If I got my kids jacked up on learning a "secret" language that only our class would know, then I think I could get them learning Esperanto; especially if I have 180 days to do so. (Of course, the "politicization" comes in when peeps think they can force a population to do something against their will, or at the cost of others.) In this case, it would be couched (truly) as "enrichment." It's what I do. (And my current 5th graders, well, around 30 out of 35, are always happy to get time to work on Duolingo.) Peace!
After learning several languages because I needed them, and being past my prime of language learning, what attracted me was its accessibility, the fact that I still have a chance to learn an additional language. I tried learning it, and it worked. After one year of lernu.net (no lessons, just the forums), I went to my first EO event and I could get through a week with barely speaking other languages, or needing to speak them. What keeps me in is that it's a part of my life now, and that I'm fascinated by the process of learning. And Esperantoland is full of learners.
When I was eight I read about Esperanto in a "weird facts" book. It was stated as "a man made an easy to learn combination of English, French, Spanish and German to foster worldwide communication. It almost became an official language of the UN, but France shot it down to keep French relevant" or something like that. Eventually I came to Duolingo to get some German skills, preparing for a trip to Germany. When I finished my tree I decided to do more languages for lols. I scroll through the list and see Esperanto. I didn't remember consciously what esperanto was but something clicks in my mind, so I do it. I realise that it's a pretty fun language, and I finish the tree quick.
Mi lernis esperanton dum nur 2 monatoj kaj estis 6 monatoj ekde mi uzis la duolingan esperantarbon sed mia Esperanto ankoraŭ bonegas. Mi recivis lernu-e bonvortarojn por mia bona skribaĵoj kaj skribstilo. Mi tute dankas Duolingon.
Multaj homoj ekscias pri Esperanto el tiaj fontoj, ne ĉiam eĉ favoraj (ofte la mencio estas en la stilo „iam esperanto ŝajnis bona ideo, sed nun evidente la angla venkis“). En Rusio estas ia mencio de Esperanto en populara lernolibro de la angla: ĉiujare dekkelk novaj personoj interesiĝas pro tiu mencio en lingva ekzerco :)
When I heard about Esperanto by the first time (when I was a child), I thought "Amazing! An international language! I only have to learn it!". But then I also heard that it "failed" and I gave up. So, after some years (2011), after start studying a little the basis of Latim and French, I decided learn Esperanto when I knew that there was an app for it (Kurso). But after a week I stopped.
So, last year I read a little about Esperanto and heard about its propedeutical value: It made me interested again, and more interested when I saw music and funny stuff in Esperanto, because that made me think "Hey! That ❤❤❤❤ is alive! If there is cultural stuff and some people speaking it, so that language is alive!". So I returned to Kurso and started with Duolingo (whose English and Spanish courses I already used) and joined online groups. When I started to really learn Esperanto, I confirmed its propedeutical value, but - more than it - I saw a rich language with an amazing logic and a powerful expressivity! Then I just fallen in love...
Unfortunately, a lot of stupid people try to monopolize Esperanto under their own politic views, religion and lifestyle (even knowing that Esperanto has nothing to do with that crap). But Esperanto is a wonderful tool. That kind of tool is worth to be used.
I share many of the sentiments of Fantomius. I was fascinated, and started imagining that I could do this! (I am level 6 on my other account and just plodding away.) I've ordered an Esperanto Bible and many books; I've downloaded apps and digital files, etc. What I would really LOVE to do is to travel to Europe and take advantage of the opportunity to stay with some of my fellow Esperanto learners, since that is apparently something that the Esperanto community around the world does. (And I would like to return the favor to visitors to Central California.) Anyway, I'm up WAY too late, so I gotta go. Peace! (One last thing: I am actually focused on learning Spanish, for work primarily, but then I got a little distracted by Esperanto--so I'm learning two languages right now, so I am a bit divided in my language-learning efforts.)
As a kid, I was fascinated by languages. When I went to church, I usually was bored by the lessons, but really perked up whenever anything about languages was mentioned. I knew many Greek, and Latin words long before I ever tried to learn a foreign language.
I first heard of Esperanto when I was in High School. I read about it in a Science Fiction novel by an author named “Mack Reynolds”. Esperanto was at least mentioned in every book by this author I remember reading. I didn’t know it was a real thing, I thought it was something he made up, because I had never heard of anything like a universal language before.
While in High School, I made my first real attempt to learn a foreign language (Spanish) and for reasons that I have discussed in other threads of this forum, so I won’t go into them here, I failed that class. For the next two decades I thought I had absolutely no facility for learning foreign languages, no matter my fascination for them. Then my daughter started taking High School Spanish. I would hear her and her mother practicing Spanish, and suddenly one day realized that I understood a lot of what was being said in Spanish. I couldn’t believe that I had retained that much of a foreign language after 20 years of not practicing it, especially when I had failed the course.
About that same time I ran across Esperanto on the internet and found out that it had not been something that Mack Reynolds made up for his fictional universe, but that it was a real thing started in the latter half of the 19th century. I found the Esperanto Hypercard course that had been translated to Hypertext and put on the internet, and started studying. One of the claims on the website was that it was the easiest language on earth to learn. I remember thinking that I would study it to see if I could really learn a foreign language.
I also found out that I had a coworker (Den) who was fluent in Esperanto. He and I started having Esperanto lunches and he would explain things I didn’t understand, and encourage me to keep up the effort. He told me about ELNA (Esperanto League of North America - we now call it “Esperanto-USA”) and I found their website. From that website, I ordered “Teach Yourself Esperanto” and started studying that book daily and also found that there was a local Esperanto club that met about 20 miles from my house. Den and I began attending the club meetings. Den moved away not too long after that, but I’m still a member of the club, and attend the meetings monthly.
So, I began studying Esperanto just as an exercise to see if I could learn a foreign language, but I’ve kept with it because I like the language, the culture, and the people. I hope to use it to travel some day.
I'm a language buff so I bought a book some years ago on Esperanto simply to see what it was about. Of course, I had heard some things about it (invented, 'easy' language) and had even seen some jokes made about it on the (old) Brit TV series "May to December". The dizzy blond secretary of the main character learns Esperanto to speak to foreigners believing that that's what all 'internationals' (i.e. non-Brits) speak. Of course, none of the French, Spanish or other nationalities she accosted with her Esperanto understood a word she was saying and thought she was simply some babbling crazy lady. The point: Esperanto is an 'international' language that no 'international' speaks. Pointless to learn, really. What has induced me to try to do the entire course? I am a language teacher and I HATE the cultural parts of teaching or learning a language. It's the language I'm interested in and not in inculcating the world as to the proper way to prepare and serve 4 o'clock tea. Language teaching/learning today is highly culture-based, which turns off many learners as they feel learning another language will 'turn them foreign'. With Esperanto, that's not there. There is no 'culture bit', thank god.. That's point one, point two: all learners are equal. There are (really) no native speakers, so nobody has a style or cultural advantage over the person s/he is talking to. Everybody's culture, everybody's way is just as valid as everybody else's. That's wonderfully unique and warms the heart. Learners are what we are -- in everything, not just languages. Esperanto highlights this. It's really other LEARNERS you learn from, not 'masters who have fallen from the sky' as the Germans say. Wow! Just like life.
I started learning because I read about Esperanto in a book. A couple of years ago my grandmother gave me a book called "In the land of Invented Languages" by Arika Okrent. It caught my attention, especially the detail about it having speakers today. I looked for information about it online, and found a couple of sites with tutorials and lessons but none of them really worked for me. I was already using Duolingo for Spanish and German so when I found out that someone was working on a course for Esperanto I decided to give it a try when it was released.
Once my dad told me about a created language (Esperanto) and how it would make the world a better place, but I didn't pay much attention at the time, to be honest. Years later I started learning French and I got really interested in languages and how they work and evolve so I was amazed when one day, starting a French course in Duolingo, I saw Esperanto in the languages list. Very recently I started learning it and I am at the very first stages of a conversational level (a very simple one). I fell in love with it so hard that I actually asked my girlfriend to study it; however, I must say that as a teenager there is not much of an attractiveness to it, and that is one of the biggest problems of the community.
I like it because I love languages and I am kind of a self-taught kind of guy, but there is not much out there to attract young people other than some YouTube channels and Pasaporta Servo. Most of my friends that have a vague idea of what the language is, think it's a failed language that nobody uses. I really think that the solution to the unpopularity of Esperanto is using social media to make it "cool" again. New, high-quality content, well designed websites for the Esperanto organizations, get rid of all the rustiness that covers the magnificence of the language and the community, something that says "Esperanto lives and it's here to stay". Something I'm sure most esperantists, including me, would be willing to help with; whether you are a designer, computer programmer, YouTuber or anything else.
One time when I was in Europe, I was standing in line at a youth hostel. The way the room was arranged, I was essentially facing the guy in front of me. I felt awkward, so I said hello and a few other words. He said, "Speak English!" I said nothing, but I was angry! How dare he treat me like a trained dog! How dare he presume I speak English when this is not an English-speaking country! Only after I thought all those things, I realized that English is my native language. So I continued the conversation, but I was more polite than he was.
What interested me originally was that my son and his cousin were kind of making up their own language for play and then around that time I saw the TED talk with Tim Morley and was like, "We are doing this!"... my son, who just turned 9 seems to be liking it as long as I keep it pretty casual. My progress has been slow slow slow though... but that is my fault. Anyhow, I stick with it to teach my son and I like the idea of a universal second language.
I first discovered Esperanto while doing a high school research project on world languages, way back in the 198's. I was into the idea of constructing languages at the time and I was always interested in how you would say X in Esperanto. That's pretty much what attracts me to the language now. I enjoy seeing how things are translated into Esperanto, reading it, hearing it and speaking it (my biggest weak point).
There are a lot of things that I think Zamenhof could have done differently, but I’m just an opinionated person.
My problem with Interlingua and especially Lingua Franca Nova Is that they just aren’t there yet, and they are just romance languages, which isn’t very international. Esperanto has a ton of Germanic roots, which brings in northern and central Europe as well as Britain, some Slavic roots and even Greek words here and there (such as kaj), it has an agglutinative grammar just like Asian languages, and it has a good track record among Asians and Africans. It has a broad phonology which allows it to adopt words from other languages without mutilating them. There are difficult parts, but the difficulties are in different places for different people, otherwise it is a very simple language. It has twice as many native speakers as Lingua Franca Nova has users. The inventor of Lingua Franca Nova is even younger than I am, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that the language doesn’t have enough field testing behind it yet.
I heard a choir in china singing in Esperanto In a very professional production, but I’ve never heard anyone sing anything in LFN.
If I had been there when Zamenhof was experimenting with Esperanto in the 1880s, I’d ask him to do a few things differently. However, I wasn’t there, I have no way of knowing if my ideas would’ve been better, and I can’t really argue with his success. Neither IL nor LFN has anywhere near the huge volume of literature that Esperanto has, neither one has ever held an annual conference with 1,400 people in attendance, neither one has a rock group in Congo that sells its music through an Esperanto-only music publishing company in France, and neither one has Esperanto’s overwhelming presence on YouTube. Every day and in every way I never cease to be amazed at how big Esperanto is.
Esperanto is not perfect, but nothing is perfecter.
Most of those complaints seem to come from mostly monolingual people who have a European background, who think that a language is only a list of words, and who paradoxically prefer an artificial Romance language. They also complain about diacritics, which gives away their native language as English, since English is about the only European language that doesn't use them.
Grammar is the hardest part of learning a new language, not the alphabet (which you only have to learn once) or the vocabulary.
It is easier to learn vocabulary in Esperanto than in other languages, since it is small and largely agglutinative, thanks to the suffixes and prefixes.
Non-Europeans don't seem to be complaining as much.
If someone who speaks an Asian or African language wants to learn a different Asian or African language, they most often have to learn all new words anyway. The grammar is the main attraction. If you are a European, the grammar looks synthetic, like your language, but if you are Hungarian or Asian, it looks agglutinative, like your language. Esperanto grammar is double-jointed. A European can say "Mi iras per biciklo en la urbon" and an Asian can say "Mi biciklas urben" and they both understand each other as saying the same thing.
Esperanto has spontaneously developed a grammatical feature that is common in non-European languages: a class of verbs that indicate state, such as "viaj okuloj bluas" where "bluas" is a verb that means "are blue," or "ŝi feliĉas" where "feliĉas" means "is happy."
I know this post was made, like, three years ago, but here’s my story.
So, I, along with two younger brothers, lived in the Philippines while we were younger while my parents worked iliajn azenojn off in Singapore.
I had my own history of why I like languages.
I’ve always had a fascination with letters, so much so, that I have this giant plastic container filled to teh brim with letters that were magnets and things, that might be still be in my childhood home to this day.
My uncle moved to Saudi Arabia for a job opportunity. I, who was a toddler at the time, asked, “What language do they speak in Saudi Arabia?” My dad said, something along the lines of, “They speak Arabic there.” Knowing that, I look Arabic up on my (now broken) iPad and just absolutely marvel at how beautiful it looks. I look up Hebrew’s writing system too. It looks good, but not as much as Arabic. I look up the Greek alphabet, meh, kinda looks like a ripoff of a drunk guy trying to remember what the Latin alphabet looks like. Ooh, what’s this? The Greek alphabet was the inspiration for the Russian alphabet? That’s cool, let me look it up. Wow, it looks cool. At this point, you should know that I did not learn Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Russian per se, I just learned their system of writing and what the letters are, because they look cool.
Before my iPad broke, I watched YouTube videos daily. Those videos were mostly about alphabets and math, but here, I find a video about Esperanto in my Recommended Feed. I’ve discovered a lot of things through my Recommended Feed, (like object shows, Conlang Critic (which led to toki pona, like you’ve mentioned), but Esperanto? This would be truly revolutionary! The video told the story of how Zamenhof made Esperanto in the linguistically quarterly divided (Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews) city of Białystok, Poland, and how simple it is. “All nouns end in o, adjectives in a,” and other things you tell people when you tell them about Esperanto. I eventually forgot about the video.
Around this time, I started “researching” about conlanging, and I still am to this day, for it is one of my biggest passions, along with mathematics and music theory.
Both of my parents were nurses in Singapore, so they were making lots of money in the medical field. However, here’s the thing, they had to answer a would-you-rather question.
Would you rather make thousands of pesos, supporting your family back home in the process, and be around 23 hundred kilometres from your three children, or be with your three children and start a new chapter of life in a new country together?
They chose to be together with their loving sons. When I was either 11 or 12 years old, they broke the news to me; we were moving to Canada.
Knowing that the two official languages of Canada are English and French, my dad (somewhat jokingly) told me to learn French, as I would be their translator. (I like the thought of being the my family’s transliterary gateway into the people of Canada, but when we actually came, not many people even spoke French. Sure, it’s an Acadian province, but still.)
I discovered Duolingo on my (now broken) iPad, and started learning, but it didn’t last very long.
We moved to Canada when I was about to turn 13. It felt like a liberating experience too, but it was a shame to leave all my friends and my extended family behind.
I started 7^th grade in Canada, and my French teacher introduced the class to Duolingo. Duolingo was used as something to do when you were done with classwork, so I made my account and started learning again. By this time, I was scrolling through the list of languages on Duolingo and saw Esperanto there. I remembered the video I saw when I was younger, and I thought, “What I]if I learn French, then learn Esperanto, so I could recognize the words in Esperanto and it would be easier than before.” I got to a 70 day streak until I lost motivation.
Fast forward to 8^th grade, and a lot of things happened. During March Break this year, which was free week in March that was off school, you know, kinda like an early vacation, our family of five drove around 2000 kilometres to Niagara falls. The drive from there and back was just in time for that Sunday, but on our way there, we booked an Airbnb in Quebec, and oh my god, almost everything was in French; the TV channels, the signage, people voices, everything!
On May 1, 2019, I decided, “Hey, I might bump into someone who actually speaks French, why not learn French again?” So, I did, I decided that I was not going to break my streak from then on, and now, I’m at a 78 day streak.
While I was going through the French tree, I got this sudden spike in motivation. It seemed I could skip levels on the tree, since all the grammar rules and words were so recognisable and “easy.” Eventually, it got difficult, so I start losing motivation again. This time, I need a language to learn, so I don’t break my streak. I remember the easiness of Esperanto, and thought I should give it a try again. Now that the Arabic course is on beta, I decided to learn it too.
I heard about Esperanto Day, (the day that the Unua Libro was published, not Zamenhof’s birthday, that’s Zamenhof-tago,) in a casual browsing session in the Duolingo forums. Then I thought...
If Esperanto is as easy as they said it is, let’s put Esperanto to the test, why don’t I learn as much Esperanto in less than a fortnight in preparation for Esperanto Day?
So, I challenged myself.
Can I speak toki pona? toki; mi ken toki e toki pona. taso, jan ala lon poka mi li toki e toki pona.
What languages do I want to learn in the future? My step-uncle can speak Hungarian, (and it’s his birthday today!), so I thought, it’d be pretty cool if I spoke with him in his mother tongue. Japanese, because I wanna experience what it would be like to learn one of the hardest languages to an English speaker. I also plan to learn all Esperanto’s source languages.
The French teacher who introduced us to Duolingo? She went on maternity leave around 2 months into 8^th grade, and visited us at the last day of 8^th grade, with her daughter (who was a toddler at the time) and a new baby boy called Simon.
That account I made in 7^th grade? That’s the account I’m using right now.
Right now, I’m still in that Esperanto Cramming session. I’m not done yet. I have a conlang project that I need to finish and some meetup with friends after Esperanto day...
...kaj vio estas bonega.