What's with all this talk about Esperanto helping you learn other languages?
This idea has been floating around for years:
- Learn French for 4 years and become X% fluent in French.
- Learn Esperanto for a year and French for 3 years and become X+10% fluent in French and X+10% fluent in Esperanto.
Suddenly, though, I'm seeing this idea everywhere. More and more people are saying that this is the reason they are learning Esperanto. I suspect it has to do with the success of the Benny Lewis books... but as a long time language learner and Esperanto teacher, I find it troubling. If you find Esperanto interesting, if you want to speak with Esperanto speakers, then by all means learn Esperanto. If you're doing it just because you want to learn French, then spend your time on French. Go where your motivation is.
I firmly believe there is some truth to the original claim - but not enough truth to make it worth learning a language you have no interest in. If you're interested in Esperanto, then learn it and don't fuss about the X vs X+10 question. Just learn it.
I tried to learn Spanish for several years. Then I finally got the basics thanks to Duolingo. Then I read about how efficient it is to learn Esperanto. Soon my Esperanto became better than my Spanish. Knowing both Spanish and Esperanto really helps me to understand other Romance languages without studying them. I learned Esperanto in order to be able to learn more languages easier. But I enjoy learning Esperanto. It's logical and beautiful. Spoken Esperanto sounds like Italian with a Yiddish accent. I like that.
I haven't heard this claim before now, but it does make sense - Esperanto has some clear similarities to other Romance languages. I do agree, learning Esperanto won't help you learn French, it'll just help you learn Esperanto. But it admittedly might help with some of the similar roots that pervade the Romance language family.
The claim goes well beyond the simple notion of vocabulary overlap. Others have explained it well in this thread - but in a nut shell, it's about gaining confidence and about learning how to learn a language. It's about learning grammatical concepts without being distracted by exceptions.
I've seen some folks talk in terms of confidence, but others talk in terms of activating brain circuits that are activated specifically in foreign language acquisition. The basic idea is that learning esperanto activates that much earlier in the process than other languages do. That is something that someone with a decent brain imaging lab could sort out pretty fast these days(i.e run ten subjects and publish a paper to get the ball rolling). My own guess: I Think that effect is real but varies a lot from person to person. that was also noted in the various language learning studies. The effect seems less for folks that are already bilingual.
The studies claimed that the "esperanto" effect was stronger in helping to learn certain languages than others. that suggests that root word overlap is a partial factor. The question there: which people learn effectively with say flash cards vs. learning esperanto roots and using them in conversation? I haven't seen that addressed well one way or another.
I agree with your point, but if anyone's interested in actual sources for these types of claims, I believe they mostly come from a paper published in the Canadian Modern Language Review in 1965 called "A language learning experiment," authored by N. Williams. I can't seem to find a free copy of the paper myself after a lazy google search, but according to the Wikipedia article on Esperanto, a group of European students studied Esperanto for a year and French for 3 years and supposedly were "better" at French than students who only studied French for 4 years.
As far as I can tell the study hasn't been replicated, though I didn't look very hard, to be honest. The idea behind it certainly makes sense (the University of Manchester likens it to teaching children the recorder as preparation for learning other instruments) but I agree that if someone's learning Esperanto just to "make it easier" to learn another language, they'd probably just be better off studying the language they're more interested in instead. Particularly if they're learning a language that isn't very similar to Esperanto. I'm already somewhat skeptical about Esperanto reducing those students' necessary French study times by 1/4th, but I'm almost certain that learning Esperanto won't save you any time in the long run when you're trying to drill kanji in Japanese or learn pitch accents in Chinese.
Either way, here's the section of the Wikipedia article I mentioned: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto#Education
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperanto This article looks at 13 different studies.
Wow, there's a lot here. Thanks for sharing, I hope I can find time to look deeper into these studies.
I'm still trying to wade through this stuff and the other 3rd language acquisition papers. The main thing I've decided: there is enough stuff to plow through I just cannot do it any time soon.
A lot of the original papers in the above link are not readily available and what I would like is not readily accessible in some of the rest.
I have looked for but not yet found a good study on activation of brain regions in folks learning esperanto vs. other 2nd languages. What I think : esperanto learners start showing the characteristics of learners of an L2 earlier in the process, but that is speculative on my part.
My sense after digging into the information I could find on this years ago was that there was enough information to warrant a better study, but that there is currently no well-controlled, conclusive study on the question.
I'm almost certain that learning Esperanto won't save you any time in the long run when you're trying to drill kanji in Japanese or learn pitch accents in Chinese.
My experience speaking Chinese in China is that my experience learning Esperanto absolutely did help. Same with my experience learning Japanese for a year of self-study. My point in the OP, however, was that I had already learned Esperanto for its own sake, not because I thought it would help me with Chinese.
I have not yet been able to get many of the original 13 studies cited at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperanto Some of them are pretty old. Some of the sources require a lot of wading through.
My own sense: There is something very real here, but the effect depends on a lot of variables that are poorly understood. Still, when I compare this to say what doctors base clinical decisions on the literature isn't that bad.
as far as enhancement of reseach:
the esperanto as 2nd preceding 3rd language effect needs to be compared to other literature on 2nd-3rd language. That is largely a literature search, but needs to be done. is issue of root word overlap could at least partially be addressed by existing literature.
Brain imaging studies need to be looked at. This is really easy for someone with the right equipment to at least get something started here, but more would need to be done later.
Comparing vocabulary enhancement methods is another issues here. I'm thinking comparing learning esperanto cognates for a target language vs. just jumping in with say flash cards.
duolingo is collecting data on a sample that dwarfs other past studies. Part of the value of the duolingo data: they include learners from a variety of backgrounds and age groups. Many of the studies were done with rather young students. It is not obvious how that is extended to say older students.
Oh, I didn't mean to imply that learning Esperanto wouldn't help with an Asian language at all. I just meant that if someone's learning Esperanto for the sole purpose of learning Japanese for example, it's going to take them longer to learn Esperanto and 2500 kanji than it would take to just learn 2500 kanji, hence my comment that "it won't save you any time."
I don't doubt that learning Esperanto (or any language) has tangible benefits when it comes to learning another language, but spending a year on Esperanto just to make another language easier is just going to cost more time in the long run.
As you can see in my profile, I learn Japanese, Esperanto and Czech. For now my main goal is Japanese, but sometimes I take a brake from Japanese by learning an easier language, when I am too tired or feel frustrated (learning that language, can be really frustrating at times).
That way I don't quit completely from learning languages. I just switch to learn more relaxing language. And learning Esperanto can still help to learn skills of awareness of sentence structure and general properties of verbs, adverbs, nouns etc. For example, if you know where to put -n ending in Esperanto, then you know that in Japanese conterpart you have to put -を ending, not -に or -が or -で.
la hundo manĝas manĝaĵon
Which would you consider harder - Czech or Japanese? Obviously Japanese because of different signs and alphabet(s), but beside that? I am lucky, that I am native Czech speaker (although I would be happier being native German, so I wouldnt have such hard time learning it) :)
But our grammar (czech) is quite hard, normal people don't know, why is something the way it is, we just memorize it by reading in books etc.
For me Czech is waaaaaay more easier than Japanese. But that is because my native language is Polish - and Polish and Czech have a lot in common. I can guess the meaning of a lot of words without learning like "Chlapec" - "Chłopiec", "Dévče" - "Dziewcze", "Slovo" - "Słowo", "dům" - "dom". There are some false friends though, to which I need to be aware. I understand the concept of grammatical cases, and the declensions sounds similar (there are some little differences but that would be more of adjustment than learning from zero).
When it comes to vocabulary, Czech is for me even easier than Esperanto (But simpler grammar, spelling and easy construction of more complex words from root words in Esperanto are obvious).
When it comes to Japanese, I had to start from zero. Completely different vocab, different grammar, Kanji and Kana, homophones and a few other tricky things.
the University of Manchester likens it to teaching children the recorder as preparation for learning other instruments
Continuing the analogy, I can see using the recorder to teach music theory, music appreciation, finger coordination, and group focusing skills to small children. I can also see the recorder as something of interest for an adult who always wanted to play an instrument. (Indeed, in my video "Mi ne volas esti jutubisto" I show off three CD's on which I play tenor recorder.)
What I can't see is a an adult (or even a middle school or high school student) who really wants to play the piano or the saxophone going in for a year of recorder lessons instead of following their actual interest.
So to bring the analogy back, I can't see language students doing this either... except as part of a course for people who are too young or who otherwise haven't made up their mind ... or who want to speak Esperanto for its own sake.
There is a question of interest vs. price. if someone needs to learn some other language, esperanto may come at little additional cost if learned first so someone with a mild interest in esperanto but an urgent need for another language might opt to learn esperanto first quite rationally.
The other thing: people vary quite a lot in terms of what learning methods work for them and how well. when I look at the data in the papers on the esperanto effect: it is pretty clear that varies a lot from person to person.
If one's motivation is to save overall time or to get some significant early results, learning esperanto first may be a very rational decision.
You see these figures where they claim say it takes 800 hours to learn language x at the B2 level, but that is really median level. I've seen a serious language prodigy that took much less time. Even as an adult, he could still pick up a language as well as a child does. I expect there are others that take a lot more time and so any method that can shave a little overall time from the investment has enormous value in that situation.
- someone with a mild interest in esperanto but an urgent need for another language might opt to learn esperanto first quite rationally.
It was specifically to disagree with this idea that I started this thread. I love Esperanto (I hope this is obvious) and I think there are many great reasons to spend time learning it. I agree that a "mild interest" in Esperanto can be enough to justify time learning it - but not in the face of a need for another language which can be described as "urgent."
Here is a more or less random news-style article about the importance of motivation. It also makes a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I would argue that "wanting to learn Esperanto because it will help you learn something that you really want to learn" is an extrinsic motivation, and therefore less effective.
it is a really a question of what the data says. I understand the sample size of the existing studies may be less than optimal size. However, duolingo is collecting a huge data set as we speak that may help some of that problem.
I can understand concern that the "esperanto effect" is being oversold and overstated. I thing that sorting out just who benefits from that effect and how much is an important research area.
I've seen research in other areas that gets VERY tricky. One example is use of behavior therapies to teach nonverbal children language. It is REALLY hard to do those studies well. One researcher, Ivar Lovaas at UCLA made a lot of news claiming a 40% success rate with that approach. There were some issues as it turned out with the sample he was using. Every child he started out really was nonverbal. However, they were not a typical sample of nonverbal autistic children. In addition, even many folks that truly disliked Lovaas admitted rather begrudgingly that he was a rather gifted therapist. Lovaas trained his team personally. Some folks had real problem replicating Lovaas's results, and other assumed there was nothing to it because of that. On the other hand, I've have personally seen outcomes that are hard for me to explain without saying there was something working. Specifically I saw a pair of nonverbal identical twins in which one responded to therapy well enough to attend first grade in a neurotypical classroom without an aid. Now was the kid still disabled? Maybe. I have real trouble saying nothing happened.
Sorting out issues of motivation is going to be hard. There is also the potential for a placebo effect. Those of us that see something real in those studies in the wikipedia article might have different results than those that do not.
In general, I'd suggest people consider the literature carefully and do what they think is most likely to work for them.
I would also keep in mind: it doesn't need to be 1 year of esperanto before 3 years of another language.
Benny Lewis specifically advocates 2 weeks of esperanto prior to 2-3 months of another language.
That has not yet been well tested that I have seen.
I can easily imagine that some folks go back and forth. I personally started out with spanish, but at this point my esperanto is IMHO stronger than my spanish, but I am still a ways from carrying out a conversation in either.
I have recently played around with the esperanto from spanish duolingo course. I know spanish well enough to navigate the duolingo menus. My esperanto is pretty weak(as you well know), but I can navigate through the elementary esperanto lessons in spanish and I Think that actually strengthens both language skills-but I have no real proof of that.
I hope duolingo looks at data from their sample sometime.
There are a bunch of papers on this general topic here.
The esperanto effect seems to be strongest for folks that have the most trouble learning to fluently speak in another language. It doesn't seem to be nearly as strong for folks that have already learned two languages.
A lot of this research is older. A UK group called Springboard for languages revitalized the idea recently. Here is a talk by someone from that group. There are some research papers floating around from that group, but their webpage has gone silent. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8gSAkUOElsg
I have some substantial experience with quantitative methods. I looked over the papers careful and I smell something real. I also think a lot of the research is half baked and incomplete. A lot more needs to be done to tell just who this approach really works for and what the optimal way to use it is. Right now, one just needs to wing it.
The dirty secret: conventional language teaching methods fail many students. Lots of people study a foreign language for years and really can't do anything useful with it.
Some people have really urgent needs and are thus looking for alternatives
I would look carefully at the original data. The basic claim was that overall esperanto was at least a "free" language for folks learning to speak another language. That was after noticing that for some folks there was pretty much no effect. But the implication was that for at least some folks it might be more something more than free: it was the difference between success and failure.
I have a lot of experience working with people for whom english is a foreign language. A lot of those folks are extremely intelligent and motivated and hardworking. A lot of them have very limited results after a lot of work.
If 10% of those people could learn english more effectively via esperanto than via conventional methods it would dramatically increase global use of esperanto.
Right now about 5% of those that learn esperanto really use it regularly. That percent may be a bit lower for those that learn esperanto as springboard for other languages.
In the big scheme of things: it doesn't matter what you or I think or want. It matters what works and what the data says.
Duolingo is collecting data as we speak that will give the esperanto effect a much bigger trial than all other previous studies. I hope they get around to looking at it or turn it over to some responsible researchers. They have a huge economic incentive to do so.
Right now, the situation really is pretty hit and miss. It is not like one can take an aptitude test that suggests the proper way to use esperanto to help learn another language or if one should use it at all for that purpose. There are no books or courses yet that specifically are oriented towards spanish via esperanto for english speakers or english via esperanto for spanish speakers. My guess is that there should be both and that for some portion of language learners this approach is quite valuable, but it is not for everyone. I also expect the optimal way to use esperanto for this purpose would vary from person to person.
I always felt that any truth in this claim lay in the idea that an American monolingual English speaker seeking out to learn a natural language gets lost in the 'strangeness/differentness' of another natrural language. But if they were first introduced to other languages through a consistant, grammer coded language, they do better because of the demystifying of language learning generally. (I may not have phrased the above as well as I could have.)
I consider it uncontroversial to say that learning your first second language makes it easier to learn additional second languages. The surprising part of the claim is that Esperanto is so consistent and simplified that a person can get this benefit (easier learning of additional languages) for less effort than the benefit will save them in the long run.
In a lot of ways, this makes sense to me. The Esperanto accusative can be explained in 5 minutes. After that, the learner can focus on when it actually needs to be used. Then, if s/he goes on to learn Russian or German, there's no need to practice the when. It's only necessary to learn the declension. Trying to learn declension and "when" a the same time could be confusing. But given that so much of language learning success is motivation, there are a lot of devils in the details here.
A slightly different claim is that Esperanto is useful as part of a course in grammatical concepts or language-learning techniques for people who have not made up their mind on which language to learn. This would include primary school students (who should not be pigeonholed into a specific language without good reason) or adults who are drawn to the idea of learning a second language and don't know where to start.
On this last point -- I'm suddenly inspired to make another pitch to my local community education program: "So you want to learn a second language" as a title for a course I could teach.
Edit: I've since emailed my local community ed to pitch the idea.
I think your community ed class idea is a very good one. That can be done easily right now with solid backing from existing research.
Benny Lewis is an advocate of "low dose" Esperanto early in the attempt to learn a foreign language. https://www.fluentin3months.com/2-weeks-of-esperanto/ His thoughts are in this article.
Now, BL is a pretty flamboyant salesman. He does a good job of selling his books. He is not a careful researcher.
This is a talk by a UK teacher involved in a study teaching Esperanto to over 200 grade school children. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8gSAkUOElsg
These are two of the most accessible sources on this topic.
I think a lot more research is needed on just how to use the Esperanto effect optimally for specific people(remember, the research is all largely looking at groups, not how to predict how to improve individual results).
I've seen some brain science researchers writing about how learning any foreign language involves specific parts of the brain that are different than those used speaking one's native language. What BL is claiming in part is that Esperanto allows one to start using those parts of one's brain much more early in the process than natural languages. Part of the language learning process is kind of like a stroke victim relearning to talk. Getting used to using a new part of one's brain is half the battle. That effect seems to go away for folks for whom Esperanto is not their first fluently spoken foreign language.
There is also the issue those of cognates or words with common roots and using those in conversation. The best source I have found for those so far is this one: http://www.ezglot.com/common-words.php?l=epol2=frasubmit=Compare#number-of-common-words
The effect of using those cognates in a conversational process early in language learning is an effect I doubt would disappear for polyglots.
I can imagine there is an entire host of courses waiting to be developed like:
Spanish for English speakers via Esperanto
Inglés para hispanohablantes via esperanto
each course would focus on cognates from native an target language so the vocabulary above might be rather different than a course Chinese speakers wanting to learn portuguese via esperanto.
There is also a need for more generic courses: Angla por esperantaj parolantoj Hispana por esperantistoj
That might be useful for folks that speak very minor language for which there are few real materials to learn any language: it is much lower overhead for those folks to learn esperanto first, that just isnt widely appreciated yet. In a previous thread, some folks pointed to some 100% pictoral, language neutral courses for esperanto. https://www.duolingo.com/comment/26567186 I'd love to see a head to head comparison of such courses with similar ones for english french or spanish. I'd personally put my money on esperanto in that horse race as far as someone being able to simply access basic web resources early on in the process with the minimal amount of time spent. The experiment has not yet been run as far as I can see.
Those speakers of really minor languages(i.e. not in the top 50) have a real issue of linguistic isolation-and that linguistic isolation carries with it real economic consequences . Things are not quite to the stage that one can look at one's bank account via esperanto, but that day is coming fast with the way automatic translation is heading.
Randall, it's not clear to me how many of your thoughts above tie in to the narrow focus of your opening line... but I've emailed the community ed folks and no additional research is needed for the class(es) that I pitched. The idea is to have a 3 or 6 week course on learning languages. I might use Esperanto as an example (as well as tie into my knowledge of other languages) but the goal wouldn't be learning Esperanto. It would be to talk about learning techniques, strategies, and methods. If the students already know what language they want to learn, they would be encouraged to start.
I mentioned Barry Farber's book and Benny Lewis's in my proposal - plus my own experience as a language learner and teacher.
This is a talk by a UK teacher involved in a study teaching Esperanto to over 200 grade school children.
That's Tim Morley. He's taught Esperanto to my kids at NASK - plus we've had a lot of opportunities for meals together, playing music, and interactions online.
I have often wondered whether having English as your first language is a bit of a hindrance in learning other languages, because English is so strange.
I often find myself frustrated by the way another language has two completely different words that translate to the same word in English. Then I realise that the quirk is because English often uses the same word for two completely different meanings.
It is very ironic, that there is probable the most resources for English speakers to learn other languages, but native English speakers are not interested(or frustrated) to learn other languages.
I think, having English as your first language can be bit of a hindrance, beacause English speakers manage well in the world speaking English, and not that motivated to learn other languages.
But the "use the same word for two completely different meanings" thing, I think that goes both ways. Why do English speakers use "to know" to both kennen and wissen/ koni and scii?
On the other hand, Spanish speakers have trouble to translate "en" as "in, on or at" in English. And English speakers have two words for turtles (turtle and tortoise) where one word could be enough.
Except a Turtle and a Tortoise are two entirely different animals. That's like saying "Why do we have a word for shark and whale when we already have fish?"
I think a better analogy would be things like how we have miniscule, minute, tiny, diminutive, slight etc all basically just meaning "Of small size" or how "Minute" can be pronounced as Min-ut to mean a section of time (A minute) or as mine-ute to mean small. English is just strange overall.
I agree with you that Turtle and Tortoise are different animals, but I've noticed since moving to America that many Americans don't know the difference and call them all turtles. I think give it a few hundred years and "Tortoise" might be an obsolete word in US-English, everything will be a turtle just like there is one word in other languages. Functionally, we could get by calling them all turtles I guess (except when species specific species is needed) like they do in other languages.
There are a lot of animal distinctions that aren't made in other languages that are in English. In some languages there is no separate common word for Sheep and Goat, or Ape and Monkey.
I don't know of any specifically, but it wouldn't surprise me if some languages don't distinguish between moth and butterfly, since it takes an expert to tell if some species are actually a moth or a butterfly and some that people think is one is actually the other.
Turtles and tortoises are more alike than whales and sharks. In fact, there is a name for the former (testudines) but not for the latter - except "vertebrate", which also includes testudines. I also think that some sea turtles are more closely related to terrapin and tortoises than to other sea turtles. The fact that I call them all turtle (in my American dialect) doesn't mean that I don't know the difference between sea turtles, land turtles, and river turtles.
"Turtles and tortoises are more alike than whales and sharks."
Well, indeed. A shark is a type of fish and a whale is a type of mammal, that evolved from a common ancestor with the hippopotamus. Although, I suppose, people didn't know that until the last few hundred years. - long after modern language took its current shape.
(A common bible story that many people in the West will be familiar with is Jonah being swallowed by a big fish- usually presumed to be a whale even though by today's definition a whale isn't a fish)
I can see how turtles and tortoises are lumped together in some languages but sharks, whales, and Koi carp are nothing alike and it would be silly to not have differentiating words for them.
Esperanto either grabs you, or it doesn't. It either helps you, or it doesn't.
I doubt one can say that there is a universal effect that can be relied upon for every learner, since in my experience as student and as a tutor is that students come in all manner of apptitudes and learning preferences - almost as if they were individuals.
Personally I started playing with Duolingo to see what languages I could learn a bit of. Some went well, some did not. Esperanto went best of all and soon outstripped languages I had had five years of schooling previously in.
Now that I do OK in esperanto I find myself noticing root words and constructions in other languages while simultaneously bemoaning their convoluted grammars, mountains of exceptions and the realisation that at my time of life it is unlikely I will actually master any of them....except Esperanto.
Why learn esperanto.... Becasue you want to is the best answer, but it is not clear that its position as a stepping stone to the world of other, more difficult, natural languages, is necessarily invalid for those who choose to go that route. What is clear is that enthusiasm and motivation are the secret sauce to learning and that early success breeds inclination to continue and that all progress is made by showing up.
I understand it in a lot of situations. Most American school systems don't really push students to learn a second language (or even English for that matter) with any efficiency. So when, as an adult, that person wants to learn another language, Esperanto can kind of act as a "gateway" language. Because of its simple structure, it introduces basic language learning concepts to a beginner without overwhelming them with rules. Does it directly improve your ability to learn another language? Probably not, but I'm sure it helps some people start to scale the language learning wall. But if you already have some experience with language learning, or how languages are structured, I don't see Esperanto helping with other languages.
My own guess is there are two big effects: a) esperanto provides the 2nd language to 3rd language benefit with lower overhead than other potential 2nd language candidates
b) esperanto provides specific root word learning enhancement for those wanting to learn the european languages with which esperanto has the most overlap.
Both effects may vary individually based on a variety of factors.
Because people are forced to learn languages even if they are not motivated. But motivation is necessary to learn a language. Esperanto helps them in huge part by giving motivation, showing they can learn a language while having fun, thanks to its easy to grasp regular grammar.
People are forced to learn languages, at school, or for business. They are ready to take Esperanto if it can help them do what they have to do. Learning languages requires motivation, and the average person has no motivation to learn languages. This is why they use maths. They are motivated by not losing time or some time but making the experience better.
This is how Esperanto is interesting for many people, and a major reason why people actually start to learn the language, putting the fear of wasting time or not enjoying the experience aside. Some of them may even become interested by Esperanto speakers and culture later.
This was an answer that was on quora that I think has some relevance to this discussion.
The question is why should I learn esperanto.
Success vs. failure. Many, many people who study a foreign language never come close to learning an amount that is useful to them. A recent Quora answer on the language learning question stated that 94% of the people who study a foreign language fail to achieve their communication goals. This is in line with my experience of 25 years in a university language department.
You might be part of the 6%. If you study a national language and succeed in learning to speak it, great! If you are part of the 94% that has already felt the frustration (and wasted time) of studying and failing to learn a national language, consider learning Esperanto, as your first foreign language. Then move on to German, Spanish, etc. Learning a third language is always easier than learning a second.
Lots of people say that Esperanto is easier to learn than other languages, and in plenty of scenarios, it is. But easier vs. harder is a comparison that assumes eventual success in both cases. For the 96%, in the specific circumstances of their lives, with the time they have available, learning a foreign language has proved to be impossible.
A good number of Esperanto speakers were once in this 96%. They say that Esperanto was their “last chance”. They had already tried and failed to learn one or more other languages. Learning Esperanto was not simply easier, it was the first language where learning was in any way possible. Afterward, some went on to learn additional languages, while others were satisfied to enjoy the benefits of Esperanto and its community of speakers. In every case, their experience of success with Esperanto as a second language was much more fun than their previous struggle and failure.
This is probably a major factor in why learning Esperanto helps you learn other new languages.
It's easy to get discouraged by German's confusing grammar, or French's weird differences between written and spoken language. (which is true for English too).
With Esperanto the ease of learning adds to your confidence, once you've done it once you have confidence you CAN learn. Lack of confidence can hold you back in many things, be it Sport or language learning.
When you look at how people learn languages as children, the methods are little like a typical modern language course.
If you step back: it was originally traditional that EVERYONE learned a little latin at a young age. If a student showed language aptitude then they might learn a modern language. If not, then they learned a little about the basis of their own language and the root words behind it(since even Germanic and Slavic European languages borrowed at least some european languages).
I have yet to see clear evidence the movement to go directly into modern, natural languages was carefully studied even now.
That 94% failure rate shows a clear demand for different approaches..
I am not sure the exact dynamic here. Confidence may be a factor. It may also be that some people just prefer learning new vocabulary in the context of a language they can speak earlier on. Another theory floating around seems to be that conversation exercises in esperanto exercise neural pathways that are not activated early on with natural languages.
The discussion reminds me a little bit about weight loss. about 1/200 obese people lose an obesity diagnosis each year. A lot more try to do so. Researchers and clinicians are often rather doctrinaire about conventional weight loss methods. There is also a real history of weight loss scheme of dubious safety and efficacy. However, there are also serious researchers advocating some approach that never quite seems to get squarely supported or refuted, and it is never quite sorted out just what works, for whom and under what conditions.
I happen to be among those that had an obesity diagnosis and lost it(My body fat percentage would now enable me to keep my job if I were in the military and I've kept over 60 lbs off now for several years). I did so after repeated tries using conventional methods and eventually dug through the research and found something else that worked for me(in my case that meant a lot more exercise than most doctors suggest, but the national weight control registriy http://www.nwcr.ws at brown university does).
That experience may be coloring my view here. What I'm seeing: a lot of language teachers are folks for whom conventional methods worked and have had students that also fit that category. They don't see an obvious problem with language learning practiceds, but there are some other folks that do.
I have a foot in both camps: I am interested in learning Esperanto for the same of learning Esperanto. I also want to use it as "primer" to teach my brain how to learn languages other than my native tongue.
Language acquisition proper is also a skill, not just the ability to speak and understand Esperanto, or French, etc. The better you are at language acquisition the better/faster any language you throw at yourself.
This was my thought too.
I set myself a goal mid January (a late New year's resolution) that I would learn a language well enough to read a book in it (not necessarily fluent, but I wanted to read a book in a foreign language).
I saw Esperanto listed as an easy language (and how it facilitates learning others: I want to ultimately learn Spanish). I didn't realise that by March I'd be able to read a book in Esperanto. (Albeit, with heavy use of dictionary). New Year's Goal completed before Spring started... Lol.
So yes, I specifically picked Esperanto First because it's easy and aids learning other languages. But I'm also learning it because I want to know it.
I've always wanted to speak multiple languages. I saw the studies that Esperanto helped learn others so I decided to tackle it first. That doesn't mean I'm going to let it rust now that I know the basics of it and have my golden owl. I'm going to maintain it and keep reading the occasional book and try to learn more. My focus has turned more to German now and completing that tree but Esperanto is important to me by itself. I wish I had an Esperanto Buddy locally here I could have lunch with and fumble around speaking Esperanto. No Esperanto clubs around me though.
I was terrible at languages at school. When I was 22 I did the old Esperanto ten lesson home study course. It was amazingly simple and broke down all the mechanics and complexities of grammar. After that I had no problem learning other languages.
The Esperanto postal course was probably better then the Duo course for gaining this revelation because it was much shorter... the whole course took less than 10 hours. The Duo course is maybe better if you actually want to learn to speak Esperanto.
For me Esperanto was the language which taught me how grammar works and that (even) I am able to learn grammar. In school I learned English only because it's very similar to german and I could visit England in two summers. So I could talk and write English quite well, but did not know the rules.
Latin, beginning 2 years after English, was a desaster because I could not see the grammar rules because of all the exceptions. And no country I could travel to.
Now I am still learning languages very slowly, but I like it.
I agree with you. I see this being brought up when someone lists reasons to learn Esperanto. I am not sure how much Esperanto will help you with learning French, but it does help with becoming familiar with language learning. What is my reason for learning Esperanto? I am learning Esperanto because I find it an extremely beautiful language. It is pretty pointless to go out of your way to learn a language that you have no interest in just to get on your feet with learning the language that you wanted to learn
There have been studies that show it is better.
If you really want to learn French, why would you study it for 4 years, if you can study Esperanto for 6 months and French for 3 years and get on the same level?
I am pretty sure that most of the people in this thread disagreeing with the claim you're repeating here are familiar with the studies. For sure I am ("I" = the "you" that DJWhiskkebarr is agreeing with.)
I invite you to name a study that shows this. What were their methods? What were their controls? What was the sample size? What were their findings? How did their findings support this conclusion? Every time I've done this, the study has been far less impressive than is usually repeated.
What I would keep in mind: small sample size, lack of controls and for that matter poor statistical analysis is far more common in peer reviewed papers than folks would like to think. An old friend of mine used to be on the CDC board of statistical advisors. He has told me there there is literally one US medical journal he trusts to do a good job of reviewing an article with subtle statistical claims.
I'd probably agree criticisms of those individual studies . However, I'd be careful to look at the forest, not just the individual trees. We have an effect here that shows up in a lot of places.
This is not a situation where we are talking about risking life or limb. It is a question how does one invest one's time. The ROI may not be as good overall as some articles suggest. However, those are also averages. There are people that might get more or less effect.
All one can really do at this point is review the literature and decide how to invest one's time.
Duolingo is collecting data that will overcome some of the problems in those articles(i.e. sample size and limited profiles of students).
I doubt the duolingo data to definitively solve the debate. I suspect it will be good enough to inspire some business decisions.
I think in general the idea doesn't apply to the vast majority of people on this site. The entire "Teach esperanto first" thought line only applies to small children or adults who have never examined a language before.
It's the simplicity of the language that gives small children the tools to start looking at languages more critically and, importantly, learning to do simple things with a simple set of rules (Esperanto) so they gain confidence before trying a much harder, more complex set of rules (French, English, Spanish etc.) which may just frustrate them into quitting.
There's a decent analogy that it's like the Recorder of languages. It's simple to pick up and lets children explore a little without getting frustrated that it's "Too hard, I must suck at languages" If we gave children all violins to begin with, they'd all get screechy nothing sounds and everyone would decide they must be bad at music and quit. We give them a recorder that's so easy anyone can play it enough to make a basic melody and then they learn how to read music and timing and tempo etc and go on from there.
Esperanto is giving them the recorder. Do we expect them all to keep playing the recorder? Of course not, but it eases them into it so they don't give up early. It shows them "Yes, you can learn a language, look you're already doing it" instead of throwing them in the deep end and, then once you're confident and "Hey I can do this", you'll try harder because you'll know you can succeed next time.
Just as there is nothing wrong with enjoying a simplified language like Esperanto. That said, the point was it's able to be used as something to get you familiar with how things work and then, if you wish to do so, you can jump on over to something more complex.
Do what you want to do, that's what life is about so long as you're not hurting anyone. In the end having something easy to show children seems like it would be almost obvious that it'd help in getting them interested in learning other languages. Anything to stop them getting discouraged early.
I have finally reached level 25 in French. I began with Spanish, I think Spanish is the easiest language to learn..I mastered Spanish then French was easy.If you know Spanish Portuguese is similar.Esperanto is very difficult to me, but I am not giving up.
The main advantage of Esperanto for me (it was my third non-native language) is to find an approach to learn languages efficiently. After I got fluent in Esperanto, I highly improved my other languages and started 2 others. I strongly believe, the way to learn language is personal and everyone needs to get its own. Esperanto is easy so you can experiment more and identify things those work well for you.
It has been proven many times with many studies, as someone already posted here :)
But you are right about "just learn it" :)
It is far from proven. Every study ever cited to show this is methodologically flawed (small sample size, poor controls, poor study designed, not blind or double-blind). At best they show that more research is needed.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperanto Cites 13 separate studies. I agree there may be real limits, but you need to look at them as a whole.
People make other important decisions with far less in the way of valid studies.
Duolingo is collecting data as we speak on how learners of esperanto do in learning other languages compared to nonlearners. their samples are huge compared past studies. Yes, the controls are limited/nonexistant. However, quite a lot can be done with a large data set. People make money with big data based stock trading systems all the time and those are collected with similarly poorly controlled data.
Duolingo may be the first time someone has had a chance to apply big data methods in this area. I hope it happens.
I think is very possible the esperanto effect may only be valid for certain kinds of students. However with over a 90% failure rate in language learning attempts, that could still be important.