1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Esperanto
  4. >
  5. Mi, Ni, and sometimes Vi : Tr…


Mi, Ni, and sometimes Vi : Trouble hearing pronouns in Esperanto

Over the last few days I've noticed a lot of comments about sentences where "mi sounds like vi" or "ni sounds like mi" or "mi sounds like ni" and so on. Today I am making the conscious decision not to comment back on those concerns.

Instead, I'm going to write down my thoughts once, and hope that a few people may find value in seeing my thoughts here. Maybe if I'm feeling adventurous in the future, I may provide the link to this thread when someone raises a concern, but for now I'm going to focus on other things and hope that someone else can reply to these people, or that they can sort this out on their own.

In this sentence 3i sounded like 2i

Yes, that happens. This happens a lot. As you browse the Esperanto forum on Duolingo, you will find a lot of people saying this, and you will find a lot of thoughts as to why.

First of all, two things to keep in mind when listening on Duolingo

  1. Often times listening from a different device or switching headphones or speakers can make a big difference
  2. There are other sentences to listen to.


There have been times that I've heard obvious glitches in the sound and when I ask other people to listen some hear it and some think I'm crazy. Then I find out that I can hear it on one device and it sounds normal on another. Give yourself the best chance to hear it - and if you can't, do your best and move on. Don't let one example slow you down.

Other people have noticed this about Esperanto.

I don't really want to get into the question of whether the similarity of the pronouns is a "design flaw" in the language. I do have an opinion on this, but ultimately my opinion doesn't matter (and neither does yours.) This is how Esperanto is spoken.

My advice: speak clearly, and provide plenty of context - especially if another person asks for clarification.

  • 3i venu al 8i.
  • Kio? Ĉu 3i venu al 8i, aŭ ĉu 8i venos al 3i?
  • Mi, Tomaso, venos al vi!

But I've also lived through this in English.

Here are some real examples.

I ca' do this.

  • Did you say you can or you cannot do this?
  • Ca'! Ca'! I CA' do it.


  • Did you say yes or no?
  • I said "ɲeah".

Gotta take care of this

  • What? Who has to take care of this? Me, or you?
  • I told you already. Why don't you listen?

I shouldn't have been marked wrong!

One interesting comment was that the course should be more forgiving when you're given a "type what you hear" and you get the pronoun wrong. I can't say that I disagree, but this is not an option that the Duolingo programmers have provided to the Esperanto course volunteers (correct me if I'm wrong), and I don't foresee Duolingo adding this as an option for them. Do your best to learn from the course as it is, and make sure to expose yourself to Esperanto in as many forms as possible, including talking to real people in real time. It's the best way to get better.

One case that I listened to today, the speaker was trying to be extra clear - and it was still difficult to tell. (In this specific case, I blame the limits of technology - but that's just my own opinion.) I didn't see the value in suggesting someone to re-record the sentence and try even harder still.

In some cases the beginning sound has been clipped off. Those really should be re-recorded, and I think most of them have. If this is what you're noticing, please be very clear in your comment.

September 17, 2019


[deactivated user]

    Duolingo's exercise structure is also partly responsible, in that the exercises are context-free. You can't 'fill in' a muddled word using previous knowledge about a situation, as you would in a real-world conversation.

    I don't mean to complain, just make an observation.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this!


    Duolingo's exercise structure is also partly responsible, in that the exercises are context-free.

    I agree.


    Bingo. I'm hearing impaired. Vowels are always a problem, even in English. If I have enough context I can puzzle out the speakers intent often enough. Duolingo is wonderful, but the context-free sentences could stand an update.

    Esperanto is not uniquely hard in this respect. Try a Semitic language. As a rule of thumb, related words share the same consonants but have different vowels. Words with the same root don't "rhyme" exactly, but they can sound maddeningly similar. I find compensating for vowel ambiguity much harder under such a system.

    No method of communication as yet devised by man is free of its quirks and the grass isn't always greener elsewhere.


    Just leaving this here: Brainstorm vs Green Needle


    [deactivated user]

      With practice and experience it also becomes easier distinguishing the different sounds. I find it much easier now than I did at the start.


      Thanks for the post Tomaso. This is good advice.

      Just thought you should know on my end I'm seeing some strange misprints in this post:

      "In this sentence 3i sounded like 2i"


      "3i venu al 8i."


      "Kio? Ĉu 3i venu al 8i, aŭ ĉu 8i venos al 3i?"

      Are these issues with Duolingo's formatting, or did you do them to make a point that written communication isn't always clear either? :P


      I've been waiting for someone to ask about that. :-)

      Years ago I learned a system for pronouncing numbers. It's a long story as to why, but basically I was looking for a way to transcribe the idea of hearing a word and not knowing what the word was. I could have easily said "In this sentence [?]i sounded like [??]i" or similar.

      Math majors - please no jokes about the square root of -1.

      Learn Esperanto in just 5 minutes a day. For free.
      Get started