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Esperanto: What is it and why learn it?

Even before Esperanto was available online, there were people asking what Esperanto even was, why it exists, and why should anybody spend time learning something that was "invented."

image by Caitlin Foster, from the linked article.

Well, if you really want to understand, there was an article posted today on The Verge that tells us specifically about this new hope for the language of hope, now that it is available to learn online on Duolingo.

It features Esperanto incubator contributors (learn more about their fascinating stories), a Klingon contributor comparing the two languages, and comments from Duolingo people. And Benny the Irish Polyglot! It's a long read so be prepared; I see it as a great way to spend one's coffee break. If you are one of those people who like to use breaks to learn even more stuff. I'm assuming many of you are, as I am fully aware that this is a community of eager learners. ;]


"Esperanto is an artificial language, designed to have perfectly regular grammar, with none of the messy exceptions of natural tongues. Out loud, all that regularity creates strange cadences, like someone speaking Italian slowly while chewing gum. William Auld, the Modernist Scottish poet who wrote his greatest work in Esperanto, was nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times, but never won. But it is supremely easy to learn, like a puzzle piece formed to fit into the human brain."

Here is the full article: Konstrui Pli Bonan Lingvon (To Build a Better Language)


Esperanto is neutral (no background in politics, history, conflicts, religion, power, nationality, etc), designed to be easy to learn, it may actually improve your other languages (French was used as the example), there is a video version of "Strangers in The Night" sung in Esperanto, Esperanto wasn't its intended name (but it is a better name), learning it makes you an automatic member of a friendly community of people in real life (who apparently pretty much invented couch surfing and like helping newcomers), and Duolingo offers it for free, making it possible for more people to learn it, which makes it even cooler to speak, which in turn makes more people want to learn it.

You can start learning Esperanto for free here. Please share with us why you will give or have given it a try. We'd love to know! :]

May 29, 2015



Incidentally, there's a micro-nation in Australia in which Esperanto is an official language. Someone found a loophole in the Australian constitution and declared that his farmland would be an independent nation. It's not officially recognised by the Australian government, but they don't pay taxes and are exempt from Australian law. The original farmer is now known as "Royal Highness Prince Leonard I of Hutt".

It only has a population of about 30 people though, and I doubt many, if any, actually speak Esperanto :-D


Ooh. He can join Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico!


I wonder what they pay for tarrifs and such . . .


I'd never heard that about Esperanto and Hutt River Province! In anything I'd read about it (mind you, there are plenty of other 'quirky facts' about the place that usually get mentioned, it's not really a surprise if our local rag missed that one.) And you're probably right about the number of speakers—given that the population have to travel out of the nation to school in the nearby Australian schools... And as far as I'm aware, there are no Esperanto teachers (there's a shortage of LOTE teachers, so it's possible that they don't have the opportunity to learn any non-English language).


It's in their constitution. It's one of three official languages: http://www.principality-hutt-river.com/Principality%20Downloads/A5%20PHR%20Rev%2001%20Constitution.pdf

"Article 8. English is the official language of the Principality of Hutt River with French and Esperanto as second and third languages."

I really think Esperanto was added to the consitution just because they could :-D


I think that's the reason they've done most things:-)


They literally took down the constitution from their website yesterday. If I Google what I quoted I can see it in the summary of the document, but if I click on it it directs me to the homepage, which says "Site Last Updated: 01 June, 2015 12:23 PM."


I have started learningEsperanto because it is the first planned language I have a crack at to learn. and because I have looked at Esperanto before and think its a beautiful language that is up to par with Spanish in its easiness to learn :)


"But Esperanto on Duolingo makes sense in a deeper way, as well. Both the language and the app were created, at least in part, to solve the same problem: the world is divided by language, and more importantly, the majority is often forced to learn the native tongue of a powerful minority in order to get by."



I for one will not touch the language. I respectfully dislike the language esthetically; it sounds too "cringey" for me at the moment. It has something to do with my taste for "a priori" languages. It's lack of complex grammar makes it feel so un-lively to me.

It's my opinion, but I still applaud the team behind the course.


I have some of the same objections, especially the orthography. The "hat-letters" are simply too inconvenient (and, in my opinion, unsightly) for me to fully embrace the language. If you want a language with slightly more complex grammar, no special characters (regular English alphabet only), and which is more euphonic in general (it sounds and looks like French or Italian), Ido is always an option. The number of speakers isn't close to that of Esperanto (E-o), but I prefer it. It's a "reform project", which attempted to "fix" some of the perceived issues in E-o before it would be considered the official "International Auxiliary Language", at a congress in the 1910's. Drama ensued, there was a schism. Some adopted "Ido" (the name actually derives from the affix in both languages, "-ido", meaning "offspring"), and some stayed with Esperanto. The revisions aren't terribly drastic. The two languages are largely mutually intelligible.

The two men at the forefront of the Ido movement ... weren't with it for very long. One died in a car crash a few years after the unveiling of Ido, and the other left to make his own IAL, I don't remember which. Then the first World War happened, and all that stuff. The language never really took off, compared to E-o (as much as E-o can be said to have "taken off"; maybe Duolingo will change that).

There aren't any interactive resources for learning Ido, as far as I'm aware, like there are the Duolingo course and Lernu.net for E-o, which is unfortunate for Ido. I've collected several resources as I've been learning it, which I'd gladly share with you (or anyone else interested in learning), if you decide to look into it. There are also forums and mailing lists, an official magazine, a committee, a secretary for answering questions about the language. It's small, but more or less centralized. It's even got its own occasional episodes of drama between members in the community!

I'll learn E-o because of the opportunities it'll open up, but I'll always support Ido. My hope is that eventually there will be enough speakers of E-o that it will have a shot at becoming the official second language of the world ... but it will be reformed (like the attempt that made Ido), and hopefully adopt many of the revisions present in Ido, without a huge schism, like last time. I don't think Ido itself has a chance, but one can hope.

I'm an Esperantist because I'm willing to compromise for my goals; I'm an Idist because I'm an idealist.

If this rant is too much, or comes across as aggressive shilling, I apologize. I love the idea of E-o, but I'm not a fan of the execution, and I wish there were more people learning Ido. A large barrier is the small number of speakers, similar to critics of E-o. Not as many people speak Esperanto as do English, so why should people learn Esperanto? Similarly, not as many people speak Ido as do Esperanto, so why learn Ido? It's a vicious cycle. The community can't grow if the small size of the community is a reason not to join it. I'd like more members in the community, is all.

Again, sorry for the diatribe. You probably won't touch Ido either, but someone might.

Thanks for reading.


Thanks for sharing. Ido interests me too due to its simplicity. Can you direct me to some of those resources that you mentioned?


Oh, hey! Sorry, I'm not active much on Duolingo. I'm happy to help you out. I'll warn you first off, though, that the materials are functional, they'll teach you the language, but they aren't generally what one would call pretty. Nothing like lernu.net or Duolingo is available for people wanting to learn Ido.

Okay. I've got a bookmark file called "Learning Ido", so I'll give you the good stuff from what I've got in there, and a bit more.

If you want a short introduction the language, written by the creators, and translated to English, you can read the short book International Language and Science. To learn the language, here are some resources:

  • A general resource site for Ido. Here's another. From these you can find many resources, but I'll point you to some of the ones I used, linked below.

  • Basic Grammar of the International Language Ido. A very basic introduction to the language. Don't be intimidated by all the affixes, you'll pick them up pretty quickly.

  • Ido for All. A more in-depth approach. It gives you most of the essentials of the language (though I doubt I could tell you what's missing). It kind of walks you through it. There are some formatting errors and some typos, if I remember correctly, but it's a very good course.

  • Wiktionary for Ido. The best resource for looking up words you don't know, both in the major languages (English, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, or French), and in Ido. It's fantastic, though lacking in translations for most other languages, unfortunately. There are other dictionaries as well, which I can direct you to if you want me to, but this one should suffice. It's a lot quicker than the others, too.

Once you've got the basics down, you may want to try looking at

  • Kompleta Gramatiko Detaloza di la Linguo Internaciona Ido. As you may infer, it's the complete and detailed grammar of the international language Ido. Unfortunately, it is itself written in Ido, so it's for the more experienced user. If you stick with the language, I don't think you'll have a problem learning the finer details from this book.

There is a Yahoo group of Idists, called "idolisto". It's the most active of Ido groups, in terms of interaction. You'll definitely want to become a member of that mailing list. Another Yahoo group is called "linguolisto", for discussing the finer points of the language, in terms of usage and potential new words. Sometimes people propose revisions to the language. That one isn't as active as "linguolisto." There are Facebook groups, "ido" and "idisti". There are also Ido Facebook pages, such as Ido-Kulturo.

I very rarely post in any of the discussions or pages, but if you need help, reach out through one of those channels, and I'll most likely see it, and I'll get back to you. I'm not comfortable posting contact information here, but you can ask for help here, too.

I hope this helps. Sorry it took a while to get back to you. Let me know if you need help, or just want to practice writing in the language. I hope you stick with it, but don't give up on Esperanto, either. Idists and Esperantists have the same goals, just different means to achieve them. I support both movements, but I still have a favorite.

Juez! (Or, in Esperanto: Ĝuu!)


These are excellent resources! Thank you/Dankon.


Actually, you can just use the "x-system" to avoid the diacritics. I prefer Esperanto (with their plurals and infinitives, etc), but I would also love to learn Ido and Arcaicam Esperantom. I do take Ido's side in one issue however: I prefer the distinction between kozo "thing" and afero "affair".

And if you want to talk about reforming or improving Esperanto, I'd love to participate.


I agree that Esperanto is not very natural (or complex), but for those who cannot spend several hours a day exercising a language (or several), Esperanto is an efficient alternative. I wish I could learn and retain multiple natural languages as you do, but I instead choose to focus my time elsewhere (mainly biología). Each to his own. :)


And the interesting thing about Esperanto:

Despite knowing absolutely no Esperanto whatsoever, I figured out what "Fremdaj en la Nokt" was before I made it the six more words into the sentence that it took for the article to explain it to me.

I feel like, if you know two or more European languages at least moderately well, Esperanto should be a bit of a breeze. I will get around to starting it eventually, myself.


Oddly enough, it's actually the easiest for speakers of many Asian languages as well. It really was designed to be easy! :D


I tried the course out earlier and it looks interesting (and easy too!) so I might actually learn it when I have more time to do so. :)


Esperanto is neutral (no background in politics, history, conflicts, religion, power, nationality, etc),

I read the TL;DR before the article and was considering criticising it for making what I consider to be demonstrably false claims. However, now I've read the article I realise it actually doesn't say anything like the claim made here. In fact, unlike this summary, I think the article did a good job of walking the line between the goals of the designer and what was actually achieved.


I for sure will learn Esperanto once I can obtain the Norwegian knowledge and brush up on my French!! :)


Lykke til! Vi venter på deg i Esperanto-land.


Tusen takk venn min! Jeg går så fort jeg kan!


Gosh, since I've watched a video of Claude Piron talking about Esperanto when I was in high school, I've been curious about this language. Thank you Duolingo for the opportunity of finally learning it! :D


Thanks for the link vivisaurus, it's a good article! :)

...He compared Esperanto to Bislama, the language of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. Despite having 250,000 native speakers, Bislama Wikipedia only has 444 pages. Esperanto Wikipedia has over 215,000...

This part of the Verge article got me thinking, how much poverty is in Vanuatu?

Writing and editing Wikipedia articles, and building Duolingo courses as a volunteer, is working for free. How many native speakers of Bislama can afford to do that? How many can't afford to do that because they need to spend all those hours earning a living?

According to http://www.vnso.gov.vu/index.php/social-statistics , as of 2009, 32% of the men in the workforce and 28% of the women in the workforce were "Unpaid workers, subsistence workers" - and subsistence farming is hard, time-consuming work.

How many native speakers of other languages also have these issues?

I remember another thread, https://www.duolingo.com/comment/2760108 , where colea911 said in the comments

I offered to develop Kiswahili but I never got a response back from the Duolingo team. I have lived in East Africa for 5 years and have studied swahili the whole time and use it with my work. I am living in Tanzania (the home of the best spoken Swahili). I have lots of language connections and would even pay language experts (Tanzanians who majored in Swahili) to help me in this project. However Duolingo is dropping the ball and not giving the chance. :(

[emphasis added - even when university students and graduates aren't subsistence farmers, some still have high bills to pay...]

This could have been a great opportunity for Duolingo: building a course with a team of volunteers getting paid by a third party to build the course so that they could afford to spend more time on it!

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It is really great that this has been released to beta! I will give it shot after Norwegian. I have a feeling this posting will be highly downvoted, anyway.

About the linked post on The Verge (a great history of Esperanto, yes):

Like its vastly more successful digital cousins — C++, HTML, Python — Esperanto is an artificial language [...]

Weird references to programming languages (even an arbitrary choice) and, worse, even a markup (HTML) language. I don't see the reference in this sentence to Esperanto (except being artificially created).

Correction: An earlier version included Linux in a list of coding languages. It's an operating system.

They figured it out, eventually (by reading the comments) — experts at work at The Verge as usual.

BUT: Free PR for DL

"Today, anyone who doesn’t speak English is born at a disadvantage, and probably can’t afford Rosetta Stone. [...] [Luis] [v]on Ahn didn’t just create Duolingo to give Anglophones a fun, free way to learn new languages — he created it for the non-Anglophone majority that’s stuck with the burden of learning English. There might be 13 languages available for English speakers on Duolingo, but English courses are available in 22 world languages."

There are 13 languages available for English speakers as of now — not might be.

Hmm, it's just that many trees have been created by dedicated volunteers and not the staff. This is not even mentioned! At least, there is the PR about having a Klingon course (I admire the effort, really!)


[deactivated user]

    Well, I will give it a try because of the possibilities of the language, Esperanto was created to be an international language, designed to be an universal second language, and foster peace worldwide. I love that sort of idea of worldwide unity and prosperity, and want to be able to be a part of that story.

    Thanks to the Duolingo team and the contributors for bringing this language to Duolingo!


    Give it a try and tell us about it! How easy it really is, how fun can it be, and what kind of experiences you may have.


    I've heard that Esperanto can help with other languages and is easier to learn; so I thought I'd give it a go. I'm stereotypically English, so I'm notoriously poor at languages; but, a second language has been my aim for a while now. Thankyou Duolingo, and good luck to everyone, whatever language you're learning.


    I learn Esperanto because I intend to make monolingualism a thing of the past. I believe that everyone should speak Esperanto, and several more languages of their own election. I believe that more language equals more culture, and that more culture is better. For a stronger, united mankind, I support Esperantism with all my heart!


    Stop political discussions... ....and send me a link for the video!

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