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How to Spread Esperanto Intelligently

I found a nice video in the topic and thought we could discuss it here


June 26, 2015



I like this strategy. The "cool factor" would definitely help the language. I also believe that we first need more content in Esperanto in order to truly convince others to learn the language.


Definitely. I hope Esperanto becomes very well-known and everyone will be learning it like they do with Japanese and all the popular languages. I said on the youtube video and I will say it here. I hope that Esperanto becomes the "International language" like English currently is. I have asked countless Brazilians why they want to learn English and they either say "idk.. it's English" as if it's kind of mandatory OR they say "the world is English" (quote). That hit me hard and made me think a lot about how privileged we are to be able to speak such a wanted language.

Spoiler: I will cry with joy when the headline "said country's official language is Esperanto" becomes a reality.


At the same time, I want native languages to be preserved because I know a few people who love Japanese or French and wanted to go into international communication with said language. They could still move to that country, and give advice about their native country for, say, labeling of products, or giving speeches. But all UN and international governmental meetings I feel, should be held in Esperanto.


I share your desire but have a gut feeling that Esperanto would be less aggressive to native languages when compared to English in terms of invasion of vocabulary and grammar (my native Czech suffers greatly). There's no rational basis for this and it might be just lack of imagination on my part but I feel a difference between Esperanto everyone's second language and English which is native to a sizeable population.


I disagree. Although it's of course better to have a cool image than an uncool one, on the long term what drive people to learn a language is its usefulness. That's why esperanto has many more speakers than klingon or na'vi


I think your point is valid for an established language like English. You don't learn it because it's interesting, but because everybody is already using it = it's useful and the number of people you can communicate grows the most. The fact that it's a rather easy language at least to become intelligible to others helps as well (while all the irregularities, crazy exceptions and thousands of dialects make it nearly impossible to really master).

Esperanto, on the other hand, is a tiny language and needs to build its profile. Its usefulness is pretty limited because the major (not only) factor is the number of speakers. Getting influential people involved is a good step, because they can lead by example and the language to a point, where people might actually choose to learn it because it has become useful by that point.


I hear the trope of English being easy repeated a lot. Your characterization of "easy to learn, hard to master" is right on the mark if anything beyond asking for directions or ordering a sandwich is considered the realm of mastery, but I would argue that for most things beyond this for people from most language backgrounds it can be quite difficult and prone to huge misunderstandings because of the subtlety of synonyms and idiomatic word choices. The simple grammar leads to far more complexity once you are past the most basic expressions.

Native English speakers, especially, I think, have a really big blind spot regarding their language's colonial power. People don't use English because it is easy, and I think we assume it must be easier than it is because we have indirectly forced so many people to use it through our cultural and economic dominance. Yet there are millions of people living in my region of the U.S. who have been here for decades and can't communicate much more than I have indicated above.


I feel that you're a little be too harsh. For example at our company we often have interns who come through some EU sponsored programme. Most of them are from Italy and Spain, ages range from seventeen to twenty five. The common language is English. I believe my active English is ok to survive but I'm aware that I make mistakes left and right. The language skills of the interns vary greatly (and I'm often surprised at the level they have listed in their CVs) from very poor to ok and we still manage to communicate with each other and even get across rather complex concepts. It's far from easy and takes a lot of effort but we manage. Of course, if we take the ease of communication into account we get to your (pessimistic) threshold.

I know this isn't my original thought but I don't know who's the author but a good way to measure understanding of a language is humour. It's often based on word play, puns, double meanings, reinterpretation of idioms or some other form of restructuring of the speech. How (linguistically) complex humour a person can laugh at is a proxy for hesh's knowledge of the language itself.

However, I'm biased because I've been subjected to English in school for 17 years, my work life is partially in English, at least half of the books I read are in English, most of the podcasts I listen to are in English, the TV shows and movies I watch are almost exclusively in English and so on and so on. If I were subjected to French in the same way (and didn't hate it) I might feel the same about French. Who knows how to create a parallel universe where we can perform this experiment?

As to your second point, my experience with native English speakers is very limited in fact and therefore I have no basis for my position but I totally agree with you about the unrecognised privilege of native English speakers. (And not just because it makes for some good fun on the expense of (mostly) Americans :-).)


Didn't mean to be harsh, sorry. I think English is roughly as difficult or easy as a lot of other languages, but it is not, according to what I've read, easier for say, a native french speaker, than learning some other Romance language. Quite the opposite. The difference is that English will give you access to so much more (such as the books and other media you mention). This increased exposure makes it seem both easier and more valuable. This creates a virtuous cycle that makes even more people spend even more time with it. No doubt educated people such as yourself and your colleagues could learn any number of languages if the proper incentives existed. I'm just saying English has become conventional because of the value proposition, not its ease, which is dubious in many respects, depending on your native language.


Although the discussion is now far off topic, as a linguist, I have to wholeheartedly disagree about the difficulty of English. The reason that immigrants you know of cannot speak English has absolutely nothing to do with the language's difficulty -- it has to do primarily with their attitude, and secondarily with their education regarding the learning of foreign languages. It may be hard for you to understand if you're a native English speaker, but English actually isn't so difficult. You may know immigrants who have lived in an English-speaking country for decades and can't speak it, but I can show you students who have studied for a couple years and speak amazingly well.

To a certain extent, language difficulty is relative, depending on what languages you already speak. In another dimension though, some languages are challenging no matter what your native language is because they may be language isolates with rich phonologies or entirely esoteric grammar. English is not one of these languages. In fact, I would argue that English is one of the easiest languages to learn given its near ubiquitous presence, the fact that more resources for learning English exist than any other language on the planet, it can be used as an international lingua franca, and the relatively analytic grammar actually does aid in the ease of learning the language. From my experience, those coming from a background of speaking a non-Indo-European language actually have much more difficulty with other European languages than English. On the flip side, European language speakers tend to have much more difficulty with Asian languages than they do with English. These are my experiences based on spending literally thousands of hours in language learning classrooms, and interacting with thousands of individuals from all across the globe.

In other words, we need to stop spreading this misinformation that English is a difficult language, as this is founded upon nothing more than folk knowledge. That is not to say that the experience of learning English may not be difficult or trying -- but this is true for any language one could learn. There is a certain hurdle to go over whenever one learns a language, even if you're learning Spanish as a French speaker. You still have to put the work in, you still have to stay consistent, you still have to learn the vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, just like you would have to do with English. As to what is more difficult for a French speaker -- English or Spanish -- I think that it's really defined by the attitude of the learner.


magnetholik: It is not possible for me to respond directly to your post due to nesting restrictions, but let me briefly say:

I never made any attempt to pretend English was exceptionally difficult. I was reacting to the idea that English was exceptionally easy (which is equally based on "folk knowledge," as you say). Reacting to a claim I think is false does not imply that I believe the equally unfounded claim which you attribute to me (that English is exceptionally difficult). I think if you reread my posts without that assumption you will see that. In fact if you compare our posts, you will find we made many of the exact same points about the ubiquity of English and the dependency of outcome on education and motivation...

This kind of sideways argument happens a lot on these forums and I have to confess to being culpable in certain instances, perhaps including this one.

But I will leave it there and I apologize for bloviating. I didn't mean to co-opt the thread or imply that Mingan8 was making a larger statement than he was. I get the impression we are both indulging a desire to hear ourselves talk. I just don't want to be characterized as saying something that I haven't.


Sorry for the misunderstanding. I didn't mean that you arre harsh towards me but towards English.

I totally agree with you about the cycle of available content, number of speakers, usefulness and perceived ease. But I believe there is some kernel of truth to English being easier than other languages and even a person who doesn't know a lot of English can understand and be understood. However, it's probably impossible to fully untangle the effects of prevalence of English from some inherent "complexity" of English (esp. when one takes into account the languages the learner already knows).


That is a good point. Political leaders and such would not want to admit they converse in Klingon, so why would they admit to using a popular-with-the-kids Esperanto?


I respectfully disagree with you. In fact I think you are completely wrong. It is absolutely not a language's usefulness which causes someone to learn a language. If this were the case, then why would there be so many people learning Japanese? If you look around any language learning website, you can see that Japanese is one of the most popular languages among language learners globally. Yet in terms of usefulness? Chances are if you're living in the United States, you would get much more out of learning Spanish. If you're living in the UK you could get a lot more usefulness out of learning German or French or Polish. If you're living in South America, you could get more use out of learning Portuguese than Japanese. Yet go around and look at language learners on various websites, and you can see a huge amount of Japanese learners in South America, where there are virtually zero Japanese immigrants (outside of Brazil). People learn Japanese because their favorite entertainment uses the language, and that's really all it takes to motivate someone to learn a language.

Although, again, I don't necessary like the way the gentleman delivered the message, he has a point. People that learn languages (and are successful at it) generally learn them because there is something about the language that attracts them. Be it the music, the films, the charm of the language itself, or what have you. You would have to be deluding yourself if you don't think, just for examples sake, that if Lady Gaga or some other high list celebrity started Tweeting in Esperanto (or any other language, for that matter), that it wouldn't create a stir and start to attract new learners of this language. In the same vein, English is not only a global language because there is a high amount of native speakers, but because of the ubiquity of United States culture. Go to any nation in the world and you can hear American music, see American films, American fashion, American literature. If we didn't have that, I can almost guarantee English wouldn't have cemented its place as such a global language -- particularly if some other language was there to fill the void.


Define "usefulness"? I would argue that it is more useful to be able to watch your favorite anime without subtitles (say, while working on something in the background) than to be able to follow the conversation of the strangers speaking Spanish one aisle over at the supermarket. I think a language's usefulness does play a large role for most people, but usefulness is a very personal metric.


You may be right but making Esperanto cool could work in the short term. But I think different things will convince different people and that Esperanto does need to change it's image. If a lot of people decide to learn Esperanto because they think it's cool it would be great. You're probably right in thinking that this won't be enough for everyone to want to learn it and that most people will probably need more motivation. I think the more people learn Esperanto the more other people will want to learn Esperanto.


Yes, that's a great strategy. I actually started to love English because of how much I love their animations, cartoons, songs and movie. This totally shows how important this kind of strategy.


I think this is a good strategy too


The video needs further discussion but first, let's focus on the more pratical and simple steps rather than talking about everything that's wrong or will not work. So, you want to convince people that something you are doing is cool? Then be cool. Do interesting stuff with the thing that should be considered cool. Have regular contact with other people that are cool. Show how you have possibilites in your life (or just enjoy your life more) because of the cool thing. You will not convince "the masses" but you can influence a lot of people around you.

Some examples:

  1. Polyglots that regularly also use Esperanto. There are a lot of them and they are getting more prominent. Also, non-Esperanto polyglots are one of the most interesting target groups.

  2. People who come around a lot, have fascinating experiences, see places outside of the tourist zones. This is nearly universally popular and many people want to do stuff like this but don't know how - they will understand the value of doing this.

  3. Know people in many different countries, know stuff about languages/cultures/people you don't learn at school or get to know via the mass media. If you don't brag about it, you can be the interesting person that somehow has "secret channels" or "special contacts" without being rich or famous. And - who would have thought? - interesting persons tend to attract other interesting persons.


I want to give a shoutout to people involved with http://www.esperanimeo.com/ because they're really into producing fun cool content, like games, comics, and anime translations.


Bad news, this link now leads to a home improvement site.

Even using web archive won't give you much. :(


Many people learn languages because of their great literature so Esperantists should produce a lot of original works in Esperanto. The problem is most writers are much more comfortable to write (and probably write better) in their native toung, but that doesn't stop everyone. Another problem is that it's hard to create famous literature in a language that no one understands., but literature builds up the language and gives people a reason to learn it and it's probably the easiest way to spread it.

another way to get more people to learn Esperanto is to use it a lot and use it everywhere. I think that is the most effective way to spread it, but probably not the easiest.


I definetly do agree with making Esperanto look cool to make people interested in it. I actually have had a similar experience with ASL. I had originally thought about learning it when I had the idea to communicate with my best friend whose sat on the other side of the room in my math class, that was a fail. However, six months later I had read one of Rick Riorden's books that featured a deaf character and wanted to learn it again because I thought that it would be cool. So yes, I have experienced the cool factor before with a "language" so I know the effect it can have on people and believe that it could help us spread this language. DISCLAIMER! I know that I am not as experienced with this language as some of you are and I'm new thanks to another experience with the cool factor. I'm proof that it's working, especially because I came across it one day on the internet when looking for an easy second language to learn.


Some ideas: 1) Produce cool material in E-o. (Novels, movies, songs, etc.) Consider Icelandic: spoken by around 600,000 but lots of good novelists. 2) Translate obscure material into E-o. This is something we can all engage in. I'm sure there's a lot of great Basque, Navajo, Welsh, Hakkan, Farsi, etc literature that will never get translated into English. (or English material that won't get translated into many , or any, other languages.) 3) Convince Netflix (which is producing loads of new films in many non-english languages) to subtitle its films in E-o. 4) Convince a large polyglot country to adopt E-o as an official language. (If China got behind E-o, for example, loads of non-Chinese would have a strong motivation to learn E-o.) 5) Promote teaching E-o to kids as a "gateway" experience to language-learning (much as learning to play the recorder is an intro to learning about music in general). Lots of us (esp. those of us who are already trained language teachers) can get the ball rolling by offering our own E-o courses at summer camps, etc. 6) Get the Boy/Girl scouts to offer a merit badge in E-o. 7) Get the UN to make E-o one of its official languages. It could save a lot on the cost of translation. (It would cut the translation complexity down from O(n^2) to O(n).) 8) Convince university language depts to offer courses in E-o. 9) Make E-o cool among those in computer science (I have a hunch Duolingo is already succeeding brilliantly at this.) 10) Get Google to do a Google-doodle of Zamenhof. 11) Spread the word. (For ex., I recently posted a blog about Luis van Ahn's recent MIT innovation award for Duolingo on the political website DailyKos. It got a warm response from those readers who already love Duolingo, and from those who had never heard of it.) 12) Give a talk about E-o to clubs you belong to. Arrange a "Zamenhof Day" celebration on Dec 15th, just as Secular Humanists celebrate "Darwin's Day". 13) Set up virtual E-o communities by professions, not just geographic location. (So, Internacia E-o Asocio de (filmmakers, novelists, sci-fi writers, scientists, language teachers, ktp.) This would create synergistic relationships that would promote the development of E-o culture. 14) Wear a green star (pin, tattoo, etc.) This would be a conversation starter about E-o.


Have a look at this discussion from two years ago, about the films of Christopher Mihm, many available with Esperanto soundtrack. https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/15866721/AMA-Christopher-Mihm-Esperanto-filmmaker

Also visit Mihm's website. You need the "merchandise" page to get the details on which films are dubbed into Esperanto. (Mouse over the thumbnails to bring up the description.) http://www.sainteuphoria.com/merch.html#dvds

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