We recently published a five-part blog series looking into the idea of global language, aiming to answer the question ‘Is English the ultimate global language?’. If you missed these posts or want to refresh your memory, you can start here.
In the second part of the series I wrote about Esperanto, a language created specifically for the purpose of uniting people from different language backgrounds. This post received an overwhelming response from some keen speakers of Esperanto around the world. As we are not experts on the subject, we work predominantly in English Language Teaching after all, this offered an interesting insight into the language – for us and our readers. So, when Bill Chapman contacted us to tell us his side of the Esperanto story, we invited him to write a guest post.
Esperanto: Window on a Wider World
As a young man, many years ago, I wondered what life was like on the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ which then divided Europe. I had heard of Esperanto, the planned international language, and I learned it in 1967. Very soon I began to write to penfriends in Poland, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia), Bulgaria and so on. I have never regretted learning Esperanto. It has allowed me an insight into the lives of ordinary people in so many countries. I won’t easily forget my first hesitant conversation with a foreigner using Esperanto, in Tours, France, in 1968. Despite all the time I had spent on learning French, conversation in Esperanto flowed more easily.
Esperanto may not be perfect but it works. Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to younger Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. In recent years I have had guided tours of Toulouse, Copenhagen, Berlin, Douala (look it up!), Havana and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet and humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, retirement age and pensions. It’s always interesting to go inside the homes of Esperanto speakers in other countries just as it is to host Esperanto-speaking visitors here in Britain.
Esperanto hasn’t yet gained the recognition it deserves. However, all things considered, it has actually done amazingly well. In nearly 125 years, with no big money behind it, Esperanto has managed to grow from the drawing-board project of Dr Zamenhof to a complete and living natural language with around two million speakers, in over 120 countries – plus a rich literature and cosmopolitan culture. Esperanto has achieved this with little or no official backing and even bouts of persecution. It hasn’t taken the world by storm – yet – but it’s slowly but surely moving in that direction, with the Internet giving it a significant boost in recent years. We’ll no doubt hear and see a lot more about Esperanto next year when the language reaches its 125th birthday.
What are the advantages of Esperanto?
Firstly, it is much easier to learn than other languages. The grammar and the spelling are both very regular. Esperanto makes a wide use of suffixes and prefixes to reduce considerably the number of words that the learner has to memorise. It is nevertheless a real language, enabling its speakers to express anything. There are even Esperanto poets.
Who speaks Esperanto?
People in many different countries do. It is a voluntary speech community. A wide variety of people are interested in the language; lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers and civil servants. Esperanto is spoken by people who have a flair for languages and speak several, as well as people who are not gifted at languages at all, but who find that thanks to Esperanto they can become bilingual, and of course all the people in between.
How can I learn?
There are a lot of materials available for learning Esperanto. A good place to start is www.lernu.net
You certainly won’t regret the time you spend on Esperanto, a very practical way to overcome language barriers.
Bill Chapman (slightly edited)