28 March 2012

Why I am unlikely to learn Esperanto.

After my recent post about Esperanto, I received a number of comments, many from irate Esperanto enthusiasts, berating me for not considering Esperanto an important language to learn.

This has caused me to reflect on my motivation for learning languages. Remember, motivation is 70% of the battle in language learning. I am motivated mostly to discover a new culture and language and group of people . As soon as I get past the beginner texts, I dive into the following, using LingQ, and a variety of sources, books and audio books and material I can find on the web..

1) I enjoy histories of the country, which I read and listen to in the language. I have done this for all the languages I have learned, and most recently for Russian and Czech.

2) I read newspapers online and listen to radio programs and podcasts, with transcripts where possible,  to get a flavour of the contemporary scene, issues and concerns, in the country where the language is spoken.

3) I like literature, especially 19th century literature, for which audio and text is largely available free of charge for import into LingQ.

Once I have developed a sufficient level of familiarity with the language and the country, I want to go there and experience it first hand. This is my reward, and a dream like experience, as was recently the case in Russia and will be the case in October in Prague.

4) In many cases I have done business in the languages I have learned, which has enabled me to make friends, and to achieve a degree of success that would otherwise not be possible. It is also satisfying to use th language in this practical way.

Essentially none of this would be possible with Esperanto. I could read the literature, history or newspapers of no country. I could not travel and use the language unless I went to a dedicated meet up of Esperanto speakers, where I might find some of the people who have called me arrogant, nonsensical, illogical and prejudiced in commenting on my previous post here.

But then I would not travel just to meet up with non-native speakers of any other language, so I don’t think I would do so for Esperanto. But I accept that others would do so and enjoy it. I respect their interest in this undoubtedly intellectually satisfying activity. I respect their motives. I would hope that they would also respect and understand my reasons for not wanting to join them.

28 Comments

  1. Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    We share the same opinion about esperanto. Some esperantists would like esperanto to become a language of culture when it is only a language of service. When advocating plurilingualism, we advocate culture languages. Being put at stake in our globalized word, they could disappear and lead to the loss of some important social values which are already made vulnerable. Our Facebook page : http://www.facebook.com/pages/European-Observatory-for-Plurilingualism/134934323274038

  2. Bill Chapman
    Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry that you feel you have not been treated well in this discussion – and I for one do respect your views.I speak Esperanto, but we have a lot in common, it seems to me. I also speak French, German and Welsh.Esperanto does offer you, for example, literature from Russia and Hungary and Finland in translation. Life is simply too short to learn every language on the face of the planet. Where I don’t speak the language of a country I am visiting or which is of great interest toi me, I use Esperanto. Simple as that. Esperanto is, indeed "a language of service", but it should be said that the translation of literature has sharpened Esperanto to become the useful tool it is today.Finally, please do not think that this planned language is used solely at "dedicated meet up of Esperanto speakers". It has much wider uses. Within half an hour of arriving in Prague some years ago, I was sitting out in the sun with a local beer and a group of local Esperanto speakers. Their local knowledge and insight added to the value of my trip.Enjoy Prague!

  3. Posted March 28, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Steve, for me the avalabilty situtation of languages is very different form yours. I also can surf the internet and listen to podcasts and watch videos but I am excluded of many activities which envolve having enough money. I see it as a privilege that I am able to take part in an Esperanto-meeting once a month because I can pay for a monthly ticket to a city which is 25 km away. Also I am lucky that my friend finances my participation in a yearly Esperanto-meeting in the Netherlands. So these circumstances make Esperanto availble for me. So therefore it has been a good descision of mine to learn this language for me. Other polyglots are travelling all around the world and living in other countries – but I can’t. I personally like all languages and see the value of all languages inclusive rare or endangerd languages. Why should other people should learn exactly the same languages as I do? Their life circumstances and motives may be very different. I would rather recommend Steve to learn Dutch or Danish – but you already speak Swedish, so you may at least understand written Danish. Esperanto is not a business language and it has a culture and the Esperanto-movement has a history but the language is not attached to a certain country. These facts should be clear and known, but choosing a language to learn is everybody’s very own descision. I appreciate that Esperanto is now availbale on LingQ as a bèta-language so it’s possible to get a listening and reading impression of the language at lingQ.

  4. Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Being an Esperanto speaker for 39 years myself, I’ve had my share of experiences that could make anyone think that learning Esperanto is inane. As a Dane I find English easy to learn, and I have ample opportunity to practice it. What makes me go on with Esperanto, then?1) I enjoy its history, which I read and listen to in the language. Even more I have enjoyed researching Esperanto history and writing about it. (I’ve made an English translation of one at <http://www.ipernity.com/blog/jens_s_larsen/242660&gt;). 2) I read journals online and listen to radio programs and podcasts to get a flavour of the contemporary scene, issues and concerns among people the world over. English could do the same, but I’m specifically interested in what people with some language awareness have to say. 3) I like literature, and a lot of Esperanto literature is available free of charge on the net. I would like to read more if I had the time (and an e-reader; I don’t have space for more books than I already have). 4) A few times I have done business in Esperanto, which, however, I never needed to do to make friends. It is satisfying to use Esperanto in a practical way, but it’s the feeling of successful idealism that makes one go on with it.So, you see, the motives for learning Esperanto or any other language outside the school curriculum don’t need to be very different. You can even use Esperanto as a tool to access more speakers of more languages in a shorter time, if being a polyglot is something you enjoy being. Esperantists can be strange, but hardly any of them look down on language-learning, quite the opposite.

  5. Posted March 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Steve Kaufmann on the arguments presented, I must disagree with some.“2) I read newspapers online and listen to radio programs and podcasts, with transcripts where possible, to get a flavor of the contemporary scene, issues and concerns, in the country where the language is spoken.”“Essentially none of this would be possible with Esperanto. I could read the literature, history or newspapers of no country. I could not travel and use the language unless I went to a dedicated meet up of Esperanto speakers, where I might find some of the people who have called me arrogant, nonsensical, illogical and prejudiced in commenting on my previous post here.”This is an easy argument to overthrow:There are some radios in Esperanto, which transmit some even their total programming using Esperanto, can give the example of radio Muzaiko: (www.muzaiko.info), about podcast, newspapers and other media, you’re wrong, because we have it all in Esperanto. I could give you several examples, a good example is the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique (http://eo.mondediplo.com/), example of a podcast of a polish radio (http://www.podkasto.net/). As for being educated or not, be nice or not, this is a people problem, not of the language, as a linguist and writer, as you may already know that, right?Esperanto is a language, since its creation it has its own culture, and this is undeniable, if one day you want to know more about this culture, I’m sure your idea and concept about Esperanto will change.

  6. Steve Kaufmann
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Lauro, my view of Esperanto will not change. It is possible that I will want to learn it in the future, although unlikely. However, it remains for me a language without a country or a people. i do not see this view changing.

  7. Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Mr. Kaufman, I respect your opinion, although not find meaning in their arguments. :-)

  8. Steve Kaufmann
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Lauro, I do not expect you to agree with my opinions, but if you do not find meaning in them your mind is simply closed by your ideology, as seems to be the case with most of the Esperantists commenting here. I wonder if this is representative of what I would find at an Esperanto conference. I wonder if you all think that your intolerance of other opinions and inability to discuss Esperanto rationally can actually persuade people to join you. It does not work with me.

    • Springfield
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m fully fluent in 3 languages, and had never even heard of Esperanto until recently. As a linguistic dork, I found the concept interesting, but like you Steve, had and continue to have no motivation to learn Esperanto for the same reasons you note above. It has however piqued my interest on why there is such a dedicated bordering on malicious fan club, as it is frankly a useless language by most conventional terms. I fully support one’s right to spend his or her free time doing whatever makes him or her happy, whether that’s Esperanto or ham radio or fantasy football, even though I personally view them as an impractical waste of time.

      That said, your point about esperantists inability and/or unwillingness to discuss the language rationally still baffles me, and continues to fuel my curiosity on the subject. The spin, hearsay, and often blatant lies used to propagate this language as being not just valid, but superior in almost every aspect to real languages is frustrating to read, as though someone is to deeply indoctrinated that he or she can’t be the least bit objective. If their response to the “why learn esperanto” topic were as simple as, “I find it fun and interesting regardless of the points you raise,” I would have moved on long ago. Perhaps that’s their goal to raise awareness of their language though, negative attention (for inanely defending it against objective and logical criticisms) is better than no attention.

  9. Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    So far I have not seen you argue rationally. Poor and fallacious arguments. Just that. :-)

  10. Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Do you really think that is my mind that is closed? I don’t believe this… :-)))

  11. Xavier Alfonseca
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with you, but I’m glad you’re respectful of the Esperanto fans. I can see your point, but I don’t see culture and history as an imperative, in my opinion. Does that mean you have no interest in other Conlangs or Artlangs? Just curious.

  12. Elbow
    Posted October 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    It should be noted, that Esperanto, does in fact have a university, in San Marino. All theses are written in Esperanto as well as the students’ mother tongues. It is a wonderful language for the sciences, and I think many scientists could benefit from using this as an auxiliary language, rather than butchering English or French or German or Russian.I think esperanto is a cool language. I like the way it sounds, and I like the aims it has. It’s not for everybody, but the more people that know about it, the more people will learn it.Just some thoughts.

  13. Bart Anderson
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    You are right, Steve, Esperanto is not like ethnic languages. However it has delights of its own.I’ve been studying Esperanto for several weeks now, and have become addicted. It never was on my radar before, so I hadn’t known what to expect. I was tickled to see how easy it is to learn to read, especially if you already know a Romance language. I’d estimate about 5 to 20 times easier than ethnic language. And because it is so easy, the pleasure / frustration ratio is high and one is motivated to continue. There is a *definite* Esperanto culture … with a history, traditions and set of values. It has a *taste* to it, subtle and hard to characterize at first. I sense a definite Yiddish and Slavic influence, which gives the language a bite. The history is intertwined with Jewish history: the creator of Esperanto, Dr. Zamenhof, originally worked on the Yiddish language. His family, as well as many Esperantists, were persecuted and killed by the Nazis. A tremendous amount of material is available in Esperanto, much of it free and online. There are online courses (e.g. lernu.net ), multi-hour language-immersion videos (an animation, "Mazi en Gondolando" and a satirical soap opera "Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo", etc. I found it much easier to get good material in Esperanto than I have in Swedish or Portuguese. A number of writers and researchers at first dismissed Esperanto. However, as they learned more, they became much respectful and curious. For example, the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco made a dramatic switch. Also Arika Okrent ("In the Land of Invented Languages"), Sam Green ("The Universal Language"), and Esther Schor of Princeton ( http://forward.com/articles/11460/crocodiling-in-esperanto-on-the-streets-of-hanoi-/ ). Finally, it is fascinating linguistically. Because the structure is so simple and transparent, it’s much easier to see how the language works.

  14. Steve Kaufmann
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the long comment and I respect people who pursue their interests with gusto. None of what you say really makes Esperanto a higher priority for me. There are other languages I am much keener to learn.

  15. Streak
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi Steve, I’ve been a member of LingQ for over a year now but I’ve procrastinated with my language goals. I can’t find your previous blog post about Esperanto, but I really appreciate that you took the time to explain why you’re not interested in learning it. Like many native North Americans, I only speak English and I’m not terribly confident that I’m even capable of learning a 2nd language. I understand the benefits in learning a language that is, by design, fairly intuitive. But I keep asking myself, is it really worth it to learn Esperanto just for "practice" when I could be spending my time practicing the actual language(s) I want to learn? In any event, I think I’m going to skip Esperanto for now and jump into my target language. Thanks again for offering your perspective. To Bart Anderson: Thank you for passing along that information — if I find myself struggling a lot with my target language, I may take a break and reconsider Esperanto.

  16. Posted March 19, 2013 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I would like to apologize to on the behalf of the Compassionate members of Esperanto Speaker that surely do exist. You should NOT have been BERATED or made to FEEL BERATED or OSTRACIZED in any way for not caring about Esperanto. Shame on those who treated you this way. This should not be the action or reaction of mature adults who care about Esperanto or ANYTHING important, imho.

  17. Posted March 19, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Furthermore, I would like to respond to Mr Bart Anderson’s comment "You are right, Steve, Esperanto is not like ethnic languages…" I find that this is a BONUS! :-)

  18. Bart Anderson
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Well said, Troyus23. The point is to bring down the language barriers – the Esperanto language is just one way of doing that. Steve and others in the polyglot community are approaching the problem in another way, by making it easier to learn new languages. It would be nice if there were more communication between polyglots and Esperantists.I think Esperanto-land would profit from the ideas of Steve and Stephen Krashen about massive exposure (e.g. through reading) as key to acquiring a language.

  19. josaias
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    well it is steve´s opinion!!! i won´t stop learning esperanto because of that!! i don´t see the things this way!! for me worth to learn everything!! esperanto is a tool to comunicate with people as all languages of the world is as well!!

  20. Luis Guilherme Souto
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Saluton kara Steve Kaufmann

    Mi estas brazilano kaj malsame ol vi mi ne havas monon por lerni alian lingvon krom Esperanto. Mi uzas Esperanton antau 30 jaroj kaj mi povas diri al vi ke cxiuj viaj punktoj kontrau Esperanto estas frukto de malbona informo. Esperanto havas grandan komunumon cirkau la mondo en ia speco de diasporo, do havas propran kulturon, librojn, podkatojn, muzikojn kaj estas tre interesa socia grupo por koni. Mi ne povas diri kiel estus mia vivo sen Esperanto kaj dankas al gxi mi sukcesis sperti la kulturon de aliaj homoj, malsame al vi Esperanto estas mia sola opcio.

  21. Luis Guilherme Souto
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I trnaslated the text using Goiogle translator, now you can decide what language to use.

    I am Brazilian, and unlike you, I do not have money to learn another language besides Esperanto. I use Esperanto before 30 years and I can tell you that all your points against Esperanto is the result of bad information. Esperanto has a great community around the world in some kind of diaspora, so has its own culture, books, podcasts, music, and a very interesting social group to meet. I can not say how it would be my life without Esperanto and thanks to it I was able to experience the culture of other people, unlike you Esperanto is my only option.

  22. katko
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I once undertook a serious study of Esperanto, became a member of the international organization, purchased books, dictionaries, audio tapes, etc. Once I had a sufficient ability to begin communicating in the language, I tracked down the two other Esperanto speakers that the Esperanto Society indicated lived in my home town. Imagine my surprise to find that they hated each other and refused to meet and talk! Both regaled me with tales of the others’ deviousness. I found the whole thing disappointing and, to be frank, it pretty much ruined my interest in continuing to study the language.

    Based upon the tone of some of the comments to your article, I see things haven’t changed much.

    • Posted July 4, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      It is hilarious how Zamenhof originally intended Esperanto to become a universal language because he wanted an objective language which would be neutral and not a language which was already spoken by a certain country so that it would become dominant for others. Your example shows how even Esperanto learners can hate eachother, which is completely the opposite of Zamenhof’s objective.

      I think Esperanto is an interesting phenomena and if I would learn an artifical language I would learn it, also because in my family there are some accomplishments for Esperanto in my country, but I rather focus first on living languages and languages which aren’t spoken anymore but can give us a lot of information about ancient cultures.

      I think though that if Esperanto would become a living language, this means, a place where it’s spoken, it could become very interesting.

  23. Posted January 24, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with this:

    “motivation is 70% of the battle in language learning”

    If you are not self-motivated to learn a particular language, you will feel like you are swimming upstream. My main motivation for learning the two foreign languages I currently speak was practical. I badly needed both of them to get ahead in my life.

    And that’s the same reason why I am not bothered to learn any other languages, Esperanto included.

  24. Posted April 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT ESPERANTO AND WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN IT

    So your goal is to learn a language and experience the foreign country where it’s spoken? Good. Learn Russian and go to Russia. LEARN ESPERANTO AND GO ANYWHERE! I have here at hands a very interesting book called “Ili vivis sur la tero – ok jaroj da migrado chirkau nia planedo” (They lived on the earth – eight years of migration around our planet). It’s an amazing story of a couple who literally circled our planet in eight years visiting other esperantists. It’s a common practice among esperantists to receive and welcome foreign friends in their homes. This can be done informally, but officially we have Pasporta Servo (Passport Service), which disposes a yearly booklet containing addresses of esperantists wanting to host other esperantists.

    I have used Pasporta Servo myself, and I can tell you: absolutely no other language will enable you to have friends so easily all over the world. Absolutely no other language will enable you to arrive in a foreign country, sit at a bar and talk to a foreigner as if you were good old friends. No other language will enable you to dive into a foreign culture so fast and so intensely. I have experienced that!

    Learn Russian and be a tourist in Russia! That’s nice. But give me the average profile of such tourists: people who roam around the tourist attractions lost and alone, practice the language in short opportunities (when they ask for information, go shopping or maybe talk to the cab driver) and spend a lot of money in accommodations.

    LEARN ESPERANTO AND MAKE FRIENDS THAT REALLY KNOW THE LOCAL CULTURE and will be willing to host you in their homes, show you their habits, values and thoughts. Maybe you could even have a personal tourist guide to show you the city. Obviously you can speak a foreign language, travel around the world and try to find people that speak the same language – but will they be willing to welcome you as a friend and make this cultural exchange? Of course you can try, but only Esperanto has this universal code.

    This is not all. Try learning the basics and then go to some meetings, congresses, parties… I went to the Brazilian National Congress of Esperanto in January, it was AMAZING! We stayed in the same hotel for one week. Try to picture it: around 300 hundred people from different nationalities speaking ONE language. Lectures, discussions, games, parties, bars, nightclubs, walks around the city, beaches, dinners, all the fun, all the jokes… EVERYTHING in Esperanto! People from France, Germany, Brazil, Africa, Argentina, Hungary, Switzerland… talking face to face in equality! Only by having this experience can we notice the power of Esperanto in bringing people together and making them equal. THIS INTERACTION WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME, PERHAPS NOT EVEN POSSIBLE WITH ANY OTHER LANGUAGE… it would be very hard for people of different nationalities to master a foreign language so well – there will always be someone in disadvantage. But with Esperanto it’s different – when you talk to a foreigner in Esperanto you are not talking to the owner of the language because ESPERANTO BELONGS TO EVERYONE.

    Only an insider who has these kinds of experience can realize how much humankind loses for not adopting a simple, standard and neuter language worldwide like Esperanto.

  25. Posted June 1, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    The best way for someone to learn a given target language is to learn Esperanto first.

    To read up on this concept, google for “springboard to languages”.

    In addition to the inherent advantage of learning Esperanto first, there is also the prospect of actively using it as a “shoehorn” into the target language. This would be possible if “shoehorn” materials exist for the target language. Such “shoehorn” materials would be materials in Esperanto about the target language. For Mercan English, I have started a “shoehorn” dictionary. The idea is that you look up a Mercan English word in it, and the definition is given in Esperanto – the actual definition, not merely a translation into Esperanto. (In other words, it would be a “monolingual” dictionary.) I have only created a stub, and mostly use links to definitions in Mercan English in certain online dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, and Wiktionary, mostly). In a handful of cases, I have supplied definitions in Esperanto, and in any case often comment, in Esperanto, on entries in the dictionary, and provide many links, both internal and external, as well as a subject index (thereby making it a “deep” dictionary). As the project progresses, the links to other dictionaries will be replaced by native definitions in Esperanto (thereby making it a “universal” dictionary), but even in this present format the dictionary makes a handy one stop shopping experience, so to speak, for someone wanting to explore the Mercan language. Also, the portion of the dictionary consisting of my contribution is in the public domain. To find the dictionary, google for “Deep Dictionary of Mercan English”.

    fyi.

  26. Posted October 19, 2014 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    I may learn Esperanto in the near future, but right now I’m learning Lingua Franca Nova. It seems somewhat easier than Esperanto and it also sounds nice, although Esperanto sounds nice too.

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