What is Esperanto?

What is Esperanto?

Esperanto is a language. It was created in 1887 by L. L. Zamenhof. He designed it to be both neutral and easy to learn by comparison to national languages like German, French, Russian and English. He wanted it to be a second language for everyone, which they could use to converse with people from outside their linguistic group. For example, if French, Spanish, German, and Finnish speakers all learned Esperanto at school then they could speak to each other easily. Without Esperanto they would all face the much more difficult task of learning French, Spanish, German, or Finnish.

How does it work?

There are many difficulties to learning a language. One of these is learning the grammar. The vast majority of modern languages are complicated and it takes quite some time to learn your way round them.

For example, in English you might say ‘I see you’. In French you would say ‘Je te vois’, which literally means ‘I you see’. So French has a different word order. You might say in English ‘You see me’. In French that would be ‘Tu me vois’. So the French have changed the ‘te’ to ‘tu’ and the ‘je’ to ‘me’. In English we change ‘I’ to ‘me’ but the ‘you’ stays the same.

If we want to use words other than ‘I’ and ‘you’ it gets even more complicated. English says, for instance, ‘We see them’. In French that becomes ‘Nous les voyons’. Not surprisingly the words for ‘we’ and ‘them’ are different. However, the word for ‘see’ is no longer ‘vois’, but ‘voyons’. In addition, the word for ‘them’ is also the word in French for ‘the’ – but only with nouns which are plural.

Add to that the problem that in French all nouns are either masculine or feminine with different words for the English word ‘the’.

Is there any need to go on?

Then there is the problem of vocabulary. This is the most obvious difference between languages – different languages use different words for things. To learn a modern language well, you need to learn upward of 4,000 words in order to be competent. If you want to be as fluent in Italian as a native speaker, you would need to know around 100,000 words.

And this is only scratching the surface.

So how does Esperanto solve this?

It does so by simplifying its grammar as much as possible. It also makes it as regular as possible. This means that if you learn, for example, that the past tense of any verb is formed by changing the ending to ‘-is’, then that is true for ALL verbs. If you learn that all nouns end in the letter ‘o’, then any word ending with the letter ‘o’ is a noun and it forms its plural in exactly the same way as all nouns do.

The other big thing that Esperanto does is to make learning thousands of words easier by using word-building rules absolutely regularly. This means that you only have to learn around 2000 root words to be able to understand and produce around 20,000 words.

Read through the Overview of Esperanto to see this explained more fully.

Does it work?

Well, yes. Those who have taken the time to learn Esperanto properly find it almost miraculous in the way it breaks down the language barrier. It does what it says on the tin! With about two years of regular study and practice you can be fluent. It can take ten years or more with a national language to become comfortable, never mind fluent. Learning Esperanto does need study and practice, though. You have to dedicate yourself to acquiring it, just like with any languge. But because of its rational, thought-out structure the effort you expend wins you far more progress that the struggles you would endure to learn German or Turkish. 

What about English?

English is not as widely spoken as we English speakers like to imagine. Good non-native speakers tend to be educated people with a knack for languages. Ordinary people who may have learned English for a couple of years at school can’t speak it with anything like fluency, and certainly can't talk about any topic under the sun. Two years of Esperanto at school would give you that easily.

Overview of Esperanto