The Threefold Benefits of Esperanto 1


According to the interesting work by P. Medgyes and M. Laszlo 3 , among the factors which aid the learning of languages - apart from residence in relevant countries - the most important is conscious learning. However, among those factors they did not mention the previously learned other language.

It is a commonplace that the learning of any language is facilitated by the learner having previously learned one or more other languages. This is not quite true. One may have learned any number of languages but if the learner did not master even one to a usable level they will not learn the next language more easily.

It is said that with Latin as a basis the learning of all other languages is easy. However, in fact few people are capable of mastering Latin with its complicated grammar and its plentiful irregularities. To serve as an effective foundation, the only appropriate type of language will be that which can be assimilated in a very short period of time, can be spoken fluently and at least matches the expressiveness of natural languages. Comenius has said that it is possible to create a language ten times easier than Latin 4.

Among the approximately 1,000 planned languages 5 the Esperanto language, initiated in 1887 and since that time evolving through self regulation, stands forth remarkably. 95% of the literature of the planned languages (about 10,000 volumes, 43,000 annual collections of 10,500 periodicals6 etc.) has appeared in Esperanto.

How much time is needed to master Esperanto? How much time to learn English from an Esperanto basis, and how long when both are learned during the same period? I will recount the lessons of my own learning experience.

I first came to know Esperanto in the autumn of 1959, in my 31st year, in the form of a 32 study hour (16 week) course at TIT (Popular Science Society, Budapest). To that were added 82 hours of individual study (mainly on the tram). That made a total of 114 hours. I noted 1800 Esperanto words in my vocabulary exercise book. My total expenditure (course, book, exercise book, dictionary) came to 200 forints, roughly US$10 at that time. After the second week I corresponded freely, after two months I translated one of my mathematical articles. (I note that in the middlegrade school where I learned Latin, German and Italian languages, I could not even speak them, except a very little rudimentary German.)

My systematic learning of English commenced in autumn, 1960, in a similar TTT course (64 hours per semester). By the end of the first month, when it came to the Present Continuous Tense, half of the participants left the course, and in the fourth semester I was the only one left out of those who started with me.

My efforts during the course of two and a half years took up 352 hours, and with a private teacher 28 hours, in total 380 hours, to which was added individual study which brought the grand total to 1100 hours. In my 5 vocabulary exercise books I wrote 12,500 lines, indicating also the pronunciation, accent and irregularities. My total expenditure was 5,000 forints (in those days the inflation was insignificant). I passed the middlegrade State language examination in 1963.

In the ensuing period I corresponded greatly in Esperanto, translated a lot from English and did extensive reading in both languages. In 1960 I was able to chat irreproachably in Esperanto with my first foreign visitors coming from Poland, and interpret for them in my special area of expertise. In 1968, after 20 hours of Esperanto and 120 hours of English vocabulary and grammar revision, I succeeded in passing the upper-grade State examination in both languages. Immediately afterwards I spent a year in the United States of America. Today I write, read, negotiate and lecture in both languages.

To reach the level of the upper-grade State language examination in Hungary, one needs - according to the opinion of many - on the average 2,000 hours of learning. In my opinion I would also have needed that much time. However, my systematic learning only needed 114 + 20 = 134 hours in Esperanto, 1100 + 120 = 1220 hours in English. Thus satisfactorily mastering these two languages one after the other required 1354 hours. This is 32% less than would have been needed to learn English without the propaedeutic effect of the learned Esperanto. After 800 hours of systematic learning of Spanish as third language (of which 646 hours were the remainder of the abovementioned 2000 hours) in 1969/70, I gained the upper grade as well. Subsequently I passed a total of 3 months in Spanish speaking countries and even presented lectures. (However, that was not sufficient for permanent retention and, due to lack of use, my knowledge of Spanish has become inactive, as has also my knowledge of other languages.)

Experiments in teaching7 have shown that Hungarian pupils who had previously learned Esperanto learned English 40 per cent faster than those without Esperanto as a base; German pupils learned English 30 per cent faster in similar circumstances. Moreover, the Esperanto-based students attained, on average, about half a mark (scale: failed 1, excellent 5) better than the other pupils in mathematics, geography, their native language and, naturally, also in other foreign languages. Thus it has been proved that:

1. Esperanto learned through one tenth of the fatigue 8 so much shortens the necessary learning time of subsequent languages that this in itself is a sufficient reason to learn it.
Esperanto literature already in 1999 had a candidate for the Nobel Prize, even though he did not receive it (so, after 113 years Esperanto stands as the Hungarian literature does after 800 years). The candidate, William Auld, had never heard about Madach until he received the Esperanto translation of The Tragedy of Man9 . Since that time he has been an enthusiast of Hungarian literature. However, he sought an English translation and gave his opinion to the effect of, If I had first come to know the work of Madach through the translation made by that 'butcher', Hungarian literature would not have interested me.

The famous creations of the 5,000 years of world literature are available in Esperanto (the first translation of Hamlet was published as early as in 1894). In addition, the original Esperanto literature is as significant as that of many small peoples, but its creators were born on the five continents and thus created a uniquely multicoloured literary culture. It has been proved that Esperanto is suitable for the advancement of science. It is worth mentioning that several hundred international conferences and meetings are held every year where Esperanto is present in the role of an indispensable living language. Thus,

2. It is worthwhile to learn Esperanto even for its own sake.
Finally, worth of mention is the problem of the survival of our native language (i.e. Hungarian - Trans.). Watching the irresistible advance of English the authors of the paper quoted above 3 say that, happily they need not take any standpoint on the delicate question whether to welcome or condemn this process. There are other authors (e.g. Fischer10 )who predict that in three hundred years time only English, Chinese and Spanish will continue to exist, although they allow that also certain languages of major cultures may resist somewhat longer. However,

3. the time freed by Esperanto from learning foreign languages could be dedicated to the nurture and cultivation of the mother tongue.
The present prospect: The native English speakers, comprising approximately 7% of the population of the world, do not have to learn another language, while the other 93% must do so (in 2,000 hours per head, at the expense of their native language and other education, or simply their leisure time). This state of affairs will continue until English becomes the native language of all (unless in the meantime another candidate announces itself, for which scenario there are already several examples, and the possibility still exists).

An alternative prospect: Everyone in the world (including the native English speakers) will compulsorily learn Esperanto in 100-200 hours (depending on the native language of the learner) and will become equal in terms of lingual intercommunication (and of course can learn other languages according to personal wishes). Such a small extra burden will possibly be tolerable indefinitely, without endangering the learning and cultivation of national languages. Ady11 did not without cause consider that Esperanto would be a necessity for the Hungarians: it would playfully smuggle us into the community of civilized peoples.

(Translated from Esperanto by Alan Mendelawitz)

About the Author

Otto Haszpra is a civil engineer who is Professor of Hydraulics at Budapest Technical University and he has been a consultant to the United Nations since 1979. He is a correspondent member of the Hungarian Science Academy and is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. He has published hundreds of technical papers and has lectured through the world in Hungarian, English, Spanish and Esperanto. From 1986 to 1989 he served as a member of the managing committee of the Universal Esperanto Association and edited the Esperanto magazine Scientific Communications from 1974 to 1982. He has received a number of awards for work in his own field and for his writings and work in the Esperanto movement.

1 The originally Hungarian article (Az eszperantó hármas haszna, published as reaction to an article 3 of P. Medgyes and M. Laszlo in the periodical of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences: Magyar Tudomány nr. 2001/2) has been translated by Alan Mendelawitz from the author's own Esperanto translation and includes several later minor additions supplied by the author during consultation.

2 Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

3 Medgyes, P. – László, M.: A magyar kutatók idegennyelv-tudása az 1990-es évek végén (Language knowledge of the Hungarian researchers at the end of the 90’s), Magyar Tudomány nr. 2000/8.

4 Szerdahelyi, I.: Bábeltől a világnyelvig (From Babel to The World Language). Gondolatat, Budapest, 1977.

5 Blanke, D.: Internationale Plansprachen. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1985.

6 Máthé Á.: Bibliografio de la Esperantaj periodaĵoj (Bibliography of Esperanto periodicals). In: Memorlibro. Felsőoktatási Koord. Iroda, Budapest, 1998.

7 Frank, H.G.: Kibernetike-pedagogia teorio de la lingvo-orientiga instruado. 1a Internacia Kongreso de Kibernetiko, Namur, 1980.

8 Bárczi, G.: Az eszperantóról (About Esperanto). Világ és Nyelv, 1973. október

9 Madách, I.: La Tragedio de l’ Homo (Translated into Esperanto by K. Kalocsay). Corvina, 1965.

10 Fischer, S.R.: A History of Language. Reaktion Books, 1999.

11 Endre Ady was maybe the most excellent Hungarian poet of the 20th century.

Hejmo - Esperanto en Nov-Zelando - About NZEA - Indekso de nia paĝaro