Several major Australian newspapers have published on 21st August 2015 an article by Tim Richards about Esperanto, mainly about its history with no comments about how the language is currently used. www.theage.com.au/entertainment/postcard-from-the-home-of-esperanto-a-language-whose-time-never-came-20150816-giyuba.html

H
ere are my comments:

Often I hear that Esperanto was a nice idea, but that it has failed, that nowadays we don’t need Esperanto any more because we have English as an international language. First what does the “we” mean? People from Australia, people from English speaking countries, people from developed countries? I don’t think it includes all the poor people in Africa, all the Asian people who do struggle for 10 years trying to learn English, but still can’t go beyond a very basic level. We are citizens of the world, so I don’t think we should speak only in the name of native English speakers for example.

Even if we consider only developed European countries, many people can’t use English as an international language. Just last week someone from Germany was interested in doing an online course, but said she can’t do it, because her level in English is too basic. I have a Hungarian friend who speaks good Esperanto, Hungarian and French, but speaks only a few words of English. I visited a friend in Croatia, who is a fluent Esperanto speaker, but her boyfriend couldn’t speak Esperanto. Could I at least speak English with him? No, he knew just a few words of English and was not capable of holding even the most basic conversation. It is a big myth that the whole world speaks English.

You do hear some foreigners speak good English. Most of those had opportunities to live in England for a few months or similar experiences. Of course you don’t hear from those who speak very bad English, they prefer to remain silent. Even one of my Japanese friends who is an English teacher says that he usually remains silent when the conversation is in English, but when I spoke Esperanto to him, I noticed that in fact he is a very chatty person. I listened to a talk by a Chinese Esperantist who says Chinese children suffer a lot because of English, they have to put so much energy into learning English that they have to neglect many other important areas. They don’t understand why they have to learn such an illogical, hard language.

So that’s about the myth that everyone already speaks English.

Then comes the question of fairness. Is it fair that some people can use their mother tongue in international communication and others not? No, it isn’t. The person with the mother tongue will be able to communicate with much more precision, much more ease. The other person will feel inferior, will have to make a much bigger effort to express his opinions, his arguments.

Then of course there are the many economic advantages that English speaking countries have, how many people visit English speaking countries just to practice their English? English speakers can easily find work overseas by teaching English, can the Icelandic guy do the same? And what about culture? By learning English students learn a lot about British, American culture, do they learn about Icelandic culture? Is it fair that some cultures are so much more widely known than others? How much do you know about Finnish authors?

English is not an easy language to learn. At the beginning it might not seem too hard to get the basics, but after that it is really hard. The pronunciation is hard, the spelling is hard and the grammar is not that easy, the vocabulary is huge. John Wells, a British linguist stated that he often noticed that even good students who seemed to understand English well, in fact misunderstood what was said. Phrasal verbs like “go off” are often really hard for foreigners. It takes an awfully long time to really learn English and while so many people are trying to do just that, English native speakers play tennis or golf or whatever they enjoy doing.

Esperanto still has a big role to play. It might not be 100% perfect, but compared to using English it has so many advantages, it can be learnt in a reasonable amount of time, everyone has to make some effort even English speakers. It encourages people to get to know a big variety of cultures. Here you will find a comment by a Chinese lady who compares the study of Esperanto with the study of English. Scroll down on that page to find the English translation of her comment www.worldlanguage.info/contact-us.html

But people are afraid of change, afraid of an “artificial language”, people judge languages by the number of its speakers. Polyglot Judith Meyer studied Esperanto out of linguistic curiosity and thought the language would not be very useful, but then she confessed that in fact it was much more useful to her than the knowledge of some much bigger languages.

First I wanted to explain that Esperanto would still be a very good solution to international communication and that the world still needs it very much, even if some English speakers think that English is what the world needs, not a language that can be mastered much faster and save a lot of time to millions of people. Non-English native speakers think that if they learn English they can have very successful careers. Unfortunately that is true only for a very small minority as explained to me by an Esperantist from India last month.

There are so many problems with the use of English as an international language, but some people think that there are no alternatives. Yes, there is an alternative that deserves to be much better known and articles like those by Tim Richards don’t really help as they make people believe that Esperanto is already dead.

I don’t believe that Esperanto will become everyone’s second language in a near future, I think there is too much prejudice against it, lack of real information in the media, etc. But those who want information are able to find it on the net, so things might change. The online Duolingo Esperanto course has attracted 100,000 Esperanto learners in just 3 months.www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online

If Esperanto is not everyone’s second language, should we throw it away, call it a failure? No, Esperanto is very interesting even with the current relatively small number of speakers. People who choose to learn it have many opportunities to use it, to get to know people from all over the world. Nowadays you can communicate with lots of people even without leaving your house. It is very easy to find Esperanto friends on Facebook, Skype, etc. People who have the chance to travel enjoy meeting Esperanto speakers who will often treat you as members of their extended family. I, personally attended last month the 100th World Esperanto Congress in Lille, France (2,700 participants), where I had interesting conversations with people from Nepal, Russia, Hungary, East Timor and many others.

Even though I would like more people to benefit from Esperanto, I am already happy with what I can do with Esperanto right now. I don’t need more Esperanto speakers. I already have more than enough friends. I would have no time for more! For me Esperanto is a big success, it is just a pity that not more people see it like that.