Why We Should Teach Esperanto In School

Why do we teach foreign languages in school? Is it because foreign languages are essential job skills students will need when they join the workforce? Is it a crucial life skill we need in society? Most of my former classmates never used the language after they graduated and soon forget most of what they learned. Few visit a country where the language is spoken and even then, they mainly use English. Students rarely read books in a foreign language or watch foreign language films without English subtitles, during or after school. Even after years of study, few can speak the language with much skill or talent.

So, is teaching foreign languages a waste of time? If most students don’t reach a comfortable level and rarely use it, what’s the point? I believe that even if students never use the language, it still is useful. Teenagers rarely know what direction their life will go, which is why it is good to offer a range of options. School is important is offering a sample of life experiences, even if the students never follow up on them. A foreign language is one option they might not have otherwise considered but could open a whole new world to them. We teach foreign languages to show students that other cultures exist, that there are other ways of thinking, speaking and behaving.

There are three main reasons we teach languages to students, which are symbolic, economic and cultural. Languages can hold great symbolic importance even if they have limited practical use. This is why Irish is mandatory even if few Irish people ever use it and why Latin used to be commonly taught. The second is economic, learning English is an important skill to have in the modern economy, especially if you intend to work abroad. Thirdly is cultural, learning a language gives people access to literature, music and media in that language as well as a chance to meet new people. There is also the opportunity to travel, which is a mixture of the last two points.

So, what has Esperanto got to do with this? At first, it might seem ridiculous to teach a small invented language to students and you might wonder when they would ever put it to use? But if most students never use the foreign language anyway and struggle to reach even conversational level, then we must reconsider why we teach languages to students. If teaching foreign languages is useful even if they are never used outside the classroom, then Esperanto’s small size is not a problem. Even though it doesn’t have an economic appeal, it does have a cultural and symbolic appeal, as a symbol of mutual understanding and unity across borders. It is still a useful tool for teaching students about diversity and respect for other cultures.

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But why Esperanto? Well, most people want the result of knowing another language, but are unwilling or unable to put up with the slog through grammatical rules and vocabulary lists to get there. The biggest challenge to language learning is motivation, most people who start learning a language, no matter how good their intentions, lose motivation and stop learning. This is especially true of students who aren’t in school out of choice. However, Esperanto is an incredibly simple and easy to learn language. There are no irregular verbs, grammatical exceptions, silent letters etc. Everything is simple and straight forward with little memorisation of rules required. Most of the features in other languages that discourage and frustrate students aren’t present. The language is built in a simple and logical way that makes learning a breeze and almost enjoyable (as strange as the thought might sound). This means students spend less time on the difficult part of languages and more time on the fun part where they actually get to use it.

Let me give you some examples. In Esperanto, all nouns end in -o, all adjectives end in -a and all adverbs end in -e. Not only is this simple to remember but it also teaches students about sentence structure and shows the inner workings of languages (I’ve learned surprisingly much about how English works by comparing it to Esperanto). All past tense verbs end in -is, all present tense in -as and all future tense in -os. Words can be built like lego bricks by combining various affixes together. For example, I can take the word for pig, porko and make a dozen words like:

Porkino Sow (Female pig)
Porkido Piglet (Baby pig)
Porkejo Pig-Sty (Pig-place)
Porkaro Herd of pigs
Porkisto Pig farmer
Porkaĵo Pork (Pig meat)

If I tell you the word for sheep, ŝafo you also learned a dozen derivative words.

This can even turn language learning into a game as you try to build words out of a tower of affixes like malsanulejo, un-healthy-person-place (hospital) which can be taken to a nonsensical extreme like malsanulejestrinaĉo the terrible female director of a place for unhealthy people. Once when I didn’t know the word for umbrella, I threw together the word for rain (pluvo), a tool (ilo) and the opposite word (mal) to get malpluvilo an un-rain-tool. It’s a nonsense word but I got my point across.

Studies have found that students learn Esperanto at least ten times faster than natural languages. From my personal experience, a month of Esperanto self-study got me to the same level as four years of French study in school. By removing the difficult aspects of language learning, students can focus instead on the more enjoyable parts and make much faster progress. Fluency in a small language is more rewarding and satisfying than a few stuttering phrases in a major language.

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Studies even show that learning Esperanto helps to learn other languages and a year of Esperanto and a year of French gives better results than two years of French. Although this might seem counter-intuitive, it makes sense because Esperanto is a gateway language that introduces the concepts to students in an easy way without overloading them. It shows students that learning another language is possible and can be fun. Most Esperantists I know love languages and move onto other languages afterwards, in contrast most native English speakers believe they are unable to learn foreign languages and/or the effort is pointless. One group that teaches Esperanto does so because they believe it is like teaching children the recorder, it’s not because the recorder is the greatest musical instrument and they will use it to become musicians, but because it is the best way to introduce children to musical instruments. Likewise, even if students never use Esperanto, it still introduces them to the concepts of language learning.

So, when would they learn it? Schools could experiment with different age groups. The Springboard to Languages program teaches it to young primary school children in a fun and simple way in order to give them an advantage when they move on to other languages later. The start of secondary school is another option for more mature study, but I think the last part of secondary school (for the Leaving Cert/A Levels) is probably the most suitable. Students are under a lot of pressure, so a simple and easy language would be a great relief. The subject would of course be voluntary and I think the idea of an “easy A” would be enough to entice a lot of students. It would only take a single school year for a student to learn Esperanto, after two they would be fluent. I don’t mean just the top students or those motivated would be fluent, even those who are otherwise poor students, would find it easy.

The coursework would be similar to other languages, students would practice reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Esperanto has a large literature to choose from, the Concise Encyclopedia of Original Esperanto Literature has 750 pages, and that’s the concise book! The poet William Auld has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for his Esperanto poetry and there are vibrant literature reviews to draw from. There are also more casual sources like blogs, youtubers, music and even an institute devoted to teaching the language. Any teacher already trained to teach a Latin language will find it easy to transfer to teaching Esperanto. There are summer schools, international events where only Esperanto is spoken, where students could practice the language outside the classroom. Even if only a single school in America and a single school in Russia taught it, students would be able to use it to create links with people they would have otherwise never met.

Teaching Esperanto might seem a useless skill that they would never need, but why do we teach history or geography? Most school subjects are not taught because students need them, but instead to make them more well-rounded individuals and responsible citizens. Not only would learning Esperanto show people new cultures and people, but it would do so on an equal playing field. Esperanto is a neutral language, devoid of political baggage and colonial legacy like so many other languages. In a world of rising nationalism and barriers between people, there is value in showing students that people from around the world can meet in an equal and respectful manner.

Plus, I’m sure most students like the idea of an easy A.

29 thoughts on “Why We Should Teach Esperanto In School”

  1. I’ve done a lot of work in this area on the promotional side, working with teachers and lobbyists, and journalists. I am convinced that such a thing is possible, but I find myself banned by Esperantists themselves whenever I try to explain what the problem is, and how language learning has been dumbed down in Britain over the decades.

    1. It could not be ‘dumbed down over decades’ as only in recent years we got affordable learning materials and modern teaching methods. Do you remember those terrible reel recorders used for the listening practice? I do. Nowadays, having B1 of a foreign language level after the high school is not only possible, but quite a common phenomenon. In 1970, only the brightest students could achieve A2!

      1. What?! We had Esperanto being taught in schools, and we had Esperanto text books in high street book shops. I and a colleague set up a group which produced the ‘Jen Nia Mondo’ radio course, which was broadcast across university student radio stations in the UK, as well as some local radio stations abroad. We were campaigning for Esperanto to be accepted for GCE, and finally it was accepted for GCSE, when GCE merged with CSE. The advance in technology is not the point. All language learning was later dumbed down in schools by Tony Blair’s ‘New Strategy for Languages in England’. Funding for the promotion of Esperanto, which had been donated to the ‘charity’ over the decades was being withheld. It wasn’t just EAB, but the whole infrastructure of the Esperanto movement in the UK. BEA (Inc) was virtually wiped out in 1978. Those who are advocating Esperanto really should be sensitive to the question that people do ask, “If Esperanto is such a good idea, why hasn’t it caught on?” Instead, they’re often passionately disinterested.

    1. By all means give an introductory talk about the language, but the most important thing there is the purpose of the language. That’s how I was introduced to it in 1958 at the age of 13. But I would think that would be a good idea for any subject anyway. If we are to talk about the history of the language, we should include the reasons for its decline, particularly since the end of the Cold War. That is the problematic part, because although I have researched that issue in the UK in depth, and written internal reports on it, I get banned even when I raise the issue.

      The point with teaching Esperanto is that it would be easier to introduce Esperanto first, and other languages later, than the other way round. In the 1970s I changed the slogan from ‘Learn Esperanto’ to ‘Teach Esperanto’ and thereby got mass support from the public and from Parliament.

  2. Other natural languages have certain advantages over Esperanto: they have interesting culture and history. So in promoting Esperanto we should not prepare materials on these fields. Focus on sciences and contemporary issues. Remember in the ‘flat world’ everyone eagers to access information. One of a good way to convey info is using Esperanto.

    1. Esperanto does have a culture it was born into, and even more so, a jeopardized one to the point of near extinction unless radical measures are taken to help it survive through the dream tool of Esperanto. This culture is that of what used to be called Middle Europe, Mittel-Europa as it used to be called in German. That culture was the main cultural casualty of both WWII and Stalinism. Esperanto just happened to be at the centre of gravity of that devastated culture that brought about Europe’s finest philosophical conception, artistic creation and social thought achievements ever.

  3. Just what the world needs, a bunch of little assholes talking esperanto. As if there werent enough of these little shits babbling online already. It should be renamed “Cunteranto”, because so many “cunts” speak it.

      1. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure you can find other outlets for your insulated bourgeois sensibilities than Cunteranto. Why not campaign for retro european fantasy park called “Mitteleuropa”. You can make waterslides and have a wax museum with electronic dummies programmed to blurt “I say, old chap! Do you think a second world war is coming?”

        1. My point is that there are lots of people putting out such insulting stuff, who don’t get censored, but if you put out really important well researched stuff you do get censored. George Orwell was a socialist, but he is remembered for his criticisms of corrupt socialists. As soon as I started talking about the most famous active Esperantist who had ever lived in the British Empire I got quickly silenced. Your editor probably doesn’t know who he is. As soon as I had evidence that the treasurer of Esperanto Association of Britain may have been falsely claiming that the capital was being used up, and so minimising spending to promote the cause, and eventually causing the London HQ to be sold, I became the target of a vicious witch-hunt. Only when the treasurer admitted that my figures were correct could I say that she should have been sent to prison for what she did. I get censured, but those who send blatantly rude and mendacious insults are consistently allowed to get away with it. Understood?

          1. Interesting. I actually know esperanto myself from several years ago I used to talk it everyday online, but I got sick of the people, and since the people suck, it becomes easy to also dislike the language itself, the grotesque ‘oj’ pluralization, the insipid verb conjugation that literally sounds like retarded spanish, etc. Then, my favorite, a bunch of brats babble in it constantly. Most vacuous language I know. Spanish is much more rewarding. I read the news in spanish every morning. Nobody in spanish tells me it will bring world peace. Nobody in spanish says I have to love transgenders or vote for Hillary. No catholics in Italy want to use it for Catholicism. It’s a great language, but it is not a piss-take to learn like Esperanto.

            1. It’s nice to be anonymous and to yell out everything you always wanted to say to someone, but didn’t dare because of simple fear the other could just fight back, isn’t it? 😀
              You don’t think, it’s worth answering you, do you, Johannes? Or just one sentence:
              “Ten percent are against everything.” (John F. Kennedy, if I remember well.)
              So it’s not worth even to think about those ten percent and their words.

              1. You Germans think Democrats are so great. I guess europeans in general applaud hypocrites because europeans tend to have double-standards themselves.

  4. Personally, it seems clear that on a larger scale Esperanto would become like a religion. Just now if you say anything against Christians, or “Christmaschens” as I call them, you are labeled an anti-faith-bigot. It is easy to imagine a future where Esperanto is so big that it begins to show its true colors and it becomes socially unacceptable to saying anything against it. I say we move to halt esperanto before it reaches religion-size.

  5. The great thing about esperanto ois that it gets rid of the natural intelligence in the brain and replaces it with a soft kind of idealism. It will nake the young students stupid while convincing them that they are smart for learning it. Instead of thinking for themselves, esperanto is used as a tool of ultimate conformity, chaining young children to an oblivious international community.

  6. > Few visit a country where the language is spoken and even then, they mainly use English.

    That’s why we teach foreign languages: to be able to speak in English/French/whatever with people of different countries.

    > If teaching foreign languages is useful even if they are never used outside the classroom, then Esperanto’s small size is not a problem.

    No, it is a problem. It is the waste of time as absolutely useless information is taught. To be able to say, ‘Hola’, or ‘Ou sont les toilettes’ is infinitely more useful than ‘Kie estas la necesejo’ which embeds an oh-so-necessary Russian colloquial word ‘nuzhnik’.

    > It is still a useful tool for teaching students about diversity and respect for other cultures.

    Esperanto doesn’t and can’t have a culture, so it is unknown what “diversity” can be there.

    > There are no irregular verbs, grammatical exceptions, silent letters etc.

    Like English? No, drink/drank/drunk is NOT an irregular verb, the words ‘dog’, ‘apple’, and ‘bone’ form the plural in exact same way, and there is no silent letters in the 90% coverage vocabulary. The Esperanto is a very difficult language, as any other European language, and its conscise grammar takes about 600 A5 pages.

    > Most of the features in other languages that discourage and frustrate students aren’t present.

    Articles, plurals, verb tenses, government and verb/noun constructions in particular discourage and frustrate students, and all these are present in Esperanto. Oh, and idiomatics too.

    > The language is built in a simple and logical way

    To know what is simple and logical we must first reconstruct the human brain. We cannot do that, and can only treat it as a black box by studying the living languages and how our mind simplifies and develops them. (Hint: not at all like Esperanto does). People do not use the language in a formal logic manner.

    > that makes learning a breeze and almost enjoyable

    If we teach ‘French’ by replacing the English words with the French ones, it will be enjoyable too, but it won’t be French. Teaching Esperanto “in a breeze” is similarly teaching junk.

    > In Esperanto, all nouns end in -o, all adjectives end in -a and all adverbs end in -e.

    Even Latin did not persist in attaching ‘-a/-us’ to every word it saw, no real language does that. That is not simple.

    > Words can be built like lego bricks by combining various affixes together. For example, I can take the word for pig, porko and make a dozen words like:

    I assure you, every language works like that, and Esperanto is not special in this regard. Also, when we are talking about porci- or oviculture, the lego bricks Esperanto provide are inadequate. Why should we teach these inane compositions one can make in any language if they like sound like a child, instead of the real words real people use? We cannot, as there are no porciculturing Esperantists, so these words simply do not exist.

    > as you try to build words out of a tower of affixes like malsanulejo, un-healthy-person-place

    Why would someone try to build such ugly monsters? (Also: ‘malpluvilo’ is not a word). If you are into SF, you can find hundreds of new English words invented for both existing and new concepts, which are understandable at first sight. You don’t need Esperanto to invent a fancy but valid synonim for the umbrella.

    > Studies have found that students learn Esperanto at least ten times faster than natural languages.

    And which of those studies were independent, peer-reviewed, and using the correct methodology, like DBT? We have studies which “prove” the smoking is good for your health and homeopathy and ESP work.

    > From my personal experience, a month of Esperanto self-study got me to the same level as four years of French study in school.

    It is impossible to judge, as any French speaker can assess your level. No one speaks Esperanto, so its level is undefinable. You may say ‘Me Tarzan you Jane’ without recognizing it yourself.

    > Fluency in a small language is more rewarding and satisfying

    Studying liberal arts instead of math is even more rewarding and satisfying. Should we discard the math then?

    > Most Esperantists I know love languages and move onto other languages afterwards

    Children are not ‘most Esperantists’, so why connect them at all?

    > it is like teaching children the recorder

    You don’t teach children to drive by flying a glider or to fly by driving a buggy car. The languages are fundamentally different from each other, and you cannot transfer your skills between them. There is no part of the language that can be taught separately, unlike musical harmony which can be taught with anything.

    > students would practice reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

    That is impractical, as Esperanto is not a spoken language. You cannot take the real dialogs, situations, literature, as those never happen in Esperanto. It will be a regress to completely artificial texts they used in the last-but-one century.

    > the Concise Encyclopedia of Original Esperanto Literature has 750 pages

    And the list of PD literature is much larger than that, yet no normal child would read a PD book even in their native language! Do you seriously consider Esperanto literature readworthy? Or even legible at all?

    > There are also more casual sources like blogs, youtubers, music

    Who can prove that is the correct Esperanto and suitable for teaching?

    > Even if only a single school in America and a single school in Russia taught it

    They can do it now, in English. Why teach a special language for that?

    > Plus, I’m sure most students like the idea of an easy A.

    That is the worst argument one can make about learning something.

    I would advise you to rethink your view on Esperanto, and come with better arguments, as those do not prove the money, the time, and the small children memory should be wasted by a dead, artificial, and useless language.

  7. Esperanto helps people talk to northern european assholes who are so isolationist and stuck up in the european aquarium that you wonder that they want and international language at all. Just stay in europe and talk your european languages.

  8. In the USA we like interlingua better. If the usa is powerful then ypu have to respect my wishes and learn interlingua, european ally underdogs.

    1. Interlingua was a con trick, just as Ido was, and just as Basic English was. There has been a concerted effort to undermine the Esperanto movement, and at the centre of that since WW2 has been a group of people close to the international banking industry. When the Esperantists can come to terms with this, then Esperanto can prosper again as a movement.

      1. Just like an esperantist to imagine conspiracies working against the “movement”. I actually quite learning interlingua because my Spanish is so good nowadays that talking to Mexican is far more rewarding than talking to the Brazilians or Italians who speak Interlingua and Esperanto. At least with a Mexican I am dealing with a real cross-cultural issue from a neighboring nation and learning the culture of that people. Going to Brazil, Germany, or Italy has very little attraction. For me the more I study Mexico the more I feel like an adult engaging in a real international issue. FRankly, insulated conspiracy thoerists in an esperanto bubble lack value.

        1. On the contrary, Esperantists are particularly resilient to believing in ‘conspiracy theories’ even when the evidence is stark. I spent one year full time researching into the decline of Esperanto Association of Britain, and I made no allegations, just sent a confidential report to the President showing the minutes and the accounts did not agree. For that they organised a vicious denigration campaign against me. From then on I’ve had baseless allegations from the anti-Esperantists, just like the one I’ve just got from Johannes. I offered to provide the evidence, in 12 reports, to the blogger of this site, but he didn’t take up the offer.

          1. Because it’s not English. Nothing can stand in the way of English. See Robert Phillipson’s book ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ where he reports on the meetings of the British Council with the US Information Agency around 1960, and in particular their keynote speech by one of the founders of Basic English.

            But your question should be: “Why would the Treasurer of Esperanto Association of Britain lie about the capital being eaten up over six years when it was in fact shooting up over that period?” Why should ‘respectable’ British Esperantists turn on me when they knew what I’d discovered, even though I’d communicated that information only to the President, and on a confidential basis, and hadn’t made any allegations whatsoever?

            And whilst we’re at it, why should the London Metropolitan Police have undermined a whole range of voluntary groups with covert police officers when there was no reason for suspecting any criminal activities? Why would they have an agent provocateur in an environmental group protesting against a coal-based power station, who nearly got a prison sentence for about 20 of them before he was found out by stupidly letting his fake girl-friend see his passport? That one was really bizarre, because they were supporting the government policy on climate change. His name was Mark Kennedy, and he had been active also in public demonstrations in Germany. See: https://undercoverresearch.net/

            What I found out in the Esperanto association was at the time completely unexpected, and it came as a shock, because some of the key players had, I thought, been friends and colleagues of mine. But British Esperantists always start with the conclusions, rather than the evidence. If the Charity Commission had been doing their work properly the treasurer would probably have been sent to prison for what was proved against her.

            1. What you hope to achieve with these comments? You are arguing about something that happened 20 years ago and no one except you cares about. Are you hoping someone will invent a time machine so you can go back and relive the argument? Who are trying to convince? I’m not a member of the British association and none of my readers were involved in your squabble or want to get involved. Stop spamming my comments with your obsession.

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