Why you should learn Esperanto (and how to do it!)

Why learn Esperanto? This is a question many people have when they hear about Esperanto.

In this guide I’ll try and look into the personal, linguistic and social benefits that one might obtain simply by learning Esperanto, and I'll also provide resources and courses for how to learn Esperanto quickly.

Last updated: May 17, 2016

What is Esperanto?

Esperanto is a constructed language, created by Ludwig Zamenhof in 1887 and is designed to be easy to learn and very regular.

Zamenhof was living in a culturally diverse city and had a dream that a common language would help unite the people, who all had their own languages.

The language itself is designed to be easy and fast to learn, so that it can act as a bridge language between people with different native languages. Most people reckon that a solid month of Esperanto will get you way beyond minimum to conduct normal conversations and make new friends.

Today the language serves a similar function, as it carries with it a society of Esperantists who have open minds about foreign cultures and even languages, making it awesome if you are into learning other languages as well. I assume you are, since you are on a language learning blog.

Why should I learn Esperanto?

I think you should learn Esperanto because it's a fun and simple constructed language that has millions of speakers worldwide and easy to learn. Learning it will also give you more confidence if you decide to learn other languages.

Here's some more information on these arguments

Learn Esperanto to learn other languages easier!

This is one of the main benefits that gets thrown around these days. How does it work exactly, how can Esperanto help you learn other languages? The answer is somewhat complicated and split into several parts but allow me to explain.

It boosts confidence. By learning a language in no time, and quickly using it to start speaking, you introduce your mind to the fact that it is in fact possible. This removes the mental block that some people might have about learning languages, the people who might say that it is too difficult to learn foreign languages.

Study: Learning Esperanto drastically improved French students' results

The value of learning Esperanto for learning other languages has been proven by several studies, one famous example saw students provided with one year of Esperanto followed by 3 years of French. The results were then compared against a control group who had had 4 years of French.

The conclusion: In summary, it was concluded that, among the less intelligent students, those who devoted a year to Esperanto succeeded better in French after four years, without additional study time for that language in the three years spent studying it.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperanto

Esperanto also introduces a bare minimum of grammar that changes words if they appear in the accusative. If you do not have experience with languages that have these word changes, then it can open your mind to how that works in a simple and easy way. It’s interesting that some Esperanto learners, still find the Accusative ending difficult, even though they speak far more complex languages.

A slight addition to this point is that learning a language, however simple, is also character building. You will grow as a person and if you design consistent habits, those habits will rub off on everything you do. You will be proud of yourself for having achieved something and by then on you will be unstoppable.

I think that grammar advantage is fairly limited though. So I wouldn’t learn Esperanto exclusively for that.

Join a vibrant community and make friends around the world

The other major advantage for learning Esperanto is that you join a truly global phenomenon. At first I was highly skeptical of this concept, and I compared it a bit to the secret clubs at school. People who were arrogantly trying to place themselves over others by making their own little clubs.

This is luckily not the case with Esperanto. When I first went to the Polyglot gathering in June, I met a lot of Esperantists and they were all incredibly nice people. I asked around why anyone should learn the language, and they shared what I am sharing with you today.

After the conference, I knew I wanted to learn Esperanto. The people who I talked to were very friendly and I immediately understood that learning Esperanto is not just about the language, it’s also about having an open mind towards other cultures and languages. I spent some hours doing vocabulary-intense courses, but it was not until I actually joined an Esperanto course hosted by Judith Meyer and Chuck Smith, that I actually started using the language – and fast!

Within 2 days I was able to use Esperanto as the only means of communication. It wasn’t fantastic, particularly due to my limited studying, but it was an incredible experience. I shared more of my feelings of this trip back in my Esperanto trip reports a while back.

Today the primary global social initiatives of the Esperanto movement are the congress and the pasporta servo. However, there are events all over the world at any given time. Simply check this EVENT CALENDAR for upcoming Esperanto gatherings.

The Yearly Congress – A conference with thousands of people, who meet up to discuss the language, network, meet new friends and listen to interesting presentations. It has been held 99 times so far, with the 100th being in Lille, France next year. I’m aiming to attend, if my budget allows.

Update: Judith Meyer, an experienced Esperantist, added that the Congress is a bit formal, and advised new young esperantists to go for the yearly youth conference. Check out the details on their main website: http://tejo.org

Pasporta Servo – The true original couchsurfing. Way before there was CouchSurfing.com and other couchsurfing websites the Esperanto movement had already established their service. The premise was simple, you would live for free with other Esperanto speakers as long as all communication happened in Esperanto.

The website just received a redesign, so go check it out!

How to learn Esperanto

There are hundreds of ways once might learn Esperanto, so in this section I will list the recipe that I would suggest my friends if they wanted to pick up Esperanto. Remember that any practice you can do over Facebook, Skype or other channels will greatly aid you in your progress.

The recipe I will show you, is a very simple one and focuses on building a solid core vocabulary of about 900 words. This should get you very far in understanding and reading Esperanto. The speaking and listening part is something no course, website or video can really replace so here I simply encourage you to go out and find local esperanto groups or clubs.

Most countries will have an Esperanto organization, that hosts events, or beginner courses. Be sure to look those up, when you start.

Resources for learning Esperanto

I have decided to split the resources for how to learn Esperanto into four areas, that I think are most important. They are:

  • Vocabulary
  • Courses
  • Speaking
  • Books and other resources for further study

You can use the tabs below to find the resources you require, this list will be updated.

Vocabulary

Memrise:

Recommended order. You can start the 3 first courses at the same time.

Courses:

Places to practice Esperanto

Books and other resources for further study

  • Edukado – A behemoth of a resource. You can literally find thousands of texts and resources to to learn here. Notice that a lot of it is user-generated and my not be mistake-free.
  • Amazon – The world's largest book store.

The Actual Fluency Recipe to Esperanto proficiency

You can find these resources above.

  • 5 Memrise Courses
  • 8 Lernu Courses
  • 15 Episodes of Pasporto Ala tuta mondo

That's all it takes to develop a proficiency in Esperanto, enough to speak to other Esperantists. Seriously. The time commitment to finish all of the above would be a month at a steady, not too-slow pace. Learning a language in a month, that's great!

Vocabulary and pronunciation will be extremely easy for you to learn, but make sure you spend time to learn adverbials, correlatives and pronouns throughly when you begin. For some reason I glossed over these categories, and it left me a little incapacitated when I was trying to speak later.

The correlatives of Esperanto are not difficult, but they are very similar, which means learning them will take a bit of extra effort. This is why my recipe includes a correlative Memrise course.

I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that you enjoyed this Esperanto guide. If you have resources to add to the above lists, do not hesitate to contact me.

  • speekolango

    Good post !

    However, you haven’t convinced me (yet) to start studying Esperanto 🙂

    I study languages to be able to communicate with people. I’ve encountered Russians, Chinese, Koreans etc who couldn’t communicate in a language that I understand. For me that’s a reason to learn their language. For the same reason I don’t think I’ll ever study Danish, Swedish or Norwegian, because I don’t think I will ever really need it. Every Scandinavian I’ve ever met spoke English fluently.

    Have you ever met a person that speaks Esperanto who doesn’t speak English as well ?

    >The value of learning Esperanto for learning other languages has been proven by several studies,
    I’ve read that Wikipedia article and I personally don’t believe that it’s proven. Is it because of Esperanto or because it is an easy language ? If Italians study Spanish for a year, and then move on to Mandarin, would you have the same results ?

    I apologize if this post sounds negative. That’s not my intention, I’m just giving my opinion.
    If anyone wants to learn Esperanto, go for it !

    • Chris Broholm

      Hi Again 🙂

      You have to believe that there is a practical reason for learning a language before learning one. To me that is essential. With Esperanto the major benefit is in the social doors that it opens, not the linguistic side of things.

      Interestingly enough, if you go back to my Esperanto trip report i did indeed meet people who didn’t speak English well enough to carry a conversation, so without Esperanto I would not have been able to speak to them. I covered that in: http://actualfluency.com/trip-report-joining-the-esperanto-club-and-buying-cafes-part-3/ under the “walking walking walking” paragraph, just how crazy it was. Here I was, mere months into Esperanto and I was translating from English into Esperanto to the nice elderly couple.

      The study I often reference to, concluded that students who took 1 year of Esperanto then 3 years of French, spoke better French than people who had French for 4 years. You are definitely right that if you had an easier language at your disposal, learning that first could achieve similar results.

      The problem I suppose, is that natural languages are always more difficult, right? I could maybe see it working if you somehow could convince Danish students to learn Swedish or Norwegian before learning another language, and there might be some similar scenarios worldwide, but I think that’s beside the main point that Esperanto does help in language acquisition.

      I don’t think your post is negative, I had similar hesitations about Esperanto before I met Esperantists and started to understand that it’s not really about the language, it’s about the mindset that comes with it and the social networking. I would never try to force anyone to learn it or convince them without sufficicent reason, but I truly believe that it for me has been an enriching experience already and it has taken minimum efforts to do.

      Thanks for leaving such detailed comments, it means a lot to me 🙂

  • Oh, this is the post I’ve been waiting for Chris 🙂 …I enjoyed your take on it, and all the resources you’ve given look great. I really do want to learn Esperanto, but I’m not going to be able to get to it for a while. As well as Russian, I’m also dabbling in Dutch, and I have a Toki Pona event I’m attending soon. So that’s probably going to be the only conlang I get to this year. Esperanto is definitely on my list for next year though!

    • Chris Broholm

      Haha Emma, you are truly addicted! See you in London 🙂

  • The Universal Congress can be quite formal. I prefer the International Youth Congress and the New Year’s meetings. They are also much cheaper. Please consider coming to the JES this year (Dec 28 to Jan 4 near Berlin), 200 Esperanto speakers our age from 25-30 countries, it will be epic, like a prolonged Polyglot Gathering. 😀

    • Chris Broholm

      Thanks Judith, I was hoping some more experienced Esperantists would jump in with recommendations to add to the text!

      The timing of the JES is VERY unfortunate for me, as I have a board meeting for a youth organisation I volunteer for in December, and then I’m 99% sure I will have exams in the first days of January.

      It sucks 🙁 but I think it might be healthy for me to restrict myself a bit if I’m to make Berlin, New York and Lille – after all! 🙂

  • I was introduced to Esperanto by a friend a few years ago and at the time thought ‘why not, it’s a way to get back into languages’ but like you I found I quickly made friends and met interesting people. It’s for that reason that I keep it up, on and off.

    Thanks for the Memrise links. I’ve been meaning to learn more suffixes for ages but never quite got round to it!

    • Chris Broholm

      Thanks Ruth, good luck with the affixes – I find them very interesting! It’s cool how you can make up new words as you go along.

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  • Luis

    Hi Chris!

    Now that an Esperanto course is available on Duolingo. Would you modify “The Actual Fluency Recipe to Esperanto proficiency”?

    Best,

  • I’m still toying with the idea of Esperanto. While the language and its grammar seem so “fake” to me compared with natural languages, I really like the community of Esperantists. I suppose it’s quick enough to learn with tons of benefits, so maybe I’ll give it a try!