Response to Nicole Martinelli

Below is the response I sent to Italian journalist Nicole Martinelli, following the request at the end of her blog post.

Dear Ms Martinelli,

In the above article, you said you’d like to hear from an Esperantist why they took up the language and how they plan to bring it forward. Well, here goes.

Potted life history to start with: born 1973; British; university educated; have lived in the UK, France and Thailand; worked in language teaching and in computational linguistics; started Esperanto course in 2001, and now using it on a daily basis.

Why did I take it up? Originally for two reasons, both basically selfish — first, it struck me as an interesting idea (the fact that a language existed that was neutral, i.e. didn’t belong to any country, and that the process of learning it was promised to be much smoother, quicker and less painful when compared to other languages) and I wanted to try it just for the hell of it, whether it was ultimately any use or not; and second, because somebody showed me the “Pasporta Servo” (Passport Service), i.e. a list of names, addresses and contact details of Esperanto speakers worldwide who would put me up for a few nights, for the price of speaking Esperanto to them while I was there. Now, I do enjoy travelling, and the thing I enjoy most about it isn’t taking photos of “attractions”, but meeting local people and being able to talk, laugh, be entertained, flirt, etc. over a few beers until the small hours of the morning. And obviously, in most countries of the world, I don’t speak the local language, so all of this is rather difficult.

Enter Esperanto. Now, I don’t pretend that I can just walk into a bar in Warsaw, Havana, Lomé or Taipei and ask, “Excuse me, which table are the Esperanto speakers at tonight?” However, in all of those places and hundreds more, I can phone ahead and arrange to meet up with people, and, as I mentioned, get free accommodation into the bargain. (For a visual illustration of this, you can use this Google Earth file. You’ll need to install Google Earth first.)

Thus, in the last couple of years, on visits to Poland, Italy, Lithuania and France, I’ve had both free accommodation and interesting people to talk to.

So that was the second of my entirely selfish reasons for wanting to learn it. The first — exercising my brain, or mental masturbation if you prefer — was also more than fulfilled.


What are my plans for advancing Esperanto? Well, I’m only one person, and I’m not personally involved in every project that I’m about to mention, but this gives a flavour of what’s going on at the moment.

In no particular order then:
— Margarita Handzlik, a Polish member of the European Parliament, is a fluent Esperanto speaker, as is her husband, and they both actively promote the language in Strasbourg and Brussels (a “top down” part of the movement)
— this time last year, the fifth[1] Nitobe Symposium met in the building of the Lithuanian Parliament, and brought together about 70 linguists, academics, intellectuals and policy makers, to discuss language policy in Europe and how it could or should move forward. Translation and simultaneous interpretation was provided in English, French, Lithuanian and Esperanto, and the conclusions can be found online by searching for “nitobe symposium”. (More “top down” action).
— on a more local level, there are thousands of local courses in hundreds of cities, towns and villages, certainly in every country in Europe and in many other countries across the world. Even if there isn’t one in your immediate vicinity, you’re welcome to try learning by yourself, either with cassettes/CDs (the Assimil method is popular) or online, with or* (“Bottom up” in action).
— Esperanto is also appearing in primary schools, thanks to the Springboard2Languages project, among others. (More “bottom up”).
— lastly, a movement whose annual “pow-wow” as you put it attracts more than 2000 people from 60+ countries is not a movement that’s in its death throes, whatever you might think of its goals.

*I mentioned earlier the claim that was made to me before I started learning — that I could expect to pick up the language significantly more quickly than I had with other languages I had studied. I have to admit to being a little skeptical about the claims, and some certainly were exaggerated; however, I did find that in only a few months, I had a power of expression over a range of subjects that had taken me much longer to acquire in French, German, Russian and Thai. After 18 months of study and practice, I was told that the emails I wrote in Esperanto were better than those that I wrote in French (fewer mistakes, fewer problems in comprehension, more nuanced expressions, jokes that actually worked, etc.), despite speaking French for 20 years and living in France at the time.


I’d like to offer corrections to a few misconceptions and factual errors in your article too, as well as an answer to a few of the open questions you ask.

You subscribe to the admittedly popular view that calling a language “artificial”, whatever that means, somehow dooms it to failure. Without getting into a debate about what the word means*, one only has to cite examples such as Modern Hebrew, Nynorsk or Bahasa Indonesian to show that a language whose grammar and basic vocabulary is the product of one person or a small working group has no problem at all in flourishing and becoming widely spoken in all human endeavours, without any noticeable handicap on the part of its speakers.

[*Many European languages are “artificial” to a greater or lesser extent. When the French, Spanish, German or Dutch language academies authorise a word, forbid another, modify spelling rules, change grammar rules, etc. is the result not at least partly artificial? And a century later, when daily use has cemented the “artificial” elements into the the “natural” language of the speech community, I have difficulty drawing a line between those modified languages and Esperanto, which today finds itself in the same situation. Certainly, the project as it was launched in 1887 was just that — a project, which may or may not one day grow into a fully fledged language — and undoubtedly artificial, albeit largely based on existing languages. A century and a bit later though, Esperanto is undoubtedly a language in its own right, and trying to come up with a definition of “a language” which would somehow exclude Esperanto usually also results in the mother tongues of millions of Israelis, Norwegians and Indonesians being excluded too.]

“There are said to be 1,000 ‘native’ speakers of Esperanto and you have to wonder what the parents were thinking.” Well, when my friend Arnaud made the decision to raise his three daughters as native Esperanto speakers, this is what he was thinking: “I’m French. My wife is French. Neither of us speak any other languages and we live in France. Is there any way that we can give our children the gift of bilingualism?” And having ruled out the possibility of moving abroad because of practical difficulties, the remaining option was to learn Esperanto and to pass that on to the children. Neither Arnaud nor his wife are particularly talented linguists; both have a good number of years of English tuition behind them, with the all-too-predictable mediocre results; and both used to work for a large German company where knowledge of German was encouraged, again with neither of them really having much of that language to show for it. However, with the Assimil cassette in the car every morning, they both reached a level where they felt confident enough to attend their first congress; after that they started using the language at home as much as possible; and now, Arnaud speaks nothing but Esperanto with his daughters, and both he and they are very happy with the results. He in no way feels restricted by the language, and has no problem in praising, scolding, discussing, reading stories, etc. with his daughters, just like any other parent; meanwhile they have a “secret” language that they can use between themselves at school if they want to!

“Italian news agency ANSA picked up just one small item about a study the Esperantists commissioned.” Factual error there (not sure whether your or ANSA’s — perhaps you might want to pass on the correction to them?) The study was not commissioned by “the Esperantists”. It was commissioned by the French governmental body for the evaluation of education in France (Le Haut Conseil de l’Evaluation de l’Ecole), and was carried out by Professor François Grin of the University of Geneva. There was no involvement by any organisation of the Esperanto movement, although it goes without saying that his conclusions certainly gave us something to talk about.

“The finding? English, the default lingua franca, costs the EU government €17 billion a year. That’s a lot of money lost in translation, to be sure. These costs could be cut out entirely, the study says, if there were a common European language.” That’s not exactly what it says. That €17 billion a year is what the UK gains from Europe by the use of English as the lingua franca. That particular anomaly would be removed if a neutral language were used instead of English, be it Esperanto, Latin or whatever. The report does not argue that translation between other EU languages should stop; that would be a whole separate debate.

“But how much time and money would it take to train everyone involved in the EU to communicate fluently in Esperanto?” Simple answer: far less than it would take them to speak any other language. In fact, I’d go even further than that: attaining a decent level of fluency in Esperanto is an achievable goal for the majority of Europeans. Achieving the same level in English is not. Decades of experience of language teaching in schools point to the conclusion that learning a national language is in fact an incredibly difficult thing to do, and one which most people fail at (certainly if the goal is to permit flowing conversation rather than just repeating memorised phrases), and I have a very hard time believing that yet another new teaching method is going to significantly change that. At the same time, decades of teaching and learning Esperanto, albeit on a much smaller scale, have repeatedly shown that people pick up the language and fly with it in a relatively short space of time.

“The bickering over official languages, with Globish as a common language, will no doubt continue.” Yep. You’re right there. 🙂


Anyway, if you’ve read this far through my incredibly long and perhaps occasionally rambling email, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it’s gone some way to answering your questions. If you’d like any further clarification (links, references, etc.) don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

[1] Erratum: it was the fourth, not the fifth Nitobe Symposium that occurred in Vilnius in 2005. I ought to add also that my description of the event is from my memory, not from any referenced information sources, so the number of participants and the list of working languages may not be exactly right. Mitigating, I would cite a lack of internet access at the time when I wrote the original message, m’lud.

22 komentoj to “Response to Nicole Martinelli”

  1. Christian Lavarenne Says:

    [Ci-dessous se trouve le message envoyé à Mme Martinelli par Christian Lavarenne, avec ma traduction en anglais — Tim.]

    Chère Madame Martinelli,

    veuillez tout d’abord m’excuser de répondre en français à la question que vous posez à la fin de votre article du 2 août : j’arrive plus ou moins à lire l’anglais (et l’italien, avec encore un peu plus de difficulté), mais non à m’exprimer correctement dans ces si belles langues ; et je suppose que vous ne comprendriez pas ma réponse si je vous l’écrivais en espéranto.

    Firstly, please excuse me for replying in French to the question that you posed at the end of your article of 2nd August: I can just about read English (and Italian, with a bit more difficulty), but cannot express myself correctly in either of these beautiful languages;  and I suppose you would not understand my response if I wrote it to you in Esperanto.

    Je ne fais pas partie de(s quelques ?) millier(s) d’espérantophones de naissance ; en général trilingues car, enfants de couples “mixtes”, ils reçoivent du parent “immigré” la langue de celui-ci, de l’autre parent l’espéranto, et, du milieu ambiant et de l’école, la langue du pays où ils vivent.

    I am not one of the (several?) thousand first-langauge Esperanto speakers, who are generally trilingual, being children of “mixed” couples who receive the language of the “immigrant” parent, Esperanto from the other parent, and the language of the country from schooling and background environment.

    Mais mon grand-père Maurice Lavarenne, professeur de Lettres classiques à l’université de Clermont-Ferrand, a recommandé l’adoption de l’espéranto dans plusieurs de ses livres, après avoir d’abord étudié attentivement la question et donc appris lui-même cette langue, découvrant d’ailleurs qu’elle possédait déjà une littérature originale (poésie en particulier).

    But my grandfather Maurice Lavarenne, a Professor of Classics at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, recommended the adoption of Esperanto in several of his books, having first carefully studied the question and thus himself learnt the language, discovering in the process that it already had original literature (notably poetry).

    Je n’aurais sans doute pas poussé bien loin l’étude de cette langue (intellectuellement pourtant très séduisante) si je n’avais pas eu rapidement une correspondante tchèque, expérience marquante pour moi car cela se passait avant la chute du mur de Berlin.

    I would undoubtedly not have pursued my study of this language (despite its intellectual seductiveness) if I hadn’t quickly established contact with a Czech woman, a notable experience for me since this happened before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Mais il a fallu encore deux autres circonstances pour que cette langue devinenne vraiment mienne presque au même titre que ma langue maternelle :

    But two other circumstances were needed before I really came to possess this language almost in the same way as my mother tongue:

    A l’occasion du centenaire de la langue (en 1987), et du festival international qui a rassemblé plus de 6.000 participants à Varsovie (son lieu de naissance puisque c’est dans cette ville qu’a été publiée la première brochure en espéranto), j’ai pris part à un périple à vélo à travers la France, l’Allemagne, la Pologne et la Tchécoslovaquie. Et chaque jour (pendant les deux mois et demi de ma participation, sur 3.500 kilomètres) nous étions accueillis en espéranto devant la mairie de la ville-étape : j’ai été supris par la densité et la chaleureuse hospitalité de ce réseau, car nous avons rarement eu à nous servir des tentes que nous portions sur nos vélos.

    On the occasion of the centenary of the language (in 1987), when an international festival brought over 6,000 participants to Warsaw (the birthplace of the language because it was in this town that the first brochure in Esperanto was published), I took part in a cycling expedition through France, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. And each day during the two and a half months of my participation, over 3,500 kilometres, we were welcomed in Esperanto at the town hall of each town where we stopped: I was surprised at the density and the warm hospitality of this network, and we hardly made any use of the tents that we were carrying on our bicycles.

    Enfin je suis tombé amoureux d’une des participantes, norvégienne, et suis partie vivre avec elle à l’extrême nord de la Scandinavie (Tromsø). Et la langue de notre couple a été l’espéranto : la langue par laquelle nous nous sommes rencontrés, et la seule langue commune que nous maîtrisions. (Elle était étudiante en russe et parlait aussi plus ou moins l’anglais et même un peu le français, avec un accent délicieux, et je me suis bien sûr efforcé d’apprendre le norvégien ; mais notre langue, celle autant du coeur et de l’amour que du quotidien, sera restée l’espéranto.)

    In the end I fell in love with one of the participants, a Norwegian, and went to live with her in the extreme north of Scandinavia (Tromsø). And the language of our life together was Esperanto: the language through which we had met, and the only common language of which we both had a mastery. (She was studying Russian, and also spoke passable English and even a little French, with a delicious accent, and I forced myself to learn Norwegian; but our language, that of our hearts and our love and our everyday lives, would remain Esperanto).

    Je suis revenu depuis plusieurs années en France. Mais je continue à utiliser quotidiennement l’espéranto puisque je suis actuellement chercheur en histoire contemporaine (avec un soutien du Département de l’Ariège et une bourse de l’Esperantic Studies Foundation canadienne), et que mes recherches portent justement sur le mouvement espéranto : mon directeur de recherche est M. Jean-Claude Lescure, professeur d’histoire à l’université de Grenoble et lui-même auteur d’une thèse d’habilitation de 866 pages sur (le volapük et principalement) l’espéranto. (Soutenue en 1999 à “Sciences-Po” : l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, “Cycle supérieur d’Histoire du XXe siècle”).*

    Several years ago I came back to France. But I continue to use Esperanto every day since I am currently a researcher in contemporary history (with the support of the département of Ariège and a grant from the Esperantic Studies Foundation of Canada), and my research relates to the Esperanto movement: my director of research is Mr Jean-Claude Lescure, Professor of History at the University of Grenoble and himself the author of an 886-page thesis on (volapük and principally) Esperanto. (Presented in 1999 at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, “Superior Cycle of History of the 20th Century”).*

    J’arrête là mon message mais serais prêt à essayer de répondre, dans la mesure de mes possibilités, aux nombreuses autres questions que vous semblez vous poser à propos de l’espéranto.

    I’ll stop my message there but would be happy to try and respond, to the best of my abilities, to the numerous other questions that you seem to be pondering about Esperanto.

    En vous félicitant pour l’intérêt et le soutien, même, que vous affirmez porter à cette langue, je vous prie d’agréer, chère Madame, l’expression de ma reconnaissance et de mes hommages respecteux.

    Thank you for the interest and the stated support for this language.

    Dr Christian Lavarenne

    PS Je ne me considère nullement comme un “fan” de l’espéranto (de même que je suis pas non plus un “fan” du français, même si j’ai bien sûr un grand amour pour ma langue maternelle, d’autant que j’ai passé une maîtrise de Lettres classiques et un doctorat de Lettres et sciences humaines) ; et je ne fais pas partie des environ 2.500 participants au congrès de Florence/Firenze.

    PS I don’t consider myself in any way a “fan” of Esperanto (insofar as I am not a “fan” of French either, even if I of course have a great love for my mother tongue, having taken a Masters in Classics and a Doctorate in Arts and Human Science) ; and I was not one of the c.2500 participants in the Congress in Florence/Firenze.

    Enfin, comme vous l’aurez compris, l’apprentissage de l’espéranto ne m’est donc pas venu

    > out of some earnest belief in world unity

    mais de la vie elle-même : familliale (par mon grand-père), “sportive” puis amoureuse et conjugale, et enfin professionnelle.

    As you will have understood, my study of Esperanto did not come

    > out of some earnest belief in world unity

    but from life itself: through the family (my grandfather), through sports, through love and partnership, and finally through my profession.

    * Sa thèse de doctorat avait d’ailleurs porté sur l’histoire de l’Italie dans la première moitié du XXe siècle.

    * His doctoral thesis treated the history of Italy in the first half of the 20th century.

  2. Ros Haruo Says:

    Dear Ms. Martinelli,

    I’m writing in response to your post on Esperanto at While alternately trashing me and my language of choice (“what were the parents thinking?” “failure” “Klingon [is] a better party trick”) and expressing a perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek supportiveness (“I want to support Esperanto , I really do. … what’s not to like?”) you say you’d like to hear from an Esperantist why I learned it. BTW I actually read Dr. Christian Lavarenne’s reply to you before I read your own post, and to the extent I can given my limited French, I can corroborate the plausibility of his statements.

    In my case, it was 1970. It was the summer after tenth grade. I had just finished my second year of high-school Russian (and had a fair amount of Japanese under my belt, from having lived there for a while, plus a little French and Spanish from cutting-edge grade school programs). I was in downtown Seattle at a used bookstore. I had $1.25 to spend. And there was a copy of the 1908 second edition of Arthur Baker’s The American Esperanto Book. I’d already heard of Esperanto somewhere, probably in one of Mario Pei’s popular linguistics books like The Story of Language.

    So I bought it and read it on the way home. By the time I got home I had a new language under my belt. By the end of the week I was able to begin corresponding in it (remember, this was pre-Internet; life is much easier for today’s Esperanto beginners, with resources like to exploit), writing to the Esperanto Association address listed in my
    Information Please Almanac’s list of American associations and societies—again, this was pre-Google. I apprenticed my kid brothers to be my language community, and practised it on them. Neither of them stuck with it, though one can still speak some if he needs to.

    By the time I met my first actual Esperanto-speakers some six months later, I was already able to converse in it. Two years later, the UK (the same shindig that just took place in Florence) was in Portland OR and I went and had the wonderful experience of sitting around getting drunk with a group of people from a dozen different languages and none of us having had to learn another’s language. Prior to the UK I took a 300-level language-and-literature course at the University of Portland, where I read some of the wonderful original Esperanto poetry Dr. Lavarenne mentioned, and also wrote a short play about the Vikings.

    Later, when I ran out of money in Switzerland in the spring of 1973 in the Nixon Devaluation of the Dollar, it was my knowledge of Esperanto that kept me from having to sleep on the streets in Zurich. I suspect it was this experience more than any other that confirmed me as a lifelong devotee of the language and its community.

    Incidentally, I just got done spending three weeks as an Assistant Instructor in the North American Summer Esperanto Institute; the $1500 plus room and board I got for that was the closest I’ve ever come to making a living from my Esperanto. So I wonder what you mean when you write

    … how would you overcome the resistance to learn another language that could only be used for work?

    If Esperanto could only be used for work, it would be a hard sell. But since only a small portion of the millions of Esperantists (the question of 100,000 vs. 2 million vs. 10 million is a matter of lack of documentation and lack of an agreed definition: how fluent do you have to be before you are counted, an issue at least as pertinent to censuses of second-language English speakers) use their Esperanto “for work”, there must be other draws. After all, for a language that has no power base, only a thousand or so native speakers, and didn’t exist 125 years ago, to have even 100,000 fluent speakers is not “failure” but an amazing level of success.

    You write “But how much time and money would it take to train everyone involved in the EU to communicate fluently in Esperanto?” I’m not too concerned about the EU, and I’m not too concerned about international organizations per se; like many Esperantists I am more interested in the grass roots, and in actual individual internationalism. But on a global scale, the savings would be enormous. I wrote a little schematic essay about this a few years ago, which you may peruse at

    Anyhow, I didn’t make it to Florence (indeed, I haven’t been to a World Convention since my first in 1972 in Portland, which is not really “world” from a Seattle perspective) but I am eagerly looking forward to going next year in Yokohama; it will be my first visit to Japan since before I became an Esperantist.

    Haruo aka Leland Bryant Ross

  3. Neil Blonstein Says:

    Dear Ms. Martinelli,

    I will briefly describe what I was thinking when I learned Esperanto. I was 17 years old (1972) when I was frustrated by my lack of knowledge of the language of my grandparents, Yiddish. I feel regret till this day for not have communicated well with my mother’s mother. I had studied Spanish for five years but felt I had little ability to communicate in that language with native speakers. I felt irregular verbs and spelling in English and Spanish were adding years of study to language learning and I didn’t enjoy it. I went to the Worldbook Encyclopedia and browsed an article called “universal language” which included the address of the Esperanto Information Center in New York City. I went to that address and saw a note that Esperanto speakers were participating in the Modern Language Assocition book fair, where I bought a Teach Yourself Book on the language. I saw that Esperanto speakers are people who view international friendship as essential to life. For nearly
    thirty years the youth movement ( publishes a book called Pasporta Servo which has allowed me to visit families in dozens of countries. I have hosted people from dozens of countries by this method. I believe that many of L. L. Zamenhof’s dreams of world peace aided by Esperanto is an urgent dream of all of mankind and will continue to spread. It will not be mocked by English speakers, no sooner than they would mock Martin Luther King or Mohatma Gandhi. Sincerely, Neil Blonstein, Vice President Esperanto Society of New York

  4. Marcelo Casartelli Says:

    Dear Nicolle:

    I´ve read your interesting article “Esperanto, lost in translation”.
    Let me tell you my personal experience. I´ve learnt Esperanto when I was a teenager. Then I was marvelled to realize that I could interchange letters with people in exotic countries. Afterwards, being a doctor, I´ve traveled worlwide for professional reasons or as a tourist. Everywhere I was received by the esperantists as if I were a relative, and, with Esperanto, I was able to talk easily and to make many friends.
    It is very important to stress the fact that Esperanto respects the diversity of languages and cultures. It is the best alternative against the invasion of English, which is trying, besides doing a profitable business, to dominate the whole world.
    Sincerely yours

    Dr. Marcelo Casartelli
    Córdoba. Argentina.

    Course of Esperanto by Internet (version in 7 languages):

  5. Claude Piron Says:

    Dear Ms Martinelli,

    I’ve read, and re-read, your article about Esperanto. Since you’d “love to know from an Esperantist (. . .) why they took it up. And how they plan to bring it forward,” I’m glad to send you my answers.

    As to “how to bring it forward”, I forward to you a response I sent to a New York Times journalist who just interviewed me by e-mail on the general subject of Esperanto and linguistic communication.

    Why did I take it up? My mother tongue is French. I was 9 when I first heard about Esperanto and almost 12 when I was able to learn it at last. Compared to the French I was sweating over in school, this language without exception, in which you could form your own words by combining invariable elements (see examples in my e-mail to your NYT colleague, which I forward separately), was really fun. So I learned it, extremely quickly. Later I discovered that there were people all over the world who spoke it, and it was extremely interesting to correspond with them. I had correspondents in various countries. When I was 15, a 17 year old Chinese correspondent had an immense impact on my life, since he introduced me to his culture, so that I decided to learn Chinese, which led me to become a UN translator.

    Without Esperanto my life would have been quite different, since working for the UN, later for WHO, was a source of extremely interesting experiences. Later on, I changed my profession and switched from languages to psychology. The reason, again, was Esperanto: I wanted to understand why this marvelous system is constantly misrepresented in the media, slandered in linguistic books, made fun of by politicians, etc. (see my article “La resistenza psicologica alla lingua internazionale”: I knew by experience how international communication works in global settings. At the UN, translators who so wished could also do “précis-writing”, so that very often I sat in the middle of meetings taking notes to produce the summary record of the multilingual discussions. Compared to Esperanto the way these diplomats functioned was obviously completely masochistic. It cost a lot, demanded many thousand of hours of previous language learning from most of them, and the results were very, very poor, as compared with the kind of communication in international meetings held in Esperanto. Well, masochism is a psychological problem, so I studied psychology and was trained as a psychotherapist. As a multilingual psychotherapist, I did a lot of missions all over the world for the World Health Organization. Everywhere I contacted Esperanto speaking people, with much pleasure. English never gave me similar human contacts. (You can find an example at

    As you see, Esperanto did define my life. I could discuss it for hours, and I’ll be glad to answer your questions, if you want more details. But if you prefer, you’ll find a number of articles by me in various languages, including Italian, that deal with that subject at (go to “Articles” in the left hand menu, and then to “Italiano”).

    I have to make an effort to stop here, because there is so much to say and I’d like to correct a few of the statements in your article which give an erroneous image of Zamenhof’s language. But this e-mail is already long enough, so I’ll quit here, all the more since you’ll probably want to read also my e-mail to the NYT journalist.

    I hope I have answered your question satisfactorily and that you’ll discover that the real Esperanto has little to do with its current image.

    All the best,

    Claude Piron

  6. Kathy Toy Says:

    I would like to take you up on your invitation to readers to tell why they chose to learn Esperanto. I’d also like to briefly address some of the statements you make in your article.

    My native language is English and because I live in Canada I was required to study French (nine years). Any language is worth learning but Italian or Greek would have been more useful in Toronto. So I studied French and got reasonable grades but never progressed to the point where I could use it for more than pleasantries. I also studied German (four years) because that was the closest language that was being taught to my mother’s native language, Flemish.

    I started to teach myself Italian from a book I found in the school library and managed to learn pronunciation. Many years later, after reading a newspaper article about a local Esperantist, I bought a copy of “Teach Yourself Esperanto” and began to, well, teach myself Esperanto. So I guess my initial motivation was to find a language I could actually use and become fluent in and Esperanto seemed like a good candidate. But it didn’t happen after that first exposure. I stopped studying and began again several times, usually making it to chapter four but not beyond. And I didn’t have anyone to speak with.

    Fast forward ten years later. I found my “Teach Yourself” again and finally decided to contact the local Esperanto club. I attended their monthly meetings. I could understand most of what they were saying right away if they didn’t speak too fast, got more books from the library and made rapid progress. When the club held a session of 18 weekly classes, I attended and began to speak, still not fluently but able to hold my own.

    The grand revelation happened when a new immigrant to Canada from Korea, a man experienced in Esperanto but shaky in English, joined our group and visited the class. I wanted to speak to this man and out of respect for his dignity, I could not fall back on English to do so. I was immediately hooked on the whole concept of Esperanto. When our classes ended I goaded everyone to hold weekly club meetings as I didn’t want to lose my momentum. They agreed, and within eight months of those first classes I was fluent in the language and have since had many conversations in groups where there is no other common or comfortable language but Esperanto.

    So to address your points, I don’t see this as failure at all. If you’re gauging “success” or “failure” against Zamenhof’s plan that everyone would learn Esperanto as a second language for international communication, my answer to that is it hasn’t happened yet; it’s a work in progress. Esperanto means “one who hopes”.

    You use the word “artificial” to describe Esperanto. Think instead of the word “planned”. Esperanto began as a planned language, sort of as a template, but since Zamenhof released his work to its community of speakers, it hasn’t ceased to change and grow just like any other language, with the exception that the base rules that give it its structure are to remain the same. This is necessary so that one group, by fiat, can’t make changes to the language that would make it incomprehensible to another group. It needs to remain a language for international use. Within that set of rules, vocabulary and modes of expression are always being introduced, usually by young people, and accepted or rejected within the community of speakers in the same way slang originates in the street and is either accepted or rejected, adapted and eventually recorded in dictionaries.

    You don’t say why Esperanto’s being “artificial” is a problem. I assume it’s because one may infer that artificiality implies soullessness or lack of emotion. Quite the contrary with Esperanto. It’s difficult to describe the breadth and depth of meaning, the wealth of expression available to the Esperanto speaker to someone who has never experienced it. The scope for spontaneous expression is tremendous. Don’t confuse a thin dictionary with a limited vocabulary. One of the features that makes it easier for the beginner to start speaking at relatively high levels of expression soon after beginning to learn is the way the language is constructed from roots and affixes. Esperanto speakers can combine these roots, prefixes and suffixes and grammatical features at will (as long as the result makes sense) and be immediately understood by their listener, so not every possible word that a speaker can say will appear in a dictionary.

    You support your view that Esperanto = “artificial” = bad by saying that most language learning is not done for altruistic reasons. I hope that people never lose their altruism, but many, many Esperantists learn it for highly practical reasons with the “world peace” thing being way down on the list. Many just want to make friends outside their own cultural circle. Many like the idea of inexpensive travel, staying in the homes of other Esperantists. Many, like me, just wanted to learn a language and only found out about the “Interna Ideo” (Internal Idea) of Zamenhof much later in the game. Many don’t want everyone to learn Esperanto as that would ruin the “insiders club” atmosphere that now exists.

    And what if learning an auxiliary language for international communication could stop wars? That would be great! It doesn’t matter if the language is Esperanto or English, French or Martian. I do have my doubts about that outcome, however. Having a common language hasn’t stopped people from pounding each other to a pulp up to now. Esperanto, though, is a language that can take less time, cost less to learn, and lead to the desired result of international comprehension and communication for the largest number of the world population, and that in itself is an admirable goal. We would have to wait and see if people who can understand each other would use that ability to discuss or destroy.

    As to “native speakers”, the ones that I’ve met (about ten) usually are the offspring of couples who met at Esperanto functions. The common language of these couples was Esperanto so the first language of the resulting children was Esperanto. Only one of these families is an English-speaking couple that decided to raise their children bilingually, English and Esperanto. I vote for children of couples with a communal language other than Esperanto to learn that and other national languages first and to pick up Esperanto later. Teaching Klingon to your children would be a party trick at best; teaching them Esperanto opens up the world to them (and you).

    My reality is that I speak a language that I effectively learned in less than a year at an extremely low cost that allows me to speak to not everyone in the world (yet) but many people spread in all parts of the world that I can contact easily through the Internet and other communication networks in the Esperanto community. The Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association) does have a plan of action made more challenging by the dismissal of and outright misinformation about Esperanto in the press. So we are essentially still a grassroots movement relying on the idealism and enthusiasm of individuals.

    It would not take much time and money to train everyone in the EU to speak Esperanto, if it was decided that that is what is wanted. If the time and cost of doing this negated the costs associated with the present system in use, I imagine that time and cost would be worth it. Initially, it would be sufficient to train translators in Esperanto and then use it as a bridge language for translations. Just those savings would be enormous. And if everyone in the EU did use Esperanto then experts in their various fields would be able to participate fully without also having to be expert linguists. The proponents of English (or French or German) use in the EU, unfortunately for the Esperanto movement, have vastly more money and political influence in the matter. This also may be why you don’t see more positive information or, in fact, any information, about Esperanto. Perhaps other interests that own, control or influence the media don’t want it there. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Really.

    I have yet to use Esperanto for work. I would love to be able to use Esperanto for work. I’m a legal stenographer and captioner. Please let me know if you hear of any opportunities. Maybe in the EU.

    The Internet is certainly helping our grassroots efforts. What we face now, however, seems to be people who learn some Esperanto badly and think that because they’ve been told it’s an “easy” language that this is sufficient. So we’ve got work to do not only in the non-Esperanto community but inside as well.

    But I think the goal is worth the work.

    Kathy Toy (Lunjo)
    Toronto, Canada

  7. Haruo Says:

    Hey Tim, several other interesting responses have appeared in the elna-membroj Yahoo group, maybe you could bring those here, too, just to have them all in one place. Jim Henry kaj Jakobo Schwartz aparte interese reagis.


  8. David Gaines Says:

    Jen la respondo, kion mi sendis al Nicole Martinelli antau kelkaj tagoj:

    Dear Nicole,

    My name is David Gaines. I’m an Esperantist, for about thirty years now. I am also a composer (referenced in the Universal Esperanto Association’s “Update on Esperanto” to which you link in your blog) and the UEA delegate for Washington, D.C.

    I do Google News searches on “Esperanto” every once in awhile, to see if the language is getting any publicity and, if it is, what kind. Usually there are lots of metaphorical references to be found (“iPods are the Esperanto of teenagers”) and disparaging comparisons (“it makes as much sense to learn that as it would to learn Esperanto”) based on stereotypes and misinformation. In any event, your blog about the World Congress of Esperanto in Italy this summer was curiously different than most internet observations on Esperanto, so I decided to take you up on your request to “know from an Esperantist” why we take up this language.

    I was always interested in other languages, even as a child (I studied Hebrew for several years and enjoyed it). I used to go the public library a lot and it had lots of language books; among them were a couple of books on Esperanto. It seemed fascinating and unique, and I thought it would be fun to get involved with it. And it was. That’s about all there was to it, and that is true of most Americans who learn the language. It’s a social thing, really.

    Most critiques of Esperanto that I see, on the internet and elsewhere, are based on a very superficial understanding of it, as well as the beliefs of the man who created it. Hardly anyone cares enough to seek out members of the Esperanto speech community, or to actually take part in Esperanto culture. That’s why I commend you for your open invitation to find out more. As is the case with most things in life, the reality is much different than the stereotyped perception.

    Here’s the “party line,” as it were, that most people utterly unfamiliar with Esperanto parrot back whenever writing about it, as if it were the rock-bottom truth: “Dr. Zamenhof was a well-intentioned but naive pacifist who thought all the world’s problems would disappear if only everyone on earth had a common second language. This is the core belief of Esperantists to this day. It was destined to failure, and sure enough, it did fail, when Esperanto, which is artificial and has no native culture, faded away beneath the onslaught of English. There are still a few naive crackpots who cling stubbornly to the notion that everyone should speak Esperanto, but all it is now is a quaint and obsolete reminder of a different period of history, and is of no practical use whatsoever.”

    Never mind the peculiar contradiction in claiming Esperanto is useless, since even people who hate it (God knows why…’s like hating bridge players or stamp collectors) inevitably acknowledge that there are people (however few) who do use it. But hardly anyone bothers to find out how. And never mind that Esperanto is not “artificial,” since it was not completely made up out of whole cloth, but rather its vocabulary and syntax are borrowed from ethnic languages (only a few aspects of its grammar are artificial, i.e. made up by Dr. Zamenhof, and those elements add to the ingenuity of the language and help make it easy to learn).

    The secret is in realizing that the vast majority of Esperantists are NOT interested in pursuing Zamenhof’s original notion of getting the world to adopt it as an official second language. Surprise. The Esperanto community is, like, SO over that. There are so many avenues available in terms of under-the-radar, one-on-one usage of Esperanto that most people are very happy using it that way and having fun with it, without any political activity or advocacy. And what media outlets are going to be interested in THAT? Esperanto simply plods along quietly yet steadily, without spotlights or tributes or papparazzi.

    In my own case, I have: composed a symphony for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, the sung text of which is entirely in Esperanto (it’s been performed and recorded; as Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up); helped a Morrocan man seek asylum in Finland using Esperanto as a bridge language since he spoke neither Finnish nor English; asked a Lithuanian woman to dance with me in Esperanto; read Esperanto magazine articles about music around the world which, if not for Esperanto, I would never know about; read Brazilian novels in Esperanto translation; written letters to pen pals from Albania to Zaire; arranged and recorded Esperanto songs written by a Tanzanian refugee who does not speak English but whose Esperanto is as elegant and impeccable as his French.

    I’ve been the one and only American that many people in different countries will ever meet, and I have left hundreds of people with a favorable impression of the United States simply because I spoke flawless Esperanto and expressed an interest in their countries while doing so. Take that, Condoleezza Rice. Since, as Dr. Zamenhof observed, if just a handful of people sprinkled in each country around the world learned Esperanto, the world language problem will essentially be solved, all you have to do is get in touch with the one or two Esperanto delegates available in most large cities, and you’ll get an entree to the inner workings and culture of a country of which most Americans can only dream. No translators necessary.

    Other Esperantists have many similar stories to tell. Esperanto is fun. It’s a great hobby. It’s a simple and easy introduction to the study of other languages later on. Here in Northern Virginia, there are at least three public schools that have used Esperanto as part of the SPECTRUM gifted & talented curriculum for years. Esperanto connects you with other people around the world who don’t know English and don’t have the time or the funds to learn. It enables people from small or obscure countries, or countries with languages that are virtually unknown outside their borders, the opportunity to communicate on neutral and equal footing with people in the West. Esperanto has increased in popularity in the last decade or so in strange places…..west Africa, southeast Asia, and Arab countries. Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Togo, Congo, Cameroon, Albania, Bosnia, among other countries, all have active national Esperanto groups. Who knew? Elsewhere, the most important — perhaps the only — American-Iranian diplomacy going on these days, in my opinion, is the communication between American and Iranian Esperantists. Doing an end run around the USA’s anemic foreign policy, one person at a time, has always been a strong suit of Esperanto.

    And I’ll leave it to others to point you to the ridiculous quantity of Esperanto web sites ( is a superb internet portal), Esperanto poetry, Esperanto rock bands & CD’s, and Esperanto books and magazines — a quantity that is constantly increasing. Esperanto may be a lot of things, but it’s not dead, that’s for sure. But hardly anyone outside the widely & thinly scattered Esperanto community — which has always done a poor job of PR — seems to care.

    Is Esperanto a failure? It’s true that it will never be the world’s official second language, but we aren’t waiting around for that anyway. Esperanto has borne out Dr. Zamenhof’s dream in a small way, not a big way. It’s useful for people who like it and FIND uses for it. It gives people the thrill of being able to master another language when other languages prove too difficult or too politically charged. As Dr. Humphrey Tonkin, former president of both the University of Hartford and the Universal Esperanto Association, has said nicely, Esperanto provides a way of communicating that you can’t really get with any other language. It confers a ready-made identity of sorts on the people who learn it and become involved with the worldwide movement that supports it. Those of us who use it feel differently when doing so, and often prefer it to English even in situations where English would be useful or appropriate.

    As a composer, a political activist, an animal welfare supporter, and a vegetarian, I believe in leading by example. I don’t like to beat people over the head. People who know me well stopped making fun of Esperanto long ago, and not because of anything I’ve said. It’s because of what I’ve done, and what I’ve shown others doing. We’ll just keep on doing that and the world will always have Esperanto in it as an option to choose for those who are interested. Even if the New York Times, the BBC, and the United Nations aren’t.

    Dr. David Gaines
    Fairfax, Va.

  9. Ralph Dumain Says:

    Others have, on the whole, done a very good job of responding. I just want to make a few basic points to assist N. Martinelli to get a better grip on the reality of Esperanto and its history.

    (1) As to ‘what were they thinking’, a distinction must first be made as to what they were thinking, say, a century, ago, and what they’re thinking now. Esperanto, or the general project to establish a universal language, by constructing an artificial language (but not out of whole cloth), was considered a practical need and a practical prospect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the various languages constructed for this purpose, Zamenhof’s Esperanto had lasting power where others failed. This was based on, for its time, a brilliant strategy of creating a viable linguistic community while at the same time agitating for general adoption. Furthermore, this linguistic community, and its relationship to the outside world, was imbued with unique properties: an appeal to moral idealism internally, and an appeal to practical utility externally. As the need for a universal language was in the air, Zamenhof saw a ‘cunning of history’ at work: the union of a core of idealist reformers tied to the world’s inevitable need for a unified system of universal communication. That’s what he was thinking, and various Esperantists gravitated to any point at or betwixt these polarities.

    (2) In addition to the moral internationalism of Zamenhof’s project, he had linguistic ambitions far beyond what others thought possible: to make Esperanto not merely a practical tool but an instrument for high culture–for literary expression.

    (3) The problem with Esperanto is not at all its “artificiality”, as others can attest, but rather, its practicality. The language itself works at all levels; the question for the past century has been the practicality of its implementation. This is a long and complicated history, but it includes the League of Nations, the UN, political repression under fascism and Stalinism, the outcome of two World Wars, etc. While English was already beginning to overtake French following the first world war, no one could have foreseen the domination of the English language following the second. We could follow the activities of Esperantists in relation to the UN through the ’50s and ’60s and analyze the results.

    (4) So really the question is not, what were they thinking, but what are they thinking now? I don’t know what they are thinking, only what some are thinking, and here there is a spread: at one extreme, there are holdouts for the eventual conquest of Esperanto, at the other, those content to enjoy the language and the community of speakers that already exist, and all points in between.

    So whether or not Esperantists deserve to be ridiculed or equated with speakers of Klingon (i.e. pure fantasy-world cultists & conlang buffs) depends on who you are dealing with. Exaggerated claims need not be taken seriously, but on the other hand, journalistic accuracy and responsibility are preferable to exaggerated editorial claims and inaccurate reporting.

  10. Stella Lindblom Says:

    Bonegaj respondoj! Sed vi forgesis unu, almenau por mi, grava ero de la artikolo…


    I am one of those kids with stopid parents. I speak Esperanto from childhood. And I’m grateful for it. It took me through school and classes in English, Spanish and Chinese with much less problems than my fellow students. And I also used it to grasp the grammar of my native tongue. I actually never learned the grammar of my native language, come to think of it – I translated to Esperanto to understand it, and guess what – I got the highest grade in my native tongue…

    One thing in the article has not yet been answered. That there were _only_ 2000 people at the congress. To understand why it is ridiculous to say _only_ in this respect, one must understand what a congress is. It is a gathering for officials of the Esperanto movement to meet, discuss and make policy decisions for the next year. Like a parliament.

    The UK (Universala Kongreso) is not the most fun of all the gatherings, seminars, festivals, meetings etc that take place all year round, around the whole world. Travelling is costly and takes time. One chooses what is most interesting. All those individuals around the planet, who have no direct interest in the politics of the Esperanto movement, choose other opportunities to meet and communicate.

    Stella – who has earned money on Esperanto, yes

  11. Jim Henry Says:

    Ms Martinelli,

    In reading your article “Esperanto: Lost in Translation”, I was puzzled by your comment that “the concept is part of the problem: it’s artificial”. Are you assuming that an artificial language (or “planned” or “constructed” language, according to one’s preferred terminology) is automatically less expressive, nuanced, learnable, useful or what have you than any given natural language? It ain’t necessarily so. Admittedly this would be true of most constructed languages — which their authors would readily admit to be sketches or models rather than full-scale languages — but Esperanto (and a handful of other constructed languages) have a history, literature and speaker community that puts them, in an important sense, in the same category with many natural languages: living, spoken languages. Esperanto, in particular, is noted for its expressivity — for the way its structure gives even relative novices a boost in linguistic creativity, a freedom to say what you want to say, how you want to say it.

    I know a few couples whose children speak Esperanto natively; I can’t speak about d’Armond Speers’ motivations in teaching his son Klingon, but these children acquired Esperanto natively not as a “party trick”, but because it was the language their parents normally speak around the house. They wanted their children to acquire Esperanto as a native language because — well, why raise your children as monoglots when you have the opportunity to give them fluency in another language with no great additional effort? Why deprive them of the opportunity?

    When I started learning Esperanto I knew it had been around for 110 years without conquering the world. I didn’t then, and I don’t now, expect it to be adopted worldwide in my lifetime; I learned it because I expected it would be fun and interesting and useful in the immediate future, and it turned out I was right. Because of health problems I haven’t traveled as extensively as many Esperanto speakers — some can tell you about travelling all around Europe or Asia on a tiny budget, staying in the homes of Esperanto speaking friends and acquaintances — but I’ve enjoyed correspondence with people in Poland, Bulgaria, France, Japan, Brazil and other countries, and have hosted or served as impromptu tour guide for various foreign Esperanto speakers visiting Atlanta. I’ll keep this brief by only mentioning rather than talking at length about the excellent poetry and novels (some translated, mostly original) that I’ve enjoyed in Esperanto.

    To call Esperanto a failure is to define its purpose too narrowly; its aim is to connect people of different languages and cultures in friendship, and if it’s managed to do that for only 100,000 to 2 million people rather than 6 billion — I would call that a modest success rather than a failure.

  12. Chris Nolan Says:


    Thanks for your post, Tim. I’ve pointed to this post, and hopefull sent you some traffic by making this site one of our “HotSpots.”

    Nicole’s away – she’s out for the week – but I’m sure she’ll have more to say when she gets back.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I know she’ll appreciate them.

    Chris Nolan

  13. Helen Fantom Says:

    Ms Martinelli – Jim Henry said ‘why raise your children as monoglots when you have the opportunity to give them fluency in another language with no great additional effort? ‘ and why, we thought, make them start their learning process with linguistic errors as a certainty? Why not build up their confidence and their understanding more quickly? So our three spoke Esperanto first and came to English second.

    Learning Esperanto as a first foreign language orientates the learner more securely in the grammar of their own language or, if they are oriental, in the grammatical structure of european languages. A language that is both phonetic and without exceptions to its 16 rules of grammar, that builds vocabulary with fewer words to learn because of extensive use of suffixes and prefixes, makes learning it a far more positive experience.

    Have a go if you can’t believe all that has been said in response to your request!

    And it was my first language because my parents couldn’t understand each other’s Dutch and English!


    Helen Fantom

  14. Lee MILLER Says:

    Hi, Nicole.

    As a U.S. Esperanto-speaker, I understand that you might be a bit
    incredulous about the idea of a constructed (maybe better
    than “artificial”—what language isn’t artificial to some degree?)
    international language. Most Americans (and more and more
    Europeans) assume that English has already fulfilled that need. So
    why bother with anything else?

    Sometimes, though, I like the analogy of MicroSoft versus other,
    smaller operating systems for computers . . . one could argue that
    MicroSoft has won the day, that their software does everything
    anyone needs, so why bother. But there’s value in competition, and
    bigger isn’t always better. The same thing can certainly hold true
    for languages. Just because English is in a position of world-wide
    prominence doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good thing; it’s more
    or less just an historical accident. And Esperanto, if examined
    from a position that refrains from mocking and sarcasm, might
    actually have tangible benefits worth considering.

    For example, it is completely phonetic; what you see on the page is
    what you say. It’s completely regular grammatically; every verb
    conjugates the same way, nouns don’t have grammatical gender. The
    vocabulary of Esperanto is largely based on Romance, Germanic, and
    Slavic roots (not so very different from modern non-constructed
    languages, like English, for example: one could say that English
    vocabulary is based on German, French, and various other language
    sources . . . )

    It also has a rather long history of both survival and success.
    Since publication in 1887, Esperanto has shown steady, if slow,
    growth. I like to say that there are more speaker of Esperanto in
    the world than of Icelandic; no one questions the legitimacy of
    Icelandic as a “real” language, but Esperanto speakers have one big
    advantage: instead of being clustered together in one tiny
    geographic area, we’re dispersed all over the world. Imagine the
    possibilities for networking and communication. Have all those
    possibilities been fully realized? Of course not. But they’re
    there, available for anyone to use.

    If I learn, say, Spanish, French, and Italian (and learning even
    one “foreign” language to the level of competency would be an
    unusual feat for a U.S. native speaker of English) I could
    communicate with someone who spoke either Spanish, French or
    Italian. But by learning Esperanto, I can communicate directly with
    people who speak Hungarian, Chinese, Portuguese, Malay . . . or even

    Try taking a different look at Esperanto. It might surprise you.


    Lee Miller
    Columbia, Missouri

  15. Brian Kaneen Says:

    [And this was the response I sent on August 1 to Nicole Martinelli’s article]


    Thank you for at least mentioning Esperanto during the 91st annual World Esperanto Congress in Florence/Italy, even thought you depreciatingly call it a “pow-pow”. As a journalist, perhaps you can shed some light on the total indifference of the English-language media to the issues raised in the Prague Manifesto:
    Today we no longer believe that WASPs should rule the world, yet many still seem to believe that English-language colonialism is acceptable, and that there is nothing wrong in actively promoting one ethnic language (and with it all the accompanying privileges) over all others, “Englisch über alles!”. As a native Manxman, I feel very sad about the destruction willy-nilly of my language and culture caused by overwhelming pressure from English. [Google “endangered languages” or “linguicide” for more info].

    A couple of points you raise in your article:
    “Failure”?! Failure, like beauty, is in the eye (on the tongue) of the beholder (speaker). From my perspective, Esperanto is perhaps a great success story – initiated by one person in N.E. Europe in 1887, and now spread around the world. (The congress in Florence has 2117 registered participants from 62 different countries). I am now 71, discovered Esperanto by accident at the age of 15, and have used it almost daily ever since, now mainly via e-mails, previously in travelling and visiting other Esperanto-speakers. Esperanto was the key to leading me into a career with languages and language-teaching. Almost everyday something is happening somewhere in the world in Esperanto:
    From my cubby-hole here in Vancouver, BC, I am able to listen to daily, same-day reports from the congress in the daily 30-minute Esperanto-language broadcasts from Radio Polonia: [click on “Esperanto” on the right to hear what the language sounds like]. Radio China International and Radio Vaticana also use Esperanto regularly. [ ]

    “Artificial” – nonsense! This is totally irrelevant when one speaks the language. I defy you to find ONE artificial root in André Cherpillod’s “Konciza Etimologia Vortaro” [2003]. 99.9% of Esperanto roots come from natural, ethnic languages. And the correct terms are “planned”, or “constructed”. “Artificial” in present-day English has pejorative overtones.

    This is already becoming a rant, so I’d better stop. If you really want to support Esperanto – just DO IT! The language is as useful as you like to make it, but don’t expect much support from anyone, as you won’t likely get it.

    Hoping that you will take a little time to inform yourself more, and please feel free to ask me more specific questions, amike salutas via
    Brian Kaneen

  16. Phil Dorcas Says:

    [Response sent Aug 1, 2006 to nmartenelli [at]
    Dear Nicole,

    The language part of my brain doesn’t work very well, probably because I
    stuttered severely as a child. Because of that, I didn’t even speak my own
    native English fluently until I was in high school or college. I was very
    aware of the problems caused by lack of good communication caused by
    language barriers.

    I tried to learn other languages, spending five years with Spanish in the
    public schools, and then two years with French in college. Today I can
    speak no French or Spanish except what I’ve heard a thousand times in songs or seen in restaurants. My main problems with learning national languages was all the irregularities, such as the irregular verbs, irregular spelling, and irregular pronunciation. So when I ran across Esperanto and the promises of no exceptions to any of the rules, no irregular pronunciation, no irregular spelling, and no irregular verbs, I couldn’t believe it.

    It took about five minutes to convince me that I could learn how to
    conjugate verbs. Four minutes of that was to convince me that there were no irregular verbs, and then one minute to learn that all present tense verbs end in “as”, no matter what. Past tense ends in “is” and future tense ends in “os” no matter what. I began to learn the language, just because I

    Then I found out that other people actually used the language. There was
    even a club where I could go to meetings and use the language. I found out there are thousands of Esperanto books in every imaginable subject. I found out there are national and international organizations that actually promote the language and help out the beginners. I found out, also, that it is a good thing, that there is the internal idea that better communication on a neutral fundamental basis actually brings about better understanding and
    stronger friendships, across all sorts of otherwise impossible barriers.

    It is my personal mission statement to promote world peace by building
    bridges of understanding between people of different countries, cultures,
    and classes. Esperanto is the tool. It is not the solution to world peace,
    but understanding is certainly an important step.

    – “filipo”
    Phil Dorcas
    president, ELNA, the Esperanto League for North America

  17. Ian Mac Dowall Says:

    I have read through what others have written already, in reply to Nicole Martinelli. I can add little except to say I agree with all the previous replies. In my own case, I started to learn French at the age of about 6 in 1943, and I remember our teacher said she would have preferred to be teaching us Esperanto. We asked for more information hoping to delay starting! She simply replied though, that Esperanto is the International Language, far easier to learn than any other language, and if we wanted to know more, we should go to the library. I didn’t take her advice though, until 54 years later in 1991, when the local Esperanto group advertised that they were starting a new class and to telephone if interested. I did so immediately and joined. By this time, I had lived and worked abroad in Belgium (French speaking part), Germany and Spain, becoming fluent in all three languages. Within a a few months of starting the Esperanto course however, I was amazed at the speed I had learned, and was able to listen to and understand the daily Esperanto Broadcasts from the Polish Radio. Then I went to Bydgoszcz in Poland for a fornight’s hard practise with local Esperantists and since then have travelled extensively using Esperanto, throughout Europe and to Cuba and Canada. I also found that I saw a completely different side, and learned far more about the countries where I had worked when I re-visited them with Esperanto contacts, than I ever did when I had lived there. Similarly, I have hosted many Esperantists from all over the world, with no comunication problems. Learning Esperanto has really enriched my life in a way no other language, and certainly not English, could ever have done. I never cease to be amazed why anyone would ever want to criticise the language. Try learning it Nicole, – you will never regret it!
    Ian Mac Dowall, Wallasey, England

  18. Ary Borenszweig Says:

    I also read the responses and totally agree with them. I just wanted to add me to the list of responses. I’m from Argentina.

    And now some of my opinion: I started learning Esperanto because it was “advertised” as easy, logical and quick to learn. After two weeks I was very surprised to understand most of what was said in a local Esperanto metting, and after six months I traveled to Brazil using Pasporta Servo and never had such a great time. I was able to communicate with my host perfectly. So, though it’s an “artificial” or “planned” language, I can’t see what’s the bad thing about it. On the contrary, it makes speaking it a lot, lot easier because it dosen’t carry all the complexities of native languages, still being able to express everything and in a lot of ways.

    What I’m doing for it? Here in Argentina there aren’t many Esperanto speakers, so I correct lessons in internet in a by-email course (in our web page) and also I teach it personally. That’s all I can do for now. But, luckily, a lot of people and friends are also pushing Esperanto forward. 🙂

    I would like to recommend to Nicole to try learning the language, either by an email course or personally. It dosen’t take that much time, and at least you can do it to write with more proofs, or say “I’ve learnt Esperanto and I still think this”.

  19. Robert Budzul Says:

    For a bit of a feel what it’s like to actually attend an UK (Universala Kongreso – Universal Congress) or IJK (abbreviation of the Esperanto for International Youth Congress) you can check out my blog at .

    Plus there’s mention of meetings with Esperantists before and after the congresses.

  20. Gabriel Svoboda Says:

    Dear Nicole Martinelli,

    I’d like to respond to your article about Esperanto ( ).

    “You’ve got to hand it to them for persistence in the face of failure. The idea of an artificial international language is a good one, but the concept is part of the problem: it’s artificial.”

    Why should the artificiality be a problem? Do you think that everything artificial is worse than everything natural is? Would you really like to write onto “natural” sand instead of “artificial” paper, would you like to write by a “natural” stick instead of an “artificial” pen, to sleep on “natural” grass instead of in “artificial” bed, to be “naturally” naked instead of “artificially” clothed, to go always by “natural” foot instead of using “artificial” means of transport, to behave like “natural” animals instead of obeying “artificial” laws? So why couldn’t an artificial language (extremely easy to learn, optimalised for a non-native speaker, phonetic spelling etc.) be better than e.g. English which is a heap of difficulties and irregularities with a Chinese-like spelling?

    “Most of us learn language fluently from our family, early schooling or perhaps, later, lovers, not out of some earnest belief in world unity.”

    Yes, we learn our native language this way. However, Esperanto intends to be an international language, not a native one. The problem with English, the current so-called international language, is the fact that native English speakers have got a big discriminatory advantage above non-native speakers. How can be fair a communication when the non-native English speaker can say only what his or her ability to speak English enables him or her, while the native speaker of English can say whatever he or she wants and laugh at non-native English speakers’ accent, mistakes, pronunciation and so on? What is fair about the fact that the non-native English speakers have to learn English while the American, British, Canadian, Australian people can relax at the same time?

    “Still, there are said to be 1,000 “native” speakers of Esperanto and you have to wonder what the parents were thinking. Teach them Klingon? It’s a better party trick at least.”

    Native Esperanto speakers are not a result of their parents’ attempt to have a good party trick. They come from families where the parents didn’t speak the same language, so they took up Esperanto, knowing that it is much better means of communication than e.g. English. Or they have already known Esperanto when they first met because this meeting took place on some Esperanto congress or other Esperanto action. So their child naturally learns the language of its parents.

    “English, the default lingua franca, costs the EU government 17 billion (about $22 billion) a year. That’s a lot of money lost in translation, to be sure. These costs could be cut out entirely, the study says, if there were a common European language. (Italians, for one, have a notoriously hard time communicating in English).”

    The EU has got 21 official languages by default. If the EU government promotes one language of these more than the others, it is an illegal crime against human rights, nothing more and nothing less.

    “But how much time and money would it take to train everyone involved in the EU to communicate fluently in Esperanto? And how would you overcome the resistance to learn another language that could only be used for work?”

    This question can be answered quite exactly. According to the latest public opinion research, English is spoken by 47% inhabitants of the EU. (In fact, the actual number is certainly lower because the informants just answered the question “what language do you think that you speak?” and nobody tested them if they really speak it.) If the number of money and time required to learn English is equal to 1, than we need (100-47)*1 = 53 units of time and money for non-English speakers in the EU to learn English. By contrast, Esperanto is much (from four times to ten times) easier to learn than English. So If the number of money and time required to learn Esperanto is equal to 0,25, then we need 100*0,25 = 25 units of time and money for all inhabitants of EU to learn Esperanto. Consequently, Esperanto would be much cheaper and much short-term than English.

    Esperanto is so easy and so practical that people would probably tend to use it in most of their international communication (not only in the official one) and a resistance to learn it would be a very rare event. It would certainly not be more frequent than today’s resistance of some people to learn English.

    “I’d love to know from an Esperantist — and there are said to be between 100,000 and two million speakers out there — why they took it up. And how they plan to bring it forward.”

    Why did I take it up? Because I don’t want to be linguistically discriminated. I don’t want my native language to extinct in favour of English.

    How do we plan to bring it forward? Of course, each Esperantist has got his or her own opinion. I personally don’t know. In my opinion, there is no “certainly successful” way; therefore we should try all possible ways. We will see which of them will be the most successful.

    Gabriel Svoboda

  21. Tim Morley » Blog Archive » Further response to Nicole Martinelli Says:

    […] Tim Morley rambles about languages, the internet, experiences, and so on « Response to Nicole Martinelli […]

  22. claude piron Says:

    This is my further reply to Martinelli

    Dear Ms Martinelli,

    Summing up the responses you received about Esperanto, you said it has a serious PR problem.

    It may be that the Esperanto users are not gifted enough or rich enough to have efficient PR. But, having researched the problem extensively from a psychological and socio-psychological point of view, I think an important aspect is simply society’s resistance. It’s a serious mistake to imagine that acceptance by society is just a matter of communication (this error often keeps politicians from grappling with reality : they replace “the problem has to be tackled at the roots” by “we just have to influence the public with our communication skills so that it will accept our cosmetic pseudo-solution”).

    History has its own pace. Look at how long it took for society to accept having women in government and in high posts in the economy, to imagine a country functioning without slaves, or to adopt the metric system, whose practicality, as compared to ancient systems, is comparable to Esperanto’s as compared to English in international settings (the metric system was first proposed in 1647).

    Esperanto attacks an authoritarian model: a conception in which a language, to be real, and thus usable, can only have been developed by faraway ancestors, who decided what is right and what is wrong in how you express yourself. If I say *foots*, *childs*, *he falled*, everybody understands me just as well as if I had used the correct forms, but I’m wrong for no other reason than “this is not how you should talk”. This is a vertical, patriarchal conception of relationships. Esperanto’s horizontal, democratic model upsets this picture, since it proves that mutual understanding has nothing to do with such irregularities (which account for 90% of the time required to assimilate a foreign language: all the energy you invested into memorizing the Italian verbal forms is spared when you take up Esperanto). Upsetting a “superego”, to use psychological parlance, is upsetting the whole structure of personality. So, unconsciously, people resist. The change in society at large can only be extremely slow, since it can be brought about only by billions of individuals questioning what they think of languages without knowing that they think it.

    Every teacher asked “Why can’t I say *foots*” answers: “Because that’s the way it is”, which is another way of saying: “There doesn’t have to be a reason for you to obey.” This is a typical “superego” response. It implies that language demands submission to arbitrary rules that are not necessary for its purpose. Deep down in most people’s psyche, a language like Esperanto, which lacks arbitrary contents, is felt as abnormal, even sacrilegious. Hence the resistance.

    I hope you understand that I don’t criticize English, Italian or French for being what they are, with all their exceptions and complications. These are part of their charm and I’m all for respecting them, which is also respecting the culture and the identity of the peoples concerned. But at the global level – among people with different origins – there is no point in submitting to the absurdities that evolution introduced into national languages, making communication more difficult than it has to be. Experience shows that languages like Esperanto and Chinese, which function well without them, have also their charm. It simply is a different one.

    Attacking unconscious resistance is something much harder than what PR can achieve, if only because the world communication problem is extremely complex, with its political, economic, social, linguistic, psychological, cultural and pedagogical aspects. PR is not adapted to a field with a lot of nuances. However, fortunately for mankind, as Lincoln said, part of the truth can be hidden to part of the public part of the time, but you can’t hide all of it to the whole population all of the time (sorry, I quote from a poor memory). So that, even without effective PR, the truth about Esperanto doesn’t stop spreading.

    Best wishes,

    Claude Piron (author of “Psychological Reactions to Esperanto”


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