Today’s post on Esperanto for kids is written by Nicole from Sydney, Australia, who speaks Esperanto. Her parents were Esperanto speakers and in fact Esperanto was their only common language until her mother learned French. As a young child Nicole spoke Esperanto with the many visitors her parents had from all over the world. She is the author of a book for children called Foreign Languages: What They Don’t Often Tell You.
It is great to get to know different cultures, to try to understand people who live far away from us, to see the multiple ways of living, the different customs, and that there is not only a single way that is right.
Learning foreign languages is essential. Schools tend to teach the languages that are widely spoken, ignoring languages like Icelandic, Hungarian, Estonian and many, many others. Is the Spanish culture or the Japanese culture more important than the others? They are all important and it is a pity to ignore a culture just because their language is not spoken widely outside their own country.
Learning a foreign language is very time consuming since nearly all national languages have features that are very difficult to learn: irregular verbs, strange spellings, many cases, different articles, unique writing systems in Russian, Chinese, etc.
Choosing which language to study depends on several factors: Where would you like to travel? Do you have relatives that speak another language? I would like to encourage people to study languages that are not considered “big” languages. All languages are interesting and the people who speak them deserve to be better known and understood. The benefits of learning another language are numerous as it broadens our minds, and helps us to better understand how our own language works.
Unfortunately there is one language that is not often mentioned, but is used more than most people assume: Esperanto.
History of Esperanto
Esperanto was designed over 100 years ago by Polish eye specialist Dr Zamenhof. He lived in a town where 4 different languages were spoken and as a little boy he witnessed a lot of fighting between those groups of people. The young Zamenhof thought that if they would speak a common language they would understand each other better and would fight less. Esperanto means in Esperanto “the one who hopes”.
Zamenhof wanted to create an easy-to-learn language to foster international understanding. His language would be an international auxiliary language, that is, “a universal second language,” not to replace ethnic languages. Since he wanted his language to be easily learned, he took out all the unnecessary difficulties that can be found in many national languages. For example, the spelling is phonetic and there are no exceptions. The words come mainly from European languages like Latin, French, German, but interestingly the grammar is more similar to Chinese than to the inflectional European languages. For example in English it is not obvious what twelve is, in Esperanto 12 is “dekdu,” that is ten-two and that‘s how you say 12 in Chinese too, you just use the number for 10 and then add the number for 2.
The number of words that need to be memorised is much smaller than in other languages. In fact, experts say it only takes 150 hours to become near fluent in Esperanto. Many people assume you cannot fully express yourself in Esperanto, because it enables only basic conversation. That’s not true at all. Esperanto is a bit like LEGO. With a limited amount of elements- such as prefixes and suffixes- you can make an infinity amount of words.
- “sana” is an adjective that means in good health; “mal” is a prefix that means the opposite; “sick” is “malsana”
- “ulo” is a suffix that means a person; “malsanulo” is a sick person
- “ejo” is a suffix that means the place where; “hospital” is “malsanulejo”
- to close is “fermi,” to open is “malfermi,” to learn is “lerni,” a school is “lernejo”
There aren’t exceptions in grammar or irregular verbs: to make the present tense you replace the “i” of the infinitive with “as,” and in the past tense you use “is.” Therefore “I close” will be “mi fermas”, “I closed” is “mi fermis.”
Esperanto is sometimes referred to as an “artificial” language, but it doesn’t feel artificial at all. A few children do speak it as their first language as Esperanto was their parents’ only common language. If you listen to young children speak, they will naturally want to generalise rules and say one mouse, two mouses. In English they are not allowed to speak in that natural way, but in Esperanto they can.
Resources to Learn Esperanto for Kids
If you have access to the internet, learning Esperanto doesn’t need to cost a single cent.
How can your child start learning Esperanto?
One way is to do a free online course at Lernu.net, especially the course “Ana Pana,” which comes complete with sound and videos. The Academy of Esperanto has a great illustrated vocabulary list. Also there are plenty of podcasts and radio programs in Esperanto for learners.
What can children actually do with Esperanto?
1. They can read. Quite a few Esperanto books are available for free online, like La eta princo (The little prince) or a little detective story like Gerda malaperis, which is a story written originally in Esperanto (not a translation).
2. They can send messages to people in Iceland, Hungary, etc. The website Lernu.net has a list of users that you can contact and use an instant messenger.
3. Listen to stories for children on youtube such as “The first well.” They have subtitles in the same language making them easier to understand for beginners.
4. If later they want to travel, Esperanto can be extremely useful. There are lots of Esperanto meetings organised each year, some (like the annual TEJO conference) especially for young people. When traveling, there are lists of people who are willing to meet you or even host you in their home. When I was younger I used the Pasporta Servo (list of people accepting guests) to find Esperanto families I could stay with in Hungary, Finland, and Norway. Staying with host families was a very good way of travelling, by not spending money for hotels, by really being able to see how people live, and by being able to speak to them on an equal footing. You all speak a language which is not your native language, but in which you can nevertheless converse with ease after having spent a reasonable amount of time learning it.
I think that learning Esperanto contributes to making the world a fairer place. I don’t think it is fair to expect everyone to learn English because it places importance on certain cultures of native English speakers. Also, English pronunciation is very difficult, with 20 different vowel sounds that need to be distinguished. Esperanto has many less.
In conclusion I think it is a good idea to choose to learn a language that is not the language of any specific country, but which is spoken a little bit in a wide range of countries all over the world. Without giving preference to one specific culture, Esperanto learners get to know people from a variety of cultures.