Why You Should Learn Esperanto In 2023
If you’re new to foreign language learning and you want to choose a language that is not only easy, but can be learned in a fraction of the time it would take to learn a natural language, then look no further than the constructed language Esperanto.
What is Esperanto and why was it created?
Esperanto is a conlag invented by the Polish doctor Ludwik Lejzer (L. L.) Zamenhof, in 1887. His hope was that by creating a neutral, easy-to-learn language, adopted as the official second language by the global population (aka a lingua franca), world peace and a sense of international empathy could be achieved.
Esperanto simply means “one who hopes”. There are said to be around 2 million speakers across the world, among them a few thousand native speakers, for whom Esperanto is one of their mother tongues. It is spoken by people living in over 100 countries.
Why is learning Esperanto a great idea?
Full disclosure: I’m an Esperantist; and once an Esperantist, always an Esperantist! So I’m going to be a little biased in my assessment of it simply because I had a wonderful time being a part of the community; I got so much out of it, and I believe others will, too.
- Easy, regular grammar
- Most words derive from other European languages, so many will be easily recognizable
- You’ll learn to use the language sooner than you could a natural language
- Language discount – it will make other languages easier to learn
- You can be more specific when expressing yourself – make up words that will be easily understood by Esperantists
- Welcoming community of speakers worldwide
- Communicate with people who don’t speak your native language
- Plenty of free resources and help online
- Have loads of fun at the Esperanto events
- Pasporta Servo – free accommodation when you travel
- Make lots of awesome friends from all walks of life
- If you’re a content creator, you have an eager audience looking for good Esperanto-language material
Now let’s expound upon the list.
1) It’s Easy
a) Esperanto was designed to be simple yet flexible enough for anyone to learn and express themselves thoroughly; and as such boasts perhaps the easiest grammar you will ever find in a language.
It’s so regular that you can learn most of it in a week! Forming the past, present and future tenses is a cakewalk, and they don’t change depending on the subject.
Plus, just like in English, there is only one, unchanging, genderless definite article:
Example: English – the book/the books; Esperanto – la libro/la libroj vs German – das Buch/die Bücher.
b) The language is phonetic, in that it is spoken the way it is written. So, for the most part, you shouldn’t have many issues pronouncing it, once you learn the sounds of the letters. Where a letter’s sound changes, a “hat” is placed above it.
Example: gaja – where the g is pronounced as the g in go; ĝoja – where it’s pronounced as a j.
c) Most of Esperanto’s vocabulary is derived from other European languages, so for native English speakers there’ll be plenty of familiar words to spot. A language that shares many cognates with your native tongue is much easier to remember, and you’ll pick it up faster.
Example: English – to appear; Esperanto – aperi.
d) It’s agglutinative, meaning you add words together to form new, longer words. Also, it relies heavily on suffixes and prefixes; once you learn them, you’ll easily understand a brand new concept or word as soon as you hear it.
Example: the prefix “mal-“ when tacked onto the beginning of a word, creates the opposite. Aperi = to appear; malaperi = to disappear.
2) Language Discount
Due to the many cognates, and the grammar rules you pick up as you go along, you’ll make other similar languages easier to learn and understand, if you decide to study them later. I can attest to this. I learned Esperanto prior to learning French. By the time I got to French, I already knew many of the words and concepts.
|la lito (the bed)||le lit|
|manĝi (to eat)||manger|
|kuri (to run)||courir|
With regards to grammar rules, if you’re someone like me, a native English speaker who didn’t go to grammar school (or a particularly good school), the accusative case (huh, what?) is going to kick your butt! I had real issues with it in German, and only got the hang of it once I’d studied Esperanto, which simplifies it.
Additionally, you’ll learn how to study, a skill you can take with you to other languages.
3) Speak early
Being able to quickly learn enough to actually have a conversation is a luxury no natural language provides. Within just a couple of weeks of studying you’ll be able to converse in Esperanto. You won’t be discussing the theory of relativity, of course, but you’ll be able to express yourself.
The ability to speak in your new language will boost your confidence in unimaginable ways. It will encourage you to learn more and improve.
Example: You can be fluent in Esperanto within 6 months, compared to the 1 1/2 – 2 years it takes to become fluent in Spanish, one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn.
4) Express yourself more clearly
Because of the agglutinative nature of the language, you are able to be very specific when you express yourself. You can easily fashion together brand new words to describe the true essence of your emotions, have loads of fun doing so, and be understood by other speakers.
Example: manĝadaĉhejmi (manĝ-ad-aĉ-hejmi) – a word that means “to (habitually) eat badly at home”!
5) Plenty of people to speak with
As mentioned, there are roughly 2 million Esperanto speakers (though there is no way of confirming this). At the very least, there are tens of thousands, and while this number might seem small, it’s actually a lot easier than you think to find speakers wherever you are in the world.
There is an active online community of both komencantoj/lernantoj (beginners/learners) and ekspertoj (experts). You can find many of them on Lernu! and YouTube. The community is warm and welcoming, and people will help you whenever they can, as they like to encourage more people to learn the language.
What are denaskuloj?
Denaskuloj (literal translation: from birth people), are people who speak Esperanto as their mother tongue. This usually occurs when their parents only have Esperanto as their common language. More often than not their parents met at one of the many Esperanto events.
There are around two thousand or so, the most famous denaskulo being the DJ Leo Sakaguchi.
6) Communicate with people who don’t speak your mother tongue
You’ve probably often heard this refrain: “everyone speaks English”. Actually, everyone doesn’t speak English. In fact, most people don’t speak it. English is a hard language to truly master (many native people haven’t yet done so! I jest, I jest 🙂 ).
There are plenty of Esperantists from all backgrounds who have not and will not learn English. With Esperanto, you can now communicate freely with them, and they with you, opening up the world for you, making you more international. Nothing will be lost in translation again.
7) Pasporta Servo – Free lodgings for Esperanto speakers
A discussion about Esperanto would not be complete without the mention of Pasporta Servo (passport service). This is a couch-surfing program specifically for Esperantists. Founded in 1966, it is now run by TEJO (Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo).
The website is an address book of all participating hosts that open up their homes to traveling Esperantists, completely free of charge. The only stipulation is that you must speak Esperanto while you are there.
This is a great way to practice your new language skills, meet new, interesting people in exciting new countries, and travel cheaply.
8) Esperantujo – Esperanto-land is where the Esperantist is
Esperantujo (or Esperantio) is the term given to the community of Esperantists and the places they gather for their events, meetings, etc. For example, if one of the many events takes place at a youth hostel in New York, that would be considered Esperantujo.
The list of national and international annual Esperanto events is long, and you can usually find at least one group in most major cities in the world.
Here are just a handful of the main annual events:
- SES – Somera Esperanto Studado (Summer Esperanto Study): designed for absolute beginners
- IJK – Internacia Junulara Kongreso (International Youth Congress): perhaps the largest youth event (though most people who attend aren’t youths). A week-long, fun-packed holiday where you speak nothing but Esperanto, learn new skills in the lessons taught by Esperantists, play games, and drink… a lot!
- UK – Universala Kongreso (World Congress) – the largest Esperanto event, with attendee numbers ranging between 1000 and 3000. Not one for the beginner, as it is more formal than the others mentioned. The crowd tends to skew older
- NASK – Nord-Amerika Somera Kursaro (North America Summer Course) – An intensive immersion program for those in America. Like summer school.
There are many others, some suitable for absolute beginners, some not. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend IJK. This was my first foray into the Esperanto community, and I had a blast!
I attended the 2015 event in Wiesbaden, Germany. When I arrived I couldn’t hold a conversation. I was shy, nervous and didn’t know a soul. By the time I’d made it halfway through the event, I’d made a ton of new friends, and was actually thinking in the language to the point where Esperanto kept slipping into the message I was trying to send my friend in English!
If you go to one of these events as a beginner, by the time you leave you will be speaking Esperanto. I can almost guarantee it. Because most people around you will not know your native language, and you also don’t want to krokodili (definition: speaking a language – particularly your native one – other than Esperanto, in Esperantujo), as this is frowned upon.
Going to an event is, hands down, the fastest way to get your speaking skills up. You’ll also have an incredible time and make loads of Esperantist friends from diverse backgrounds.
Many of the larger events are held in different countries and cities each year, so you get the chance to travel to exotic places whilst having a huge community of Esperantists around you to keep you company.
Lodging is usually super cheap, and food is provided, catering to your particular diet (so vegetarians and vegans, you’re safe!).
If you’re unable to attend one of the major events, you will likely find local ones in your city. Just google “Esperanto meetings near me”, and some will come up. Groups are usually well documented and easily accessible.
9) Free resources
Though the resources aren’t as plentiful as those available in many natural languages, Esperanto still boasts an impressive selection of books, websites, media, and music. I’ve broken the list up into groups, for easy navigation:
Learning the language
Esperanto is actually one of 3 constructed languages on the app, and currently has nearly 300 thousand learners. The course is easy, fun, completely free, and will give you a good foundation in the language.
Lernu! is the go-to place for every budding Esperantist. Among other things, it offers La Teorio Nakamura, an interactive course that will teach you all of the basics through the progression of an intriguing story.
There are a wealth of teaching materials, all available free, plus a popular, active forum full of useful information.
Free registration is required in order to access most things on the site, and to take part in forum discussions.
This is a free, simple course that promises to teach you the basics in under 2 weeks. The lessons come with audio, written text and exercises. You’ll learn the top 500 words, the grammar behind the language, and you’ll get practice translating from Esperanto to English.
No registration is required, and the site has been optimized for use on smartphones.
Esperanto has a rich collection of literature, though sadly much of it is only available in hard copy, and many times out of print or hard to find. Luckily, there are places where you can still find great books, both print and digital, along with translations of popular classics into Esperanto.
Gerda Malaperis (Gerda disappeared)
Written in 1983 by the French Esperantist Claude Piron, this is perhaps the most famous piece of Esperanto literature, and reading it is like a rite of passage in the Esperanto community. It should be your first stop when looking for reading material.
The story was written as an Esperanto teaching aid; as such it starts off very easy and gets progressively harder, introducing new words and grammar in each chapter. There are even exercises to test how much you understand.
This book is in the public domain, so you can pick it up from many places in PDF format, free of charge. This copy from the Esperanto Association of Britain should do the trick. Lernu also has a downloadable copy, but you’ll need to be registered to get it.
If you’re not already well-acquainted with Project Gutenberg, the completely free archive of public domain books, all available to download, you soon will be. The list of Esperanto books is long and includes translated works by big names like Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, and Lewis Carroll.
You can read them online or download them as EPUB or MOBI files to your phone, Kindle or tablet. Check out Project Gutenberg’s list of Esperanto books.
Harry Potter in Esperanto
An unofficial, unauthorized Esperanto version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone (Hari Potter kaj la ŝtono de la saĝuloj) exists on the interwebs. A quick Google search will link to a couple of places where you can download it, free.
To date, no official Esperanto translation has been commissioned.
Facila Vento publishes short articles written in easy Esperanto. A great site for beginners and intermediates.
Libera Folio is a much more active, more up-to-date news site, and posts everything in Esperanto.
With nearly a whopping 300,000 articles written in Esperanto, the Esperanto Wikipedia is the 32nd largest in the world, and the largest of all constructed languages. You’ll never run out of things to read.
Books for sale
There are a small amount of Esperanto books available on Amazon, both translations and original literature. Among them are:
The Hobbit (La Hobito), by J. R. R. Tolkien;
The Wizard of Oz (La Mirinda Sorĉisto de Oz), by L. Frank Baum;
Bonvenon (an Esperanto comic book), by Federico Gobbo;
Marvirinstrato (Mermaid Street), by Tim Westover. This is also available as an eBook.
eBay has a handful of books. I picked up these absolute gems for just $6.50/£5 a pop:
The Gruffalo (La Krubalo), by Julia Donaldson;
Room on the Broom (Spaco sur la Balail’), by Julia Donaldson
You’ll want to find a good Esperanto dictionary, and the best, bar none, is the free online Vortaro. It’s entirely in Esperanto, though, with no translations, so it’s definitely one for more advanced readers with a little more knowledge of the language.
Poŝa Reta Vortaro
This is another free dictionary app, but for iPhones and iPads. Very detailed, and although the explanations are in Esperanto, you can select to add translations for other languages, including English. Get it from the Apple app store.
You’ll have a small but decent selection of Esperanto-language movies and cartoons to choose from when you’re ready to take your skills to the next level. Many of these can be found on YouTube:
Mazi in Gondolando – This is an old cartoon from 1986, originally created by the BBC to teach English as a second language. It now comes in several languages, including Esperanto. The dialogue and storyline are easy to follow, and vocabulary is repeated after each section to test your knowledge.
Gerda Malaperis – A live-action version of the famous book, this is a full-length movie entirely in Esperanto. Made by Esperantists, for Esperantists.
Side note: I had the pleasure of meeting one of the actresses when I attended IJK in Wiesbaden.
Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo – This is a 16-part series/course entirely in Esperanto. The episodes are 30 minutes long, follow a soap-like format, and are jam-packed with mystery, suspense and colorful characters. Plus regular recapping to test what you’ve learned.
The Bookbox Channel – They have cartoons in several languages, Esperanto among them, complete with subtitles. The stories are short and easy to follow, so are great for beginners and infant learners.
Sintel – Directed by a Pixar-artist, this 3D animated short film is beautifully crafted, action-packed, and has dragons in it! But more importantly it has Esperanto dubbing and subtitles.
Kuru – A short film created by a film student as part of his coursework.
Evildea’s Channel – Perhaps the most prolific Esperantist YouTuber out there, Evildea has been making Esperanto videos for years, and his funny, bubbly personality has earned him thousands of views, subscribers and followers. Join him as he travels to international Esperanto events, meets up with other Esperantists, and generally just has fun. All in Esperanto!
Christopher Mihm Films – A b-movie film director, Christopher Mihm has done what no other director would – he’s dubbed many of his films in Esperanto. That’s practically unheard of.
There are at least 8 movies that come with Esperanto dubbing and subtitles as bonus features on the DVDs. Each will set you back $10 ($14 with postage), but a good investment, I’d say.
When you first start out in Esperanto, I encourage you to passively listen to as much Esperanto music as you can, whilst you’re in the car, jogging, cooking etc., so you get used to hearing it.
There are many Esperantist singers and musicians that you’ll learn about, and whose songs will become addictive. Whatever your music tastes, you’ll find something to interest you.
The following is a list of some of the most well-known artists (links are to their YouTube videos/channels):
- Jonny M – He sings reggae in Esperanto. His most famous hit, Dankon, is one of my favorite Esperanto songs. Very catchy.
- JoMo – Well-known Esperantist and rock musician, his song Ĉu vi volas danci? is probably the most famous Esperanto song, and one of my all-time favorites. Another catchy one that will get you dancing. You can also support his work by purchasing his album or singles on Amazon.
- Eterne Rima – Rap music
- La Pafklik – Rap music
- Dolchamar – Rock music
- La Perdita Generacio – Rock/alternative music
- Christina Casella – She sings famous English-language songs that have been translated into Esperanto. Her Esperanto cover version of Adele’s “Hello” has been watched nearly half a million times!
24-hour internet radio station that is solely in Esperanto, from the music to the podcasts and interviews. This is the perfect thing to have playing in the background as you go about your day.
Stream from your browser, or download the Muzaiko Android app. Though there is no Muzaiko app for Apple devices, you can still access it indirectly, through RadioLine, which has a list of over 90k radio stations.
Libera Librejo lists all of the Esperanto-language radio/podcast stations from across the world.
In the interests of providing free resources to Esperantists, volunteers have created audiobooks of some public domain books like La Aventuroj de Alicio en Mirlando (Alice in Wonderland). They’re completely free to listen to and download.
You can find the complete list of Esperanto audiobooks on the Librivox website.
A handful of Esperanto letters have accents on them, and in order to type them you’ll need a special keyboard (klavaro) installed on your phone and/or desktop.
If you’re on Android, Google already has a built-in Esperanto option, and all you need to do is select it in the settings on your phone. Alternatively, you can get the free app AnySoftKeyboard, which will include Esperanto letters with other accented letters when you hold down on the letter for 2 seconds.
For Apple users, your only hope is the Esperanto Keyboard app by LE SANG. I’m going to be honest, it’s not the best. It’s laggy and slow, but currently it’s the only one available for iOS. Once you install it, Esperanto will now be an option in your list of keyboard languages. You simply select it, and away you go.
For desktops, Esperanto.org shows you how to configure your keyboard on OS-X and MacOS.
I much prefer the Tajpi app, which allows you to seamlessly switch between your native language and Esperanto. You simply have to add an “x” after the letter to give it an accent. It also works in your word processor of choice. It’s completely free and available on all operating systems.
A social networking app where you can find language partners all over the world, and even arrange local meet-ups. It’s available on Android and iOS.
If you love Scrabble, you’ll love Vortludo! Not only will you learn new words, you’ll meet other Esperantists while you play.
It’s available on both iOS and Android.
If you’re going to an Esperanto event, or maybe you just want to let others know you’re a proud Esperantist, there are a couple of funny Esperanto t-shirts available on Amazon.
Beware the ones with misspellings!
10) Create your own content
The community is hungry for good Esperanto content! Despite there being lots of material, there’s still so much more needed, from books to music to movies, and everything in between.
This is where you come in. Imagine having a built-in, supportive audience eagerly waiting for your work. If you’re a creative of any kind, bring your skills to the community and contribute.
Web developers, game developers, writers, singers, musicians, actors, directors, artists… whatever your creative skill, you’ll find a place for it in the community; and you might even be able to turn it into a lucrative side business.
Some suggested projects to work on:
Translate public domain works
Project Gutenberg publishes work that has entered the public domain, and you’re free to do with them as you please. If you’re an artist, illustrate them; if you have a good reading voice, record yourself reading them and upload that to YouTube, or Librivox, or your own website.
If you know how to use any of the music-making apps like Fruity Loops, make some new songs in Esperanto, then submit them to Muzaiko so the whole Esperanto community can hear them.
If you’re an aspiring film producer, record some short films in Esperanto, and include subtitles.
The possibilities are endless. Not only will you be contributing to the community as a whole, you’ll have loads of fun AND learn a lot.
As you can see, there are a plethora of interesting materials to keep you occupied on every step of your journey, and most of them won’t cost you a penny.
Arguments against learning Esperanto
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to address some of the concerns people have with the language.
These are some of the common things you’ll hear dissenters say:
“Esperanto is too Eurocentric, and thus isn’t so easy for natives of non-European countries to learn.”
Rebuttal: Indeed, the language is heavily biased towards European languages, and there are a couple of tricky sounds that might be difficult to reproduce by people unfamiliar with slavic languages.
However, this still doesn’t negate the fact that Esperanto is far easier to learn than English, the current lingua franca. English is filled with nuance and idioms that have deep cultural roots, sometimes making it confusing for non-natives. Esperanto doesn’t have that problem, which would put all speakers, regardless of background, on an equal linguistic footing.
“There aren’t enough speakers.”
Rebuttal: Well, what is considered enough? Estonian has fewer speakers than Esperanto, and the majority live in Estonia. Esperantists can be found almost everywhere; and, most importantly, they actively work to meet up with each other. This means that, wherever you are in the world, you won’t have to go far to find Esperantists.
“Unlike natural languages, Esperanto has no culture.”
Rebuttal: So this is just completely false, as I hope I’ve demonstrated in this article. Esperanto certainly does have a culture – it has its own idioms, own in-jokes, own music, a great deal of literature, its own mores…
Example: the Esperanto tradition of singing the famous “La Bamba” song and taking part in a group dance.
You need only spend a week at one of the events to see the culture in action.
“Why waste time learning a made up language when you could learn a natural one?”
Rebuttal: Natural languages take a long time to learn to fluency. Besides, studying Esperanto first has been proven to cut down the time it would normally take to learn one of the romance languages. This Wikipedia page documents the studies done.
Naysayers will try to convince you that there’s no value in learning Esperanto. Most of them likely speak English, and thus have no idea what it might be like for someone who doesn’t speak it. Perhaps if the lingua franca became Mandarin, considered to be one of the hardest languages to learn, they might change their tunes…
Esperanto was created for the purpose of allowing everyone to communicate on a level footing; easy enough to learn and speak by all, with no single country having a cultural advantage over it. It did not reach the level of adoption that was initially hoped for, but I do believe it’s a success in that it has brought people to together, and continues to do so.
And if nothing else, if you really aren’t interested in being a part of the community, you’ll still be able to use the couple of months you’ll spend learning it to put you ahead in any natural language you want to speak.
So what are you waiting for? Go learn some Esperanto! Ĝis revido!