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Usona Esperantisto

Dumonata bulteno de Esperanto-USA

Learning by reading

Lee Miller

After your initial study of Esperanto (using a textbook, correspondence course, lernu.net, in a class) the most important thing you can do to master the language is to actively engage with it in some way. There are many ways to do this today—communication via Internet (IM, e-mail, Facebook, Skype), participation in a local group if you happen to live in an area with other Esperanto speakers, reading, and writing. There are also some learning materials specifically designed to move you to a higher level of skill with Esperanto, such as the classic Paŝoj al Plena Posedo by William Auld (relatively advanced, and not for the faint of heart!), or Kunvojaĝu by Paul Gubbins, perhaps better suited for newer Esperanto students.

If you like to read, I would suggest that you spend some time doing that… and reading not just from a textbook, but from a variety of sources. The sooner you begin reading real Esperanto texts, the sooner you’ll confront some of the problems people have learning the language, and you’ll begin to find the answers to these problems.

Let’s look at a paragraph from Koro by Edmondo de Amicis, a children’s book translated from Italian in 1936:

LA UNUA TAGO DE LA LERNOJARO
la 17an, lunde.

Hodiaŭ estas la unua tago de la lernojaro. Forpasis kiel sonĝo la tri monatoj da libertempo, en la kamparo! Mia patrino, hodiaŭ matene, kondukis min al la “Sekcio Baretti” por enskribigi min en la trian klason: mi rememorpensis pri la kamparo kaj iris malbonvole. En ĉiuj stratoj svarmis knaboj; la du librejoj estis plenplenaj de patroj kaj patrinoj, kiuj aĉetis tornistrojn, paperujojn kaj kajerojn; antaŭ la lernejo amasiĝis tiom da homoj, ke la lernejservisto kaj la urba gvardisto devis pene klopodi por ke la enirejo estu libere alirebla. Proksime de la pordo, mi sentis ektuŝi mian ŝultron: estis mia instruisto de la dua klaso, ĉiam gaja, kun siaj ruĝaj, distaŭzitaj haroj, kiu diris al mi: – Do, Henriko, ni estas disigitaj por ĉiam. – Tion mi jam sciis; tamen tiuj vortoj malĝojigis min. Ni eniris penade. Sinjoroj, sinjorinoj, popolaninoj, laboristoj, oficiroj, avinoj, servistinoj, tenante la knabojn per unu mano kaj kun la promociolibreto en la alia, plenigis la enirĉambron kaj la ŝtuparojn zumante tiel, ke kvazaŭ ŝajnis oni eniris en teatron. Mi revidis kun plezuro tiun grandan, teretaĝan ĉambregon, kun la pordoj de la sep klasoj, kiun mi trairis, dum tri jaroj, preskaŭ ĉiutage.

The story here is simple, but the language actually isn’t completely simple. If you have just studied Esperanto at the beginner level, there are probably words you don’t recognize, some grammar you don’t quite understand, and some other words that seem familiar but you can’t quite figure out. The first thing to do is read through it and see if you understand the “gist” of the story—do you know what the main idea is? Do you understand what’s happening? And for any words you don’t know, can you make an educated guess from the context?

Here are some of the words that you might not know: sonĝo, kondukis, Sekcio, svarmis, tornistrojn, kajerojn, amasiĝis, klopodi, distaŭzitaj, penade, zumante. Can you figure out the meaning? If not, you’re going to need to check a dictionary… but not as you read through the first time. Read for meaning in a general way at first, then go back a second time and look up the words you don’t know.

Remember that you’ll need to look for the root form of the word, so kondukis will be under konduk/i, amasiĝis will be under amas/o, penade will be under pen/i, distaŭzitaj will be under taŭz/i, and so forth. You’ll need to know that -iĝ- and -ad- and similar word parts are suffixes, while dis- is a prefix.

To analyze a word like distaŭzitaj you’ll need to know the meanings of dis-, taŭz/i, the word ending -it-, the word ending -a, and the function of -j.

To help you along: the verb taŭzi means “to rumple or dishevel”. Dis- means “apart” or “scattered”. And -itaj taken together is a past tense, passive, plural adjective. So the word means his hair was “rumpled all over the place.”

It might be a helpful strategy for you to keep a notebook or a computer document in which you have a running list of new vocabulary.

Another thing that’s immediately apparent in this paragraph is the large number of compound words. This is a constant feature of both spoken and written Esperanto: words are formed out of combinations of other words and word-parts. So, for example, here we find:

  • lerno-jaro
  • for-pasis
  • liber-tempo
  • kamp-aro
  • en-skrib-igi
  • re-memor-pensis
  • mal-bon-vole
  • libr-ejoj
  • plen-plenaj
  • paper-ujojn
  • amas-iĝis
  • lern-ej-serv-isto
  • en-ir-ejo
  • al-ir-ebla
  • ek-tuŝi
  • dis-taŭz-itaj
  • dis-ig-itaj
  • mal-ĝoj-igis
  • promocio-libr-eto
  • plen-igis
  • en-ir-ĉambron
  • ŝtup-arojn
  • ter-etaĝan
  • ĉambr-egon
  • tra-iris
  • ĉiu-tage

As you become more familiar with Esperanto, you’ll begin to automatically see and analyze these words into their parts to determine the meaning. But as a beginner the process is a little less automatic and requires some deliberate thinking on your part. And in general you won’t find the compound forms in a dictionary—you’ll typically need to find the meanings of the parts to determine what a compound word itself means.

Remember too that often through Esperanto literature you encounter other cultures and other time periods. This story gives a glimpse of the first day of school in Italy, in the early part of the 20th century. What is a lernejservisto? Why would the urba gvardisto be at a school? What exactly is a promocio-libreto? These are time- and culture-specific concepts that might not fit with your usual ideas of an elementary school.

Let’s look at one more thing in this paragraph: the use of the n-ending, often called the accusative. The n-ending is used most often to mark a direct object—that is, something acted upon. In the English sentence John hits Bill, Bill is the direct object, because John does something to him. Here are some examples from our text:

  • mia patrino kondukis min
  • kiuj aĉetis tornistrojn
  • Tion mi jam sciis
  • tiuj vortoj malĝojigis min
  • mi revidis tiun grandan, teretaĝan ĉambregon

Do you see how in each phrase something acts (the subject), and something is acted on (the direct object)?

Another use of the n-ending is with some prepositions, such as en. Here are two examples:

  • por enskribigi min en la trian klason
  • kvazaŭ ŝajnis oni eniris en teatron

En la tria klaso, without the n-ending, simply means “in the third grade”. En la trian klason, with the n-ending, changes the meaning of en to “into”: “to enroll me into the third grade”. Oni eniris en teatro, without the n-ending, would mean “Someone was in the theater, and entered something”, whereas with the n-ending the meaning is “someone entered into the theater” (that is, someone was outside the theater and went in). Watch for this distinction as you read other Esperanto material—it’s important to the meaning. La hundo saltis sur la tablo means “The dog was on the table, jumping”, whereas La hundo saltis sur la tablon means “The dog jumped onto the table”. Being aware of this difference will help you understand the specific meaning of what you’re reading.