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Usona Esperantisto

Dumonata bulteno de Esperanto-USA

A language of choice

Ĵenja Amis

When people learn that Esperanto is my family language, they often ask: “Why Esperanto and not Russian, your first language? Or English, your husband’s first language?” Well, for me, and almost every other Esperanto speaker, Esperanto is a language of choice—a language we chose to learn, and which became, for some of us, a family language. So why did we choose to learn Esperanto?

Because we believe in a better world. Imagine a world without language discrimination, where communication on a global scale is accessible to rich and poor alike! Esperanto speakers believe such a world is possible, and for many that idealism continues to be the primary reason for learning the International Language. It’s clear that speakers of dominant languages (such as English) have enormous advantages over others, and international organizations do nothing to change this situation (or, rather, do everything to maintain the status quo). To give just one example: in an international organization such as the UN, with almost 200 member countries, there are only six official languages. And when it comes to working languages, there is just English and French. That’s why we believe Esperanto is a big step on the long road to eliminating language discrimination.

Because we like to travel. For example, just recently at the U.S. Esperanto Convention in Emeryville, California, I met Amanda Higley—a young American who participated in a 3-week intensive course and then took off for Europe, where she visited over a dozen countries thanks to the hosting/lodging service for Esperanto speakers, Pasporta Servo. And a few years ago, during the World Esperanto congress in Poland, I met Bruno and Maryvonne Robineau, a French couple and authors of the book Huit ans autour du monde (“Eight years around the world”). They used Esperanto extensively during their trip and were able to experience cultures as they wouldn’t have had they chosen a more conventional way to travel. They participated in everyday life in different parts of the world, doing all kinds of work—from planting rice in Korea to teaching Esperanto in China.

To learn more about other cultures. Esperantists tend to be interested in other languages, cultures and geography. Contacts with other speakers and reading magazines in Esperanto (with articles from people from all over the world) help them to better understand different societies and broaden their horizons. “I’m sure my knowledge of other cultures was far superior to those of my teachers, and that I was without a doubt the only person at school who read Estonian Anthology, (half) joked Humphrey Tonkin, president emeritus of the University of Hartford and author of numerous works, during the 2011 national convention of Esperanto-USA.

To have fun! I personally learned Esperanto out of linguistic curiosity, without knowing much of its cultural side, but I became really involved and inspired by its ideals after I participated in my first international seminar organized by the World Esperanto Youth Organization in Bulgaria about 10 years ago. About 30 people from a dozen countries participated. We studied, ate, had fun and made up jokes that are almost impossible to translate in any other language, and we all spoke Esperanto. To my great joy, I was able to understand everyone after only a few months of (not even intensive!) study. Then there were other Esperanto seminars and more than five years working as an editor of an Esperanto magazine, which allowed me to collect articles from people all over the world and to give a unique perspective on social, political and cultural issues.

Sometimes, even to find love! Let me put it straight: learning Esperanto to find a spouse might not work, but many people do meet that special someone during an Esperanto event or through correspondence. This actually happened to me: both I and my (then future) husband applied for the same job as an editor! We started working together, and in about a year he came to visit while in Europe, and this “ferocious” competition translated into a happy marriage!

To better learn other languages. There are a few schools in the UK participating in Springboard to Languages—a program that offers a one- to four-year program of Esperanto teaching in order to raise language awareness, build transferable skills, and to serve as a preparation for learning other languages, because the regular structure of Esperanto actually helps in learning other languages. I can testify to this from my own experience: it helped me succeed in my German, Spanish and French classes. I also discovered that speaking Esperanto not only helps you learn other languages, it helps you to better understand your own language by seeing etymological connections between your mother tongue and other languages.

Like any other society, we’re not perfect, but we do have a lot of things to be proud of: in its nearly 125-year history, the Esperanto community has created a culture of its own, with its own traditions, music, literature, magazines, radio stations, Wikipedia (with almost 150 000 articles) both national and international organizations (and even bureaucracy, believe it or not!), and countless websites. That is why putting together a complete list of reasons to learn Esperanto would be a presumptuous task, as every individual is unique and has their own reasons: some Esperantists are idealists, and others tend to be more pragmatic, some enjoy the communication side, others like to read original and translated literature in Esperanto (and some say that Esperanto translations are closer to the original).

I invite you to discover this interesting language and see what aspect of Esperanto interests you most. You can study online for free at a multi-lingual Esperanto learning portal Lernu! that recently celebrated 100 000 registered users, or you may find a traditional one-on-one course by doing a simple keyword search.