As we all know from the experience of our own childhoods, it’s possible to learn the basics of a language without doing any reading. There are language courses (Pimsleur, for example) based entirely on spoken language. The classic Cseh-Metodo traditionally makes some use of written language, but it’s not strictly necessary. For some students, such as those with dyslexia or vision problems or who simply have a strong preference for spoken language, a course without a reading component is preferable.
All that said, reading has major advantages for a language student. We can read at our own pace, stopping to puzzle over a sentence, re-read it, look up a word, or make notes. Reading is also likely to expose us to a wider vocabulary.
Especially with beginners, it’s important to help students select things to read that won’t discourage them (and ideally won’t bore them, either). Jokes work well, for example:
“Kion vi faras, Petro?” demandas la patrino. “Nenion!” respondas ŝia filo. “Do, kion faras vi, Karlo?” “Mi helpas lin!” respondas la alia. That’s the first thing I ever read in German in a beginning textbook. I don’t remember any German, but at least I remember the joke.
The magazine Kontakto publishes short articles labeled facila or tre facila. Both avoid complicated sentence structure and unusual grammar, and articles marked tre facila avoid participles other than those ending in -anto. For facila articles authors are asked to stick to a vocabulary of 900 common roots (including affixes and grammatical endings) and 527 for tre facila. Other words are defined in terms of those on the list. For example, araneo is not included, but it could be defined as timiga besteto kun ok piedoj. [See “La blanka ĉevalo” in this issue, a story written using Kontakto’s “facila” guidelines. —Ed.]
You can find the vocabulary here, complete with links to definitions: http://remush.be/tezauro/Kontakto.html
The list is very convenient for teachers and course authors, as it suggests which words are most useful to learn early on.
One of the most useful things students can do while reading is to keep handy a pocket notebook (or the electronic equivalent) in which to write down unfamiliar words with their definitions. Odds are they’ll come across the same words again soon and will be able to find them already in their personal micro-dictionary, which helps reinforce the memory. It’s also a useful study guide.
Besides Kontakto, a good source of reading material for komencantoj and progresintoj is the textbook Esperanto — Learning and Using the International Language by David Richardson. Children’s books also tend to be relatively easy reading, and so are many early works of Esperanto. Fundamenta Krestomatio (1903), the earliest large collection of readings, has everything from fairy tales and jokes to sample business letters. A wide selection of books can be found in the Esperanto-USA Libroservo. (Click on “Buy Stuff” at our website.)
In particular, search the catalog for works by Stefan MacGill. His books for younger readers through progresintoj are full of amusing stories, games, plays, puzzles, and a great deal of humor.
One of the first book-length works read by many students is Karlo by Edmond Privat, a very short novel (under 50 pages) that was originally published in 1909 and recounts the life of its hero from birth to marriage in an easy, readable style. There are many imaginative and memorable scenes, such as Karlo’s childhood dream of flying under a disk-shaped Earth. Another now-standard beginner’s book is Claude Piron’s short mystery Gerda Malaperis (1983). Both books are available in inexpensive editions from the Libroservo, and both are also available online for free. (Karlo is out of copyright, and the late Claude Piron gave his permission for Gerda Malaperis to be distributed on the Internet.) You can even find a full-length feature film adaptation of Gerda Malaperis on YouTube thanks to the generosity of the filmmakers.
More advanced students will profit from Boris Kolker’s Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando, one of the best-selling recent books in Esperanto. Also worthy of note are the novel La Ŝtona Urbo by Anna Löwenstein (which uses only official root words) and William Auld’s classic collection Paŝoj al Plena Posedo, which is definitely not for beginners but includes many highly entertaining selections.
A great deal of other reading matter, including older out-of-copyright works and newer ones whose authors have given permission, can be found online in various formats, many of them appropriate for tablet computers and e-book devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and the like. Some are even suitable for reading on smart phones. Of course they can also be printed out on paper.
One caution: Older electronic versions may not have circumflexed letters, instead writing Ĉ as Cx or Ch. Others use an older encoding that looks like gibberish. In addition, some PDF (Portable Document Format) files are easy to read on e-book devices but some are not.
Incidentally, I highly recommend the free program Calibre which does an excellent job of organizing a library of electronic books on your computer and transferring them to your e-book reader or smart phone. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is compatible with more than a score of e-book devices (including every one I’ve ever heard of). See: http://calibre-ebook.com.
Finally, here are some useful websites:
- (or just go to Lernu.net and click on Library). Has reading suggestions and many stories available online (in some cases you can even have them read to you.) As a bonus, if you click on a word you immediately see its translation!
- Tons of reading matter in PDF format, including marvelously illustrated versions of the Oz novels of L. Frank Baum as translated by Donald Broadribb. The font in these is large enough to be readable on most e-readers. (Highly recommended.)
- Another source of the Oz books.
- This is a well-organized but not necessarily complete set of links to Project Gutenberg books in Esperanto. (Project Gutenberg is an on-line library of out-of-copyright books or those licensed by their authors.)
- Another set of books and shorter works in PDF format.
- A source of more recent electronic books in Esperanto from the Flanders Esperanto-Ligo. (Note that these are not free, but your purchase helps support the authors and the publisher.)
- Actual books on genuine paper. Members of Esperanto-USA receive a discount, and non-members can even join online and get the discount immediately.