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An example of why learning Esperanto as a first foreign language is helpful

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Learning a new language presents certain intrinsic difficulties — a new vocabulary is an obvious example. But it has been said that if you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible — that is, remove or reduce barriers to the action you want.

So if you simply want to learn a new language, pick one with the fewest barriers. For example, one that has no irregular verbs or complicated tenses; one that does not require you to learn the gender of each noun; one that provides tools to make it easier to learn vocabulary; one whose grammar is simple, regular, and free of exceptions to the rules.

Esperanto has all that, but there remain essential and intrinsic difficulties, and one reason Esperanto works so well as a first foreign language — being relatively easy to learn and (important point) makes learning subsequent languages easier — is that because the rest of the language is easy, you can focus on the intrinsic difficulties and learn how to attack those.

In effect, Esperanto offers a good environment for learning how to learn a language.

One common difficulty for beginners is wanting to say something — a specific sentence — and not knowing one of the words in the sentence. The difficulty diminishes as your vocabulary increases, of course, but it also diminishes as the student learns how to rephrase the thought using the vocabulary he or she already knows. Rather than simply getting stuck, students fairly quickly learn how to workaround the gap in their knowledge.

Another difficulty is when you know the foreign word for an English word (e.g., “kuri” in Esperanto means “to run” in English), and then use the word in contexts where the sense is very idiomatic.  Lee Miller offers some examples in the Duolingo group on Facebook. He writes:

In English, forms called “phrasal verbs” are used all the time. These are expressions formed of a verb plus a preposition, that yield a unique meaning.

A recent thread about the different meanings of the word “run” made me think it’s important to point out these phrasal verbs, because when you’re learning Esperanto vocabulary very often the literal meaning of the verb in English doesn’t apply.


run aground
run along
run behind
run down
run out
run over
run short
run together
run upon

If you translate any of these sentences, the Esperanto word “kuri” is not going to be involved:

The ship ran aground.
I need to run along.
I’m running behind.
My clock ran down, and I’m feeling run down.
I ran out of energy.
The car ran over a board.
We had enough, but now we’re running short.
All his words run together.
I ran upon an interesting article yesterday.

Always think about “What does this sentence or phrase mean?” instead of “What does each of these individual words mean?”

Another example, not a phrase: “He’s running a temperature?” I would definitely not use “kuri” for the verb. (Verbs are trick: if you want to say “that clock doesn’t work” in Esperanto, the verb would not be “laboras” (works) but “funkcias” (functions — “works” in an idiomatic sense.)

As you practice Esperanto, you develop a sense of phrasing that is not literal — you become aware of when you using words beyond their literal meaning — and that helps you focus on the actual content of the thought you’re trying expressed and not mired down in a word-by-word translation that will be confusing to a non-English speaker.

Once you become sensitive to the traps and errors that idiomatic English presents, you can carry that into your next foreign language: the skill (and knowledge) is transferable, and since you already have it (from having studied Esperanto), you can save time and effort that you’ll need for (say) mastering the various conjugations and irregular verbs of the next language you learn. In this way, learning the next language after learning Esperanto is easier because you can use skills and knowledge you have already gained.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

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