Is your hobby a waste of time?

Posted on 15. Apr, 2015 by in Uncategorized

How many times have you heard this?

Me: I’m going to learn Esperanto.
Friend: Why are you going to waste your time with that?

If you’ve ever considered learning Esperanto, the above dialog will play out over and over in your life like a broken record. Let’s try another:

Me: I’m going to learn how to play Shogi (Japanese Chess).
Friend: Wow, that sounds cool, have fun!

Shogi game in progress

Shogi game in progress

I’ve learned Esperanto and I’ve learned how to play Shogi to an intermediate level. Although I have to admit I’m quite rusty these days; I remember the rules, but I’ve forgotten the castles (opening defense formations). But, I digress. What I’d like to point out is how much I’ve “done” Esperanto and Shogi. I’ve met many interesting people by speaking Esperanto and by playing Shogi.

The experiences are, though, very different. I once had the chance to meet the American Shogi Champion. While dropping by the Shogi Championships one day in NYC (when I lived there), I had the random chance to play a game against a master while the rest of the room was playing tournament matches. However, I’d have to say that [outside of Japan] it’s easier to find Esperanto speakers than Shogi players.

Chillin' at the Esperanto Go Club in Tokyo

Chillin’ at the Esperanto Go Club in Tokyo

Even when the Tokyo Esperanto club invited me to Japan, I never got around to playing Shogi when I was there, but I did enjoy teaching Go to some Japanese people in Esperanto in a club owned by an Esperanto speaker there. How random! But such experiences abound when you mix foreign languages and hobbies. When someone moves to a new city and wants to make friends, I always recommend they seek out local groups for their hobbies. This way they already feel more comfortable due to their common interest. Plus, speaking is bound to come easier due to extensive knowledge of the hobby.

Now I want you to think back to the original dialogs above telling others about your hobbies. I bring this up, because we all know that all hobbies do not have the same level of prestige. Let me list a few and think of what you associate with them: stamp collecting, fashion, surfing, filmmaking, skydiving, watching football, playing poker, yachting, learning languages, knitting. Did you notice that different hobbies get different reactions from other people? Why is this?

I would say that you should enjoy your hobbies despite what others say about them. If you enjoy collecting stamps, but others say it’s not cool, so what? You’re a man who likes to knit? Cool! You want to watch football even though your intellectual friends say it’s lame? Fine, why not? Enjoy what you want and let life lead you on the most interesting adventures. You can never forge your own path if you’re just doing what everyone else says is popular and cool. Enjoy life… in whichever language you want!

Note for Esperanto Shogi players: You might also find it amusing that there are two books about Shogi in Esperanto: Invito al Japana Ŝako (beginner) and Japana Ŝako (intermediate). Some players even recommend these over English or Japanese books, because the Esperanto books give a great overview, unlike English or Japanese books, which tend to focus on specific topics and are thus more limited, yet deeper in scope.

Picture: Shogi (CC BY SA 3.0 Oliver Orschiedt)

Chinese learns Esperanto in just 5 months!

Posted on 30. Mar, 2015 by in Esperanto Language

Is Esperanto too European? I mean, is it too hard for Asians to learn it? In my early months of learning Esperanto, in 2002, I ran into a Chinese Esperanto speaker online, Zhu Xin (祝昕), who then lived in Beijing. But rather than tell you myself about his experience, I’d like to publish what he himself wrote only after just 5 months of learning Esperanto. So, here is his article from 2002, with my translation below each of his Esperanto paragraphs.

Komencanta Ĉina Esperantisto

(Beginning Chinese Esperanto Speaker)

Zhu Xin - Chinese Esperanto speaker

Zhu Xin – Chinese Esperanto speaker

Kiam mi estis infano, mi foje legis enciklopedion, kio speciale por infanoj. En ĝi mi trovis iom da vortoj pri artefarita lingvo Esperanto. Tiam mi miris, ke kiel lingvo povus esti artefarita, ĉu ĝi estas bona por uzi same kun la aliaj lingvoj, kaj ĝi eble estas tre malfacila lerni. Tiam, kiam mi ankoraŭ ne komencis lerni iu ajn fremdlingvojn, ŝajnis al me, ke lerni fremdlingvojn estas tre malfacile, precipe artefaritan lingvon Esperanton. Kaj mi neniam pensis, ke iam mi ellernos la Esperanton. Nun la fakto pruvis, ke mi eraris.

When I was little, I occasionally read a children’s encyclopedia. There I found some words about the artificial language, Esperanto. Then, I wondered how a language could be artificial, if it is good to use just like any other language, and it might be very difficult to learn. Then, when I still hadn’t yet started learning foreign languages, it seemed that learning one would be very difficult, even Esperanto. I never thought I would start learning Esperanto. Now, the fact proved that I was wrong.

Kvankam mi havis ian antaŭjuĝon pri Esperanto en mia infaneco, tamen mi neniam forgesis ĝin dum mia kreskado. Ŝajnis al mi, ke Esperanto estas tre fenomena, kiel roloj en fabela mondo. Kiam mi estis ĉirkaŭ 14-jaraj, leginte libron, kiu temas pri Zhang Haidi (ŝi diligente studadis spite al la sia kriplaĵo, kiu estas modelo de junuloj), mi konis, ke Zhang Haidi memlernis kelkajn fremdlingvojn inklude Esperanton. Tio refoje pliigis mian intereson pri Esperanto. Tamen mi ankoraŭ ne havis sopiron lerni Esperanton tiutempe. Eble tiam ĉar mi estis lernanta anglan lingvon, kiu tre ĉagrenigis min, en lernejo, kaj mi tute ne opiniis, ke Esperanto estas pli utila ol angla. Nun la fakto pruvis, ke mi ree eraris.

Although I had a prejudice against Esperanto when I was young, I never forgot about it while I grew up. It seemed to me that Esperanto is very phenomenal like the roles in a fictional world. When I was about 14 years old, I was reading a book about Zhang Haidi (she diligently kept studying even though she was crippled, being a model for young people), I learned that Haidi taught herself foreign languages, including Esperanto. This again intensified my desire, but I did not yet yearn to learn Esperanto. Possibly when learning English in school was irritating me, and I really didn’t think that Esperanto would be more useful than English. Again, I was wrong.

Nun oni havas interreton, kiu donis al mi bonan ŝancon por kontakti diversajn aĵojn inklude Esperanton. Iufoje, ĉirkaŭ antaŭ 5 monatoj, Mi hazarde eniris hejmpaĝon pri Esperaton. Tiam mi jam lernis anglan lingvon por 7-8 jaroj, sed mi ankoraŭ ne povis interparoli flue kun aliaj per ĝi. Do post kiam mi pli detale konis la avantaĝon de Esperanto, mi tuj sopiris lerni ĝin. Mi partoprenis retan Esperanto-kurson senkostan, eklernis Esperanton. Mi vere ekkontaktis Esperanton unuafoje. Dum lernado en la Esperanto-kurso, mi persone spertis la facilecon, riĉecon, precizecon kaj flekseblecon de Esperanto. Post ĉirkaŭ 6 semajnoj, kiam mi glate finis entute 10 lecionojn elementajn de la kurso, mi jam povis legi preskaŭ iajn ajn Esperantajn librojn helpe de vortaroj, kaj interparoli kun aliaj per simplaj frazoj. Mi sentis grandan agrablon, kion Esperanto donis al mi. Cetere mi ricevis “Diplomo de la Senkosta Esperanto-Kurso”, kion al mi sendis mia instruisto instruinta min en la reta Esperanto-kurso. La diplomo estis skribita jene:

Diplomo de la Senkosta Esperanto-Kurso

Nome de la instruisto Zhong Qiyao mi deklaras ke
Zhu Xin kontentige partoprenis en la komputilreta versio de la Senkosta Esperanto-Kurso en la Ĉina lingvo

Zhong Qiyao
Kursadministranto

Now we have the Internet which gave me a chance to learn about many different things, including Esperanto. Sometime, about 5 months ago, I randomly visited a webpage about Esperanto. By then, I had already studied English for 7-8 years, but I still couldn’t speak it fluently. So, after I had more details about the advantages of Esperanto, I immediately wanted to learn it. I took the free Esperanto course on the Internet and started to learn Esperanto. I really connected with Esperanto at first. Taking the course, I personally experienced the ease, richness, precision and flexibility of Esperanto. After about six weeks, when I finished all ten lessons of the course, I could already practically read any kind of book in Esperanto with the help of a dictionary and speak to others in simple sentences. I felt a great joy about what Esperanto gave me. Finally, I received the “Diploma of the Free Esperanto Course,” which my Esperanto tutor sent me. The diploma says the following:

Diploma of the Free Esperanto Course

As your instructor, Zhong Qiyao, I declare that
Zhu Xin participated in the internet version of the Free Esperanto Course in Chinese

Zhong Qiyao
Course Adminstrator

Ĝi ja estas grava memoraĵo sur mia Esperanto-vojo

It indeed is an important memory of learning Esperanto.

Lerninte la elementan Esperanton, kompreneble mi sopiras lerni plu. Sed mi preskaŭ ne povas trovi librojn pri Esperanto en ĝeneralaj libro-vendejoj. Do mi devas eniri malnovlibro-vendejojn por serĉi. Bonŝance kelkajn lernolibrojn, vortarojn kaj aliajn pri Esperanto mi trovis, kaj mi tuj aĉetis ilin tute ne hezite. Mi soife legadis tiujn librojn. Dank al la legado mi grade ekpovis ĝui Esperantajn literaturaĵojn. Antaŭnelonge, kiam mi legis sentimentalan romanon en Esperanto, mi larmis kortuŝite. Mi tre plezuras pro tio. Kaj mi neniam tiel sentis agrablon kiam mi legis anglajn librojn, kvankam mi lernis anglan lingvon por 7-8 jaroj kaj Esperanton nur 4-5 monatoj.

Having learned basic Esperanto, understandably I wanted to learn more. I could hardly find books about Esperanto in regular bookstores, so I had to search used bookstores. Luckily I found some instructional books, dictionaries and others about Esperanto and I immediately bought them without hesitating. I read those books with a thirst. Thanks to the reading, I gradually started to enjoy Esperanto literature. Now, when I read a sentimental novel in Esperanto, I weep as it touches my heart. I really enjoy that. I never felt that much joy when I read English books, even though I’ve studied English for 7-8 years and Esperanto for only 4-5 months.

Nun mi perceptas, ke mi ne nur povas studi Esperanton sole, sed ankaŭ devas kontaktiĝis kun aliaj esperantistoj ĉar mi jam estas esperantisto. Esperantisto, mi ŝatas ĉi tiun nomon, kiu simbolas idealon, entuziasmon, fortecon kaj tiujn bravulojn kiuj diligente sin dediĉas al la paco kaj progreso de la mondo. Mi ekkonis kaj ekkomprenis kio Esperanto-movado estas. Mi tre volas kontaktiĝi kun aliaj esperantistoj kaj mi jam komencis tiel fari. Ekzemple, mi baldaŭ membriĝos en Pekina Esperanta Asocio, kaj en la venonta monato mi partoprenos Esperantan renkontiĝon unuafoje.

Now I understand that I not only can study Esperanto by myself, but I also need to find other Esperantists, because I am already an Esperantist. Esperantist: I like this name which symbolizes ideals, enthusiasm, strength, and the brave ones who diligently dedicate themselves to peace and progress in the world. I’m starting to know and understand the Esperanto movement. I really want to contact other Esperantists and I’ve already started to do that. For example, I will soon become a member of the Beijing Esperanto Association, and next month I will participate in an Esperanto convention for the first time.

Esperanto: like a native (video)

Posted on 21. Feb, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Today, February 21, 2015 is International Mother Language Day. There are over 6,000 languages spoken on earth, a staggering amount! Would you have guessed that Esperanto is one of them?

As you might have already seen on this blog, Esperanto is a living language with native speakers, and in celebration of International Mother Language Day a multinational team put together a short video interview with six native Esperanto speakers. The video features subtitles in several languages, including English. Producer Judith Meyer, who speaks over ten languages including Esperanto, said “I wanted to show that Esperanto has managed an incredible feat: it started out as one man’s project, its death was prophesied many times over the past 125 years, but now it is a living language with a growing number of speakers all around the world.” Hear what native speakers have to say in this video below!

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Native speakers: an Esperanto Secret?

Esperanto speakers sometimes want to hide the fact that there are native speakers, because the language was designed to be one’s second language, not their first. However, with people finding their love at Esperanto meetings, native speakers were only inevitable. They get married, have kids, and now which language should they speak with them? There are two different situations based on whether their parents speak the same native language or different ones. Let’s look at these scenarios.

Same Language Parents

Helmut and Nils Klünder (2007)

Helmut and Nils Klünder (2007): second and third gen native Eo speakers

Believe it or not, this is the most common scenario for native Esperanto speakers. However the parents met, they speak the same native language and want to give their children a richer linguistic background, so one of them speaks Esperanto all the time while the other parent speaks their national language. However, many factors play into whether the children keep responding in Esperanto or not. With no further contact with the Esperanto community, many children one day decide to stop speaking Esperanto and just speak the local language with their parents.

However, children notice the importance of Esperanto when foreign guests come to visit who don’t speak the local language. Also, some families visit Esperanto meetings abroad, so their kids experience the usefulness of Esperanto first-hand as other children they’re playing with don’t speak their native language. Studies have shown that you can show children foreign language television or read to them in another language, but the only method that seems to truly work is when a child plays in a foreign language… then the language takes hold and they start to master it.

Different Language Parents

Imagine you met your Esperanto-speaking spouse while traveling abroad and then have kids together. Most likely, you’ll naturally just speak Esperanto with each other, because this is the language you’ve used ever since you met. Now, what do you speak with your kids? Most couples decide to each speak to their children in their own native language, so this child grows up bilingually. Most decide that their child can learn Esperanto later in their life if they want, since it is much easier to learn than most languages… and with two languages already under their belt and having heard their parents speak Esperanto their whole life, learning it then becomes a breeze if they choose to do so.

Ulrich (German) and Nan (Chinese) Matthias with their daughter and son.

Ulrich (German) and Nan (Chinese) Matthias with their son and daughter.

Parents will usually at some point try to understand enough of their spouse’s language, so they can understand what their spouse and child are saying to each other. While this may seem strange to the majority of us who grew up in one-language households, for these families such language switching is totally normal. Now, the interesting part comes when such a child is introduced to the Esperanto community, either by a foreign guest staying a few days in their home, traveling abroad or even attending an Esperanto meeting. Most children in such situations learn to get by quite well, since they’ve heard their parents speaking Esperanto their entire life.

Visits from extended family are also interesting to throw into the mix. In such situations, most of the extended family can usually only speak one language, so during these visits this language takes priority. In any case, these children have incredibly high language and cultural awareness, which can give them many extra benefits in life as their unique perspective grants them full access to not only two national cultures, but also to the international Esperanto culture and community as is demonstrated by what we heard in the film above.

Note that I’ve tried to simplify these scenarios quite a bit, but in real-life they can be quite complex. The most interesting I’ve heard of is a French man and Hungarian woman who met through Esperanto and moved to the Netherlands. Their son grew up speaking French, Hungarian, Esperanto, Dutch and learned English in school. In any case, these children have great advantages in dealing with our multilingual international world.

Read more from Esperanto native speakers

Over the years, I’ve also interviewed a few native Esperanto speakers. I started with Rolf Fantom and his not always positive experience growing up in an Esperanto family. The next year, I interviewed DJ Leo Sakaguchi, which you can see in the above film. Then, lastly, I interviewed the third generation native Esperanto speaker Nils, which lead to an interview with his father, Helmet Klünder!

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While not a native Esperanto speaker, watch the video above to learn about a polyglot raising his daughter in five languages. Story starts at 20:45.

If you spoke Esperanto, would you raise your children speaking Esperanto? Why or why not?