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?

The Tale of Two Esperanto iPhone Keyboards

Posted on 29. Jan, 2015 by in Esperanto Culture, internet

In September 2014, Apple opened up its mobile operating system, iOS 8 to third-party keyboards. Before this, the Ĝusta Klavaro was available, but it was a separate app where you typed and then copied and pasted its contents to where you wanted them–not very convenient. Due to this new feature of iOS 8, two Esperanto iPhone keyboards were released this month: one by the Esperanto game company, Ludisto, and another by Viacheslav Shklyaev. [Full disclosure: I personally run Ludisto, the creator of the first keyboard.]

Esperanto-Klavaro was released on January 4, 2015 and cost $5. According to an interview with Libera Folio, Shklyaev did not like that this cost $5 and had the Ludisto company logo on it, so he made his own Esperanta Klavaro, released on January 20. It’s also of interest to note that both keyboards used the open source project Tasty-Imitation-Keyboard as a foundation to build them.

Data from my Esperanto venture

On January 27, I made Esperanto-Klavaro free to celebrate the launch of our new iPad board game What the Shell (also playable in Esperanto). I assumed the keyboard would last a little longer as a revenue-generating project, but I don’t regret it. It brought Esperanto keyboards to iPhone owners around the world and earned our company a little, which I can now invest into further developing our Esperanto games. Now that the Esperanto-Klavaro has run its time as a paid app, I’m now delighted to show you the results of this commercial Esperanto venture.

Downloads by Date (Jan 3-28)

Downloads by date

Downloads by date

Strictly from a business point of view, earning 215€ (US$240) from nine days of work was a pretty big commercial failure, but I was mostly working on it out of idealism, so it doesn’t bother me too much. To put this in perspective, keep in mind that it’s not too unusual for an iOS developer to make 400€ (US$450) per day! In any case, I think it’s interesting to see data from an experimental project just to get a feel for the Esperanto iOS app market.

Downloads by Country

World map of downloads

World map of downloads

Of course, another interesting statistic is how this breaks down by country. Given that the iPhone’s primary market is the United States, it is no surprise that this is the strongest country by far in sales. I was, however, a little surprised at Japan coming in second place. I was aware that there are many Esperanto speakers there, but I had forgotten how strong the iPhone market is there. In any case, Japan and France usually provide the second and third most participants of the Universala Kongreso de Esperanto (the first is usually the host country), so I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me so much.

Downloads by country (click to enlarge)

Downloads by country
(click to enlarge)

Have you considered pursuing a commercial project in Esperanto? What were your results?

Note: All screenshots were taken from Ludisto’s account on

Related links

Trans in Esperanto

Posted on 27. Dec, 2014 by in Uncategorized



Today I’d like to give a voice to a friend of mine who made a significant change in her life. Here is her article about her experiences in the Esperanto community.

Sophia: A short introduction to the concept: being trans, an abbreviation for transgender or transsexual, means that I was born with a body that didn’t fit me as far as apparent gender is concerned, and I’ve taken steps to transform it, as well as to take up a different role in society. I don’t believe I was ever a man; all that’s changed has been my appearance as well as how I affirm myself.

As a result of being trans I go through some of the most intense discrimination you can imagine. I’m bisexual, for instance, and have experienced discrimination both for being apparently a gay man and apparently a lesbian woman. I’ve been heckled, for instance, and stared at. I wasn’t always able to openly display affection for my girlfriend. Sometimes guys have ignored the obvious and just assumed we’re straight and available, and tried to flirt with one or both of us, something which would never happen if we were a male-female couple.

However, this discrimination is an order of magnitude less than the discrimination which I can directly connect with being trans. I’ve had people who consider themselves left-wing, conscious or tolerant throw me out of their house, or their social group, or tell me not to contact them again. I’ve had water thrown on me, a billion insults from random strangers on the street, and all sorts of people in perfectly reasonable voices telling me that I am fundamentally unattractive or undeserving of my basic rights.

Being Trans In Esperantujo

Trans flag

Trans flag

Well, I thought it would be interesting now for me to write about the difference between my experiences being trans in Esperantujo and being trans in normal life. [Editor’s note: Esperantujo is the Esperanto word for the abstract concept of everywhere in the world where Esperanto is currently spoken.]

For a lot of people, Esperantujo is a sort of safe haven; a place where they can be themselves, and know that they will be accepted.

To some extent, Esperantujo is that for me. I certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable when I was holding my girlfriend’s hand at an Esperanto event, for instance. I don’t feel like people are going to find me strange for being polyamorous, or vegan, or for having unusual esoteric beliefs.

As for being trans… let’s say that I don’t let my guard down. There are a lot of people in Esperantujo who very fully accept who I am. For instance, I find that quite a few of the straight men in Esperantujo are open to flirting with me. Outside Esperantujo on the other hand, most straight men who know I am trans are so scared of being seen by others as gay that you can pretty much see them searching for masculine aspects of my appearance so that they don’t have to be attracted to me.

Transphobia In Esperantujo

On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty crappy experiences with transphobia in Esperantujo.

My first Esperanto event was the Junulara Esperanto-Semajno (JES 2012-2013). I hadn’t taken hormones yet and it was still fairly easy to see I was trans just by looking at me.

I experienced reasonably good treatment – well, except for the millions of micro-discriminations which were a fact of my everyday life back then. Of course, I heard the occasional accidental “he” – or intentional one – something which is capable of making me feel far worse than I wish a single, often innocently-intended word could. I got stared at. I was asked awkward questions. The usual.

A friend did tell me, though, that several people had talked to her about me. Apparently, it was mostly Russians and Ukrainians – I guess because of their more conservative cultures. She reported that one had said, “Why does the boy want to be a girl and the girl want to be a boy??” – unfair, since my partner at the time was just presenting androgynously.

Once I took hormones and started blending in as a woman, the micro-discriminations lessened, both in and out of Esperantujo. Still, I’ve kept doing talks about transsexuality in most of the Esperanto events I’ve gone to, and that’s given people a chance to know I am trans and also talk about the topic with me, which quite often turns uncomfortable. For instance, one member of my audience in a recent talk referred to me as male right after I had given a long monologue on why doing exactly that is both incorrect and incredibly uncomfortable for me to hear.

I’ve only had one experience of severe discrimination in Esperantujo, the details of which are unpleasant enough that I won’t recount them here. But that did contribute to me feeling genuinely uncomfortable in that event.


Nowadays, I’m wondering whether to stop doing my talks about trans issues and blend in. The thought of doing so chafes me ideologically, but it’s also true that I enjoy social experiences much better when I am not bombarded with discrimination, minor and major, and of course I only get that when people know my history. Esperantujo is a safe-ish place in that regard, but still not safe enough as far as I’m concerned.

Overall, I’d say Esperantujo is sort of polarised. On one hand, there are quite a few people in Esperantujo who are really aware of trans issues or just really accepting, and around those I feel genuinely comfortable, like I can really let my hair down. People like that are rarer to find outside of Esperantujo.

On the other hand, Esperanto attracts people from all sorts of cultures, including the more conservative ones, and some of those people seem rather less comfortable around me. Besides that, there is a small minority of somewhat extreme personalities that seem to be drawn to Esperanto, anti-social people who are maybe looking for an accepting place, I don’t know; these, when they choose to get in my face, can do a lot to make my experience in these events less enjoyable.

If you’re moved by these words, I would recommend, like I recommend anyone, that you read a little about trans issues and get educated. I think a great start is Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. (Try to avoid mainstream documentaries, though, as the message is often distorted according to what the producers think their viewers can handle). Besides that, perhaps you can come to one of my talks on the topic if we’re at the same Esperanto event – supposing I keep doing them.

Related Esperanto vocabulary

transsexual = trans-seksa
transsexual person = transseksulo
bisexual = ambaŭ-seks-ema (literally: both-sex-inclined)
homosexual = sam-seks-ema (literally: same-sex-inclined)
heterosexual = mal-sam-seks-ema (literally: different-sex-inclined)
polyamorous = plur-am-ema (literally: many-love-inclined)
gay = gejo
lesbian = lesbo
queer = kviro

Sophia’s photo used with permission. Flag image attribution: user Torbakhopper on