Confession time

by Richard on May 27, 2007

I have a confession to make, but I’m hesitant. Who wants to look ridiculous? But my guilty secret is weighing me down and I’m hoping that ‘getting it off my chest’ will bring some relief. Confession, I’m told, is good for the soul. So here goes.

Mia nomo estas Richard, kaj mi estas Esperantisto.

That’s right. I am an Esperantist, a speaker (or, at least, a user) of Esperanto.

I know, I know. Esperanto is a joke, a failed nineteenth century experiment, a constructed language based on an impossibly utopian dream. So if you want to laugh, be my guest. A vegetarian Methodist in Britain today has no street-cred anyway. One more thing to make me an object of derision won’t hurt me.

The thing is that although Esperanto has a terrible image problem, it can and does do all that its inventor (the Pole L.L. Zamenhof) promised it would, namely provide an easy to learn auxiliary language to enable communication between the peoples of the world. It was the claims about its simplicity that made me try it out. I started out a few months ago, and using the book ‘Teach Yourself Esperanto’ (which has been sitting idle on my bookshelves for about 20 years) and the resources of the website Lernu! I’ve been dipping in for a few minutes here and there. Now I find that I’m able to converse with people from many nations in “our” language, not mine or theirs. I’ve taken part in webchats with people from China, Poland, France, Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia… the list goes on. I have no aptitude for languages at all and yet after only a little study I have more confidence than I ever did with French which I studied for 5 years in school.

So now my secret is out, and I may never be able to show my face in public again. So be it. I’d thought Esperanto was a joke, and I was wrong. It may not be a perfect language (what could be?), but Esperanto is a simple if rather radical answer to one of the world’s most fundamental problems: getting people talking.

[I've been sitting on this post for a week or two. Pentecost seemed as good a time as any to let it out. I'll probably write more about La Lingvo Internacia in the future. Try not to laugh.]

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }


Fr Chris 05.27.07 at 4:16 pm

I can’t laugh — I’ve also used Esperanto in the past. You’re right that it more or less does what it says on the tin, and I rather enjoyed hanging out with other esperantistoj, who are usually a little odd (like yours truly) but quite kind and good-hearted.


PamBG 05.27.07 at 4:46 pm

I’ve never known anyone who confessed to knowing Esperanto before. Thanks for writing this. Heck, I’m a vegetarian Methodist too, so what do I have to lose?


Kim 05.27.07 at 4:55 pm

My condolences. Like most simple and radical solutions to complex problems, Esperanto’s is quixotic and vain. Otherwise we would have heard about at Pentecost 1. Still, the only way way learn to make good judgements is by making bad ones. But a few months ago? If you’ve got time on your hand, do something useful and edifying - like starting the Church Dogmatics!


PS: If you’re lonely and want a conversation partner, I believe Beth’s mother is fluent.


Wood 05.27.07 at 10:47 pm

William Shatner speaks Esperanto, so you’re in… um… company.


Richard 05.28.07 at 12:12 am

Wood, I’m not sure that Shatner does speak Esperanto. He starred in one of the few films to have been made in Esperanto, but I’m sure I read that he merely learned his lines.

Thanks for that Kim. Having time on my hands is not one of my problems! If it were, I don’t suppose the Church Dogmatics would be at the top of my list of ways to fill it. I’d need to have a lot of spare time. But studying Barth would most definitely be work, not leisure!

I don’t think I agree that simple solutions are always vain. Quixotic, maybe. In any case, individual gestures are always pointless in a sense. I became vegetarian partly in protest against factory farming. I never expected my gesture to bring change to the agricultural system by itself, and the ‘failure’ of the protest has not led me to regret making it. There’s a place for naive gestures, I reckon.


Fr Chris 05.28.07 at 1:17 am

I think the point I would make in response to Kim’s comment is that it’s only a minority of esperantistoj who honestly believe this is going to solve all of humanity’s communication problems. It may have utopian roots, but most folks I knew were involved because they enjoyed communicating across cultural lines a little more easily. For most it was a jumping-off point for learning other natural languages (or an interesting supplement to other language study — in my case, I already spoke Russian, Czech, and a little German before learning Esperanto).

It’s not the world’s most expressive language, and it’s no substitute for cultural contact in a natural language, but Esperanto has its place.


Kim 05.28.07 at 10:39 am

Gestures are fine, gestures are important, but this jesture is merely jousting, tilting at windmills. Moreover, have you considered that Esperanto represents the linguistic apotheosis of the Enlightenment project, a monochrome European bid for the colonising of “otherness”, that a single global language would be a sign and tool of oppression? No, I didn’t think you had! :)

And look, Richard, if you’ve got time to learn Esperanto, you’ve got time to begin Barth. And with Barth, work is play, like reading a great novel. Oops, bad analogy - Richard isn’t keen on reading novels either! :) But Barth’s theology is so beautiful.


Fr Chris 05.28.07 at 6:14 pm

Not all products of the Enlightenment are a priori bad.

My point is that Esperanto has borne some good fruits in the way of cultural contact and promoting the learning of second (and third and…) natural languages. They’re meager fruits, but it’s a meager movement. It’s not mere “tilting at windmills.”


malc 05.28.07 at 9:45 pm

though isn’t it sad that there are more people who speak Klingon than there are who speak Esparanto….. though I seem to recall that Rimmer (from Red Dwarf) wanted to learn it….


Richard 05.29.07 at 12:24 am

I knew that bringing this up was a mistake!

That would be sad Malc, if it were true. But I’m as sure as I can be that it isn’t…

More seriously, Kim comments: “have you considered that Esperanto represents the linguistic apotheosis of the Enlightenment project, a monochrome European bid for the colonising of “otherness”, that a single global language would be a sign and tool of oppression? No, I didn’t think you had!”
You’re right Kim — I hadn’t considered that, and for a good reason. It’s bollocks. ;) Esperanto isn’t intended to eliminate difference, merely to be a means of communication across difference.
And let’s say you’re right that learning this language is a waste of time. What then? After all, every kind of leisure activity is in some sense exactly that. And other people’s leisure activities are often a mystery. But unlike Mr Wesley, I think it is very necessary that we make some time in our lives to be ‘triflingly employed’. I think you do too.

But I’ll make you a promise. If I should be given the 6 milion words of the Church Dogmatics, I promise that I’ll read them with a glad heart and a merry song. But if devote the little time I’ve spent on E-o to the task, I’ll be lucky to get through even the first volume before I’m dead.

(For the record, I do read novels. My tastes are a bit more low-brow than Kim’s. :))


Kim 05.29.07 at 8:44 am

Don’t shoot! I’m coming out with my hands up!


Gabriel 05.29.07 at 6:03 pm


This is my first post at this blog - I just came across it through a link Richard gave on an Esperanto forum. I’m afraid the most I know about Methodism is that my dad’s a Methodist and that Wesley wrote lots of Christmas carols!

Just wanted to comment on malc’s piece above:

“though isn’t it sad that there are more people who speak Klingon than there are who speak Esparanto…..”

That is most certainly not true! Although the Klingon Dictionary that came out in the early 90’s was a bestseller (even I have a copy!), in most cases it’s a conversation piece for the coffee table and very few people actually speak the language, for the simple reason that it’s _very_ difficult to learn. It was designed to go against various basic rules of human language so as to seem more unnatural. I remember there was a quote in an article in Wired magazine from a member of the Klingon Language Institute that mentioned “All the fluent speakers of Klingon can comfortably go out to dinner together”. Nevertheless it’s fun to be able to shout things like “nuqDaQ yuch Dapol” at people - that is, “Pass the chocolate” :-)

” though I seem to recall that Rimmer (from Red Dwarf) wanted to learn it….”

This, on the other hand, is very true :-) Skip to 01:45 in this video:


svaa 09.05.07 at 2:35 am

Esperanto is as vain as any other hobby, and a little more useful (just a little).

There are several reason for learning Esperanto : Curiosity, idealism, few friends, political reasons (idealism, but less good will), reaction against English, reaction against other language (i.e. Basque against Spanish).

And probably some more. People learn Esperanto because one of these reasons, or a mixture of several of these reasons (with different percentages).

I don’t think Esperanto will ever be accepted as world auxiliary language. It is just a hobby that lets you travel and contact with different cultures. I agree you. If someone has studied Esperanto expecting a practical use, he has studied in vain.

By the way, as communication tool, it works.

On the other hand, there is much more people that speak Esperanto than speak Klingon. In China there are 400.000 registered Esperanto speakers.


laurence 12.29.08 at 1:54 am

If theres to time to read Barth and do Esperanto, then please please, folks consider learning (some) Welsh–its a lovley thing to do anywher, but especially in wales which i understand some of you are !

btw mae gen i eiriadur Cymraeg-Esperanto (chofais y gair am Esperanto yn Gymraeg !)
btw i have a Welsh-esperanto Dictionary ! (by some happy (?) coincidnece).

Yes, many gestures don’t transform the world but we do them because good, right or true –or just because we feel called to !

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