In the last post we discussed what Esperanto is and hopes to achieve. I call this the Big Idea. Today I would like to present the Little Idea, why you should learn Esperanto even though the Big Idea is still far in the future.
Why should you learn Esperanto?
Number One: You want to learn a second language but it’s hard. So learn an easy one.
You are right on both counts.
Numerous surveys show that people wish they were bilingual. But there is a better reason to learn a second language than just desire. Being bilingual has health benefits. That’s right, learning a second language has proven physical and mental benefits.
But it’s hard. Even a relatively easy language (like Spanish) takes a couple of years of consistent study to reach any degree of fluency in it.
Meanwhile the time to master Esperanto can be measured in months or even weeks. It’s still a lot of work, but far more manageable for the average person. Some of this is due to Esperanto’s simplified and regular grammar. Some of it is due to its unique way of using prefixes and suffixes to create a huge vocabulary out of a relatively small number of root words. Finally, Esperanto draws most of its words from common European languages, so English speakers will find a lot of similar words.
Number Two: There is a secret to learning languages (but it’s ridiculous).
So here’s something interesting. Learning a second language is a very difficult proposition. But learning a third is, interestingly, easier than learning a second. Learning a second language teaches you, and your brain, how to learn language.
Once you’ve learned a second language you know what it takes. You know what you are getting into starting in on a third. Realistic expectations help keep you motivated because you don’t give up as easily.
But it’s more than that. Many of the health benefits of being bilingual are because your brain has to develop to accommodate the second language. It has to learn how to keep those two languages separate but accessible. Once it knows how to do that, the third language comes easier.
So if you want to learn Japanese, why not learn Russian first? After you’ve spent, on average, five years learning Russian Japanese will be that much easier.
Of course that is ridiculous.
But there is one example that isn’t ridiculous, Esperanto. A famous and often quoted study went like this. British primary school students were divided into two groups. One was given two years of French. The other was given a year of Esperanto followed by a year of French. At the end of two years, the Esperanto speakers were better at French.
Why is that? In part because of the bilingual effect, their brains had mastered holding multiple languages. In part because of Esperanto’s simplified grammar. Researchers compare it to giving children a recorder before teaching them another instrument. You learn to read music on a simple instrument and when you take on a difficult instrument you have that part of the task down.
Esperanto’s grammar works the same way, it teaches you how languages are supposed to work. Natural languages are messier, filled with exceptions to every rule. But memorizing the exception is easier when you understand the underlying pattern.
So what are you waiting for? Get out and learn Esperanto.
Best of all you can learn for free. Duolingo, a free phone app has helped millions learn a new language. They offer a wide variety of languages, including Esperanto. The Universal Esperanto Association also has a learning website and app, both named Lernu. There are several books as well, if you prefer.