Union Station

While looking into the rudiments of Esperanto on a bit of a weekend whim, I tweeted, somewhat jestfully, that I could imagine someone being able to acheive fluency in Esperanto in one week. That remark was met with a friendly challenge and even a starting point, and so I've decided to give it a try.

I really don't see a downside, because even if I fall short, I expect that I will still come out of this being able to read and write and understand a new language in just one week. And if I succeed, well, wow!

So this week, I'm going to take a break from Italian and study only Esperanto. I will also be doing more than my usual one hour (or less) per night, but not by much. Maybe two hours a night. After all, the real important time isn't the time spent studying, but the time spent alone, whether commuting, or at work, or even just those few moments in the elevator or restroom, when I will be alone with my thoughts. Those are the most important moments, because that's when I will be thinking in Esperanto!

Without any Esperanto speakers around me, I don't know how I will measure my success, but I'll worry about that next week. After just a few moments on Google, I did find an Esperanto society right here in Chicago, so maybe that is a resource I could look into. Or, perhaps a Skype conversation with one my new language blogging colleagues. Who knows?

So how does one get started?

It's daunting enough figuring out where to start learning a new language. And even more so when it's a constructed language. But most of all, how does one prioritize a language-learning sprint to fit as much as possible into just one week?

Well, fortunately, this is a language designed to be easy. That is, after all, the very reason for this challenge — if it weren't so easy, I'd have never made such a comment. So, here's what we know about Esperanto, summarized from my findings yesterday:

  • Everything is 100% phonetic.
  • Words are formed by adding prefixes and suffixes to stems.
  • Nouns have no gender. They all end in -o. Plural nouns end in -oj.
  • There are two noun cases: subject nouns (as above) and object nouns, with add an -n.
  • Adjectives end in -a, and plurals in -aj.
  • Infinitive verbs end in -i.
  • Verbs are not conjugated. They have the same endings for all subjects.
  • There are just three verb tenses and two moods: -as for present tense, -os for future tense, -is for past tense, -u for the imperative mood, and -us for the conditional mood.
  • Adverbs end in -e.
  • Prefixes and stems are derived from Germanic, Slavic, and Latin languages... all of which are already familiar to me.

Knowing that, I can already start taking word stems and start attaching endings to make them into nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. I already know how to make them singular or plural, subject or object. All I need are some stems with which to do it!

Some learning resources

In other words, what I need is an Esperanto frequency list! I'm sure I'll find more, perhaps better lists, but my first five minutes Googling gave me this list at the Esperanto Society of Chicago, which I've printed out and started learning.

BerginoDale was also kind enough to point me to two resources to get started. The first, a free software course at Kurso de Esperanto is, at first glance, a really good interactive instruction to the language of Esperanto. The only downside is that there is no Mac version, but fortunately I have a Windows virtual machine in which it runs just fine.

And the second is the web site Lernu.net, which appears to be some sort of social network of Esperantu learners. There are lessons with dialogs, games, exercises, texts, and of course, people!

In my five minutes of Googling mentioned above, I also managed to find Traduku.net, an online translator that handles Esperanto. And a quick look over at LiveMocha reveals that there are also the usual courses available there, though I think they might be too slow for my short timeline.

My plan of action

I am certainly going to spend a little time with each of the Esperanto courses that were suggested to me, but knowing what I know about this language, it seems obvious that the most important thing to learn right away are the prefixes and suffixes, so that's where I'll focus my attention first.

Also, pulling from my experience with language-learning in general, I will obviously need to get rapidly accustomed to the basics: question words, prepositions, directions, numbers, modifiers, superlatives, etc.

Obviously, the success of this one-week mission is riding on my familiarity with all of the language families from which Esperanto draws its influence. For instance, if I didn't already know the Russian word дом, the Esperanto word domo might be hard to remember. And the same goes for the obvious Germanic roots of words like fraŭlino, and the Latin roots of words like senti.

By tomorrow, I expect to have learned quite a lot, and to already be forming intelligent sentences! How well do you think I will do? Is this idea crazy? We'll find out!



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