One week ago, after taking a brief look at Esperanto, I made the comment that it looks so easy that I could see how it's possible to be fluent in one week, which led to my one-week Esperanto challenge. Now, one week later, how did it turn out? Am I fluent?
I have not been able to find anyone to talk to, so the truth is, I don't know! I have a high comprehension rate when I watch YouTube videos, and I've spent a lot of time chatting in Esperanto without need for a translator or dictionary, but since I haven't had to actually speak and respond, in real time, I just can't say that I'm fluent.
I feel pretty good about it
Over the course of one week, I've learned all of the grammar, all verb tenses, all of the necessary words, and a lot of vocabulary. I've learned how to pronounce the language and how to understand what I hear. I've learned to accurately transcribe what others say. And according to this page, I have learned enough vocabulary to understand more than 80% of what I will hear and read in the language. That's not bad for one week!
I don't claim to be perfect grammatically. I continue to forget the occasional accusative ending, or to use incorrectly learned words, but grammatical perfection isn't a component of my definition of fluency — especially for a one-week challenge. The goal is to be capable of conversing freely, without a dictionary, and without slowing down a conversation. And I honestly believe that if I'm not there already, I'm at least close.
Once again, though, we can't know that until I have a one-on-one conversation with someone... and that brings me to the real problem with Esperanto — when, where, and how will I ever use it?
What good is Esperanto?
This question, it seems, is capable of stirring up a passionate answer from even the kindest Esperantist. But any question capable of provoking such an emotional response generally reveals more about the person responding...
As I've said above, I've spent a lot of time chatting in Esperanto and a lot of time watching Esperanto videos on YouTube, and I've noticed a theme: The biggest topic of discussion and conversation in Esperanto is... well... Esperanto. People aren't talking about the news, or about their day in Esperanto, they're talking about the Esperanto movement. In that respect, it's sort of a meta-language — only used for describing itself.
Yes, I did find the occasional story of two people with different mother-tongues, who came together through Esperanto, and whose offspring speak it as a native language. Sure, such people exist. But I would argue that they are smaller in number than people who survive using only sign language, and that's not a particularly useful "language" to learn either.
The guy on the corner selling you a newspaper probably isn't an Esperantist. The waitress at the cafè isn't going to take your order in Esperanto. You'll likely never buy a train ticket or book a hotel room in Esperanto. And I'm not likely to hear it used in a movie, or in a popular song on the radio. Yet these are all things that can be done right now in any other language.
But there are people who speak it
In spite of the fact that it's not going to do me a lot of good, I can't feel bad about learning a language in one week. Think about that for a second. Say it out loud. Learning a language in one week.
No matter how old you are, you can look back on a week that you've wasted doing something un-productive: a video game marathon, or wasting away at camp, or just sitting around the house watching tv. It is estimated that over 2 million people speak Esperanto, and one week of effort has given me the confidence that I can talk to them.
And while the odds of using Esperanto on the street are incredibly low, there are plenty of organizations and events all over the world where people get together to speak Esperanto. In fact, there's an Esperanto society right here in my home city. The ability to walk into a group of people knowing they all speak Esperanto would be significant, and it would give me a chance to communicate with people whose language I don't speak.
My own greatest benefit
While I've learned a lot about Esperanto this week, I've also learned a lot about languages and language learning in general. More than anything else, I think this week has helped me to define what my learning strategy really is all about. It has helped me to take what I would normally do over the course of one year, and compress it into one week, I believe that will help me to shape the course of this web site in the future.
I'm going to spend some time looking back at my week and summarizing what I have done, and put together a post that explains what my method is really all about. But first, it's back to Italian!
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.