This is the year Evangeline decided to break all our brains.
This summer, Evangeline decided she wanted to learn a new language. We live in a part of Iowa with a heavy Hispanic population, but she didn't want to bolster her Spanish skills. I speak Haitian Creole, though not fluently, but she didn't want to learn that. She chose instead to learn Esperanto, that most famous of invented languages, which none of us speaks.
Esperanto is designed for ease of learning: There are no irregular verbs or nouns, spelling is a cinch once you grasp the language's flavor, and even the vocabulary is fairly accessible for an English-speaker, since it draws principally from European roots. If you speak a European language, the language is supposed to be a snap.
Additionally, studies have shown that studying Esperanto makes it easier to master other second languages. Many years ago in Britain, a school taught German to a control group for four years, and Esperanto to another group for one year, followed by German for three years. At the end of the road, the second group had a much stronger mastery of German than the control group.
Another incentive for learning Esperanto is that it is politically and culturally neutral; that is, you can speak Esperanto with someone from China, and you don't need to worry about sounding like an idiot, because it's a native language for neither of you. The words aren't laden with political significance because of one piece of history or culture; it's effectively a common middle ground.
I can vouch for how easy it is to learn, myself. At the end of the first lesson, I already could conjugate verbs into past, present and future tenses, and inflect nouns into nominative and accusative cases. The only barriers to communication were that I had to stop and recall the vocabulary as I spoke (as did Evangeline as she listened), and that because of the nature of the vocabulary list in Lesson One, all we could talk about was bread, cake, coffee and tea.
Lesson Two, which I've sneaked a peek at, includes information on adjectives and personal pronouns. Some auxiliary information in another flier also introduced numbers and colors. The language is so easy that, as Evangeline pointed out, we can now count just up to 1,000,000, even though we've been studying the language for less than a month.
In fact, I see two chief difficulties. First is that no one around here speaks Esperanto, that we know of. And second ...
As I said, we live in an area with a lot of Spanish speakers. Many signs and notices are bilingual. And I've been trying to teach Evangeline and Rachel how to speak Creole. The result is that I already speak to them in a medley of three languages -- English, Spanish and Creole.
Add Esperanto to this mix, and I have visions of the girls learning four languages, and being able to separate none of them.
Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.