Created with the goal of being easy to learn, Esperanto is an amazing language.
Have you ever sighed over the fact that there are two words in English pronounced “AYT” — yet one of them is spelled A-T-E, while the other is spelled E-I-G-H-T? Have you ever rolled your eyes because “though” and “through” are spelled almost exactly the same, but sound totally different? Have you ever failed miserably trying to explain to a kid why the past tense of “walk” is “walked,” but the past tense of “run” is “ran,” and “slide” is “slid”?
Esperanto is free of the inconsistencies, illogic, and irregularities that make English frustrating.
If so, have I got a language for you. It’s called “Esperanto.” And it’s blessedly free of the inconsistencies, illogic, and irregularities that make English so frustrating to learn — especially as a second language.
Esperanto was the brainchild of L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor born in 1859 who went by the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” — that is, “Doctor Hopeful.” What he hoped for was a world where all humans could easily communicate with each other using a common language — one that was simple, easy to learn, and detached from any political or cultural significance. He saw this language as a great equalizer. It would be a second language that anyone could learn — and instantly be on the same footing as anyone else.
Zamenhof worked on his idea for years. Then, in 1905, he published "Fundamento de Esperanto," a primer for his new, international language. Its words are derived from roots found in many European languages, particularly Romance languages like French, Italian, and Spanish.
Pronunciation Is Simple in Esperanto
The beauty of Esperanto lies in its simplicity, which starts with pronunciation. The Esperanto alphabet has 28 letters, and each letter makes one and only one sound.
- The letter A makes the “ah” sound we hear in the French “ami”— never the hard A of “name” or the “uh” sound of “amigo.”
- The letter C makes only the soft sound we hear in Ceasar or Circe. If you want the hard C sound in “cat,” you use the letter K. And if you want the “ch” sound in “chair,” you use a special Esperanto letter that doesn’t exist in English — a C with a circumflex on top (Ĉ), known as “chu.”
This is in contrast to English, in which one letter can make multiple sounds. Think of the G in “Greg” versus the one in “George,” for example.
In Esperanto, one letter equals one sound.
In Esperanto, one letter equals one sound. Better yet, every single letter in a word is pronounced. There is no such thing as silent letters.
- “Muscle,” which has a silent C and E in English, becomes “muskolo,” in Esperanto, spelled M-U-S-K-0-L-0.
- “Receipt,” which has a silent I and P in English, becomes “recepto,” spelled “R-E-C-E-P-T-O.”
- “Bridge,” which has a silent D and E in English, changes completely and becomes “ponto,” spelled P-O-N-T-O.
Stress is also standardized in Esperanto. Words are always stressed on the second-to-last vowel. No more confusion over “TAR-get” versus “tar-GET,” for example. If this were an Esperanto word, it would always be “tar-GET.”
If you can see a word in Esperanto, you can say it.
Long story short, if you can see a word in Esperanto, you can say it — no exceptions.
Parts of Speech in Esperanto Have Standard Endings
Another cool thing about Esperanto is that all words provide a built-in clue to tell you what part of speech they are. For example, all three words I just said — muskolo, recepto, and ponto — end in O. That’s because all nouns in Esperanto end in O! Yes, all of them!
In the same vein, all adjectives end in A, and all adverbs end in E. All verbs in the infinitive end in I, and all conjugated verbs end in S.
Conjugation in Esperanto Is Streamlined
Learning how to conjugate verbs is also super simple. Verbs have five specific endings for five specific tenses, and these endings stay the same regardless of who’s doing the action. (In contrast, in English, verbs change their form — are inflected — in relation to the subject, even when you’re using the same tense. For example, when you conjugate the verb “to be” in the present tense, you get “I am," “you are,” and “she is” — three different forms.)
In Esperanto, there are no irregular verbs.
In Esperanto, verb forms stay the same; only the ending changes, based on the tense. Verbs in the present tense end in -AS, those in the past tense end in -IS, those in the future tense end in -OS, those in the conditional end in -US, and those in the imperative end in -U. Thus:
- “I sit” or “I am sitting” would become “Mi sidas.” (“Mi” is the Esperanto word for “I.”)
- “I sat” or “I was sitting” would be “Mi sidis.”
- “I will sit” would be “Mi sidos.”
- “I would sit” would be “Mi sidus.”
- And the command “sit” would be “sidu.”
All verbs are conjugated this way. I repeat, there are no irregular verbs. Hallelujah!
Esperanto Has Only 13 Number Words
A final simplification is that there are only 13 numerals in the language: zero through 10, 100, and 1,000. All other numbers are expressed using a combination of these 13.
- “Eleven” in Esperanto is “dek uno”; literally, “ten one”
- “Twelve” is “dek du,” or “ten two”
- “Twenty” is “dudek”; that is, “two tens”
- And “Twenty-two” is “dudek du”; that is, “two tens, two.”
This may not sound important, but the way we treat numbers in English can be difficult for second-language learners — and for any learners with dyslexia.
In English, when we’re talking about numbers between 10 and 20, we put the unit first and the ten after. “Thirteen” is essentially “three ten.” But we reverse that pattern once we hit the twenties and beyond, when we say the tens first and the units after: “twenty-three,” for example.
Esperanto Is Used Today
The original dream of L.L. Zamenhof — a world united by a common language — hasn’t yet happened. But if you’ve been inspired by this story, there are lots of places to learn more. There are conferences and associations for Esperanto speakers. You can learn Esperanto via free apps like DuoLingo. And Google Translate now includes Esperanto in its drop-down menu.
Who knows? Maybe learning a few words of Esperanto today could help us create a more peaceful world tomorrow. Dr. Zamenhof would want us to be hopeful.
Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition. Esperanto (subscription required, accessed September 11, 2019).
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Lernu! Esperanto Grammar. lernu.net (accessed September 11, 2019).
Miles, Tim and Elaine. Dyslexia and Mathematics, pp. 83. RoutledgeFalmer, 2004
Universala Esperanto-Asocio (UEA). Esperanto.net (accessed September 11, 2019).
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