Why Esperanto is Fun

In the Land of Invented Languages
by Akira Okrent. Spiegel & Grau, 2009. Buy it on Amazon

This book is relentlessly fun to read and written from the perfect point of view. Okrent is a practical linguist, who harbors no fantasies of a universal language, but is yet open-minded and deeply interested in the people who do invent languages, and why they make them. I think the most important lesson I learned from it is why Esperanto is fun, and people should make an attempt to learn it.

Back around 1998 I stumbled across the website Learn Not to Speak Esperanto and had myself a good laugh at the people who would try to promote this clumsy language. Why, it’s like Italian written in Eastern Polish! Any other constructed language is better than this one! What a joke! Already I was thinking about it the wrong way, but even though I examined constructed languages many times over the intervening years, I never was able to approach it in the way Okrent presents it for our edification.

Everything about Esperanto makes it more interesting to learn than its competitors. First, despite its weirdness as a language, it’s easy to learn; and once you learn it, you can make new and funny uses of the weirdness to delight your fellow learners. Second, it’s fun to speak in, as opposed to its predecessor Volapük. Third, and finally, the Esperantist culture is one of promoting universal brotherhood and is so lively that it makes you want to speak the language more and more.

Consider the fundamental differences between the way language is thought about in Esperanto as opposed to its competitors, as pointed out by Okrent. One of the example texts that Zamenhof used the original Esperanto books is a letter to a friend, which starts, Kara amiko! Mi presentas al mi kian vizaĝon vi faros post la ricevo de mi a letero, or “Dear friend! I can only imagine what kind of face you will make after receiving from me this letter.” Clearly the intent of this passage is not to make a perfect language, but to puzzle and delight the reader. Reading this example, perhaps more than a few Esperantists sent off some puzzles to their friends as well. In the context of thinking about language as puzzle, we do not need to strive for perfection. But if we do strive for perfection, then we start to forget about how much fun learning a language can be.

The way Esperantists congregate and talk to each other also makes the language more enjoyable. The chief argument against Esperanto, of course, is that English is already a world language. But contained in English, for non-native speakers, is an undeniably bad implication. They are forced to learn English, whether they like it or not, to conduct business with native speakers; and they will be mocked if they speak it poorly, since it has a large native speaking population who more often than not simply assume other people have learned it for their sake. Now consider how people learn Esperanto. It is learned by choice, outside of school, as a “useless” but fun hobby. (Isn’t it interesting how the most enjoyable endeavors in modern society are “useless”?) It has no business application, but is only used for sharing humanity. When the learner comes together with other Esperantists, there are very few or no native speakers, and everyone treats each other as equal. At a conference, the Esperantists genuinely encourage each other to keep it up, and enjoy themselves by singing songs, dancing, and so forth. Conferences receive letters from other parts of the world, for no purpose other than to let them know that they can communicate in Esperanto in any country.

Finally, as an English speaker I can stay at any classy hotel in the world when I travel, but it will be a lonely stay, and English will be part of the room service rather than an enjoyable endeavor for the staff. As an Esperantist, not only could I have lodgings in the homes of fellow Esperantists, but we would have a hobby to talk about and a good reason to become long lasting friends.

In short, this sounds like something I would very much like to do; but business interests are forcing me to learn Japanese first.

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Book Reviews, World Peace 6 Comments »

6 Comments on “Why Esperanto is Fun”

  1. 1 inga johanson said at 9:12 pm on July 1st, 2010:

    “try to promote this clumsy language”
    I find English more clumsy than Esperanto.
    And I was born with a mothertounge other than English and Esperanto.

  2. 2 Enrique said at 3:17 am on July 2nd, 2010:

    >business interests are forcing me to learn
    >Japanese first.

    Not really.
    Learning Esperanto first, will make Japanese easier to learn: Studying Esperanto first and then Japanese, will take LESS time than just studying Japanese.

    Esperanto speakers from Japan will be very happy to help you learn Japanese.

    Learning Japanese will take some time. When traveling to Japan while still learning Japanese, you can get help from Esperanto speakers.

    You will need less than 20 hours to complete the basic Esperanto course. That is enough to start using the language. With some practice you will get fluency.

    You may study both languages at the same time. You will be very surprised to see how much you will advance in Esperanto compared to Japanese. And shortly you will be able to contact Japanese speakers in Japan … using the Esperanto language.

    I am always ready to help you …

    Best wishes,


  3. 3 Avery said at 3:25 am on July 2nd, 2010:

    Thank you Enrique! I have signed up for an account on Lernu and I’ll put some time into it these next few weeks. Maybe I’ll be able to get ahead in both languages!

  4. 4 usanciamn said at 1:34 am on August 29th, 2010:

    why not:)

  5. 5 Steve Belant said at 10:08 am on February 26th, 2011:

    The are between 400 and 2000 native speakers, at least three of which live in my county, Sacramento, California. However, it is now their primary language, just raised with it.

  6. 6 Mike Jones said at 4:50 am on August 7th, 2011:

    Esperanto can be used as a metalanguage for English.