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A Would-Be Lingua Franca
While English is now spoken to some degree by some 1.8 billion people and seems to be a strong contender for a global Lingua Franca, many people, perhaps as many as two million, speak Esperanto (meaning: one who hopes) when they visit other countries around the world. It is actually very difficult to estimate how many additional people have investigated Esperanto without becoming competent in its use, and some estimates are as high as 10 million people who are at least beginners in their study of Esperanto.
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Learning Esperanto vs. Other Second Languages
An interesting set of studies have been done which indicate that learning Esperanto as your first second language makes learning additional languages easier and quicker. This is possibly because it is hardest to learn one's first non-native language than it is to learn additional languages. Esperanto's artificial construction gives it a simplicity of grammar and consistency of grammatical rules and pronunciation which facilitate learning it.
Currently the University of Manchester in England is conducting a study in four schools on teaching Esperanto as a foreign language to students.
People debate the status of Esperanto: whether it has too much of an Indo-European bias, if it is in fact a living language, and if it has a future while the numbers of English and Chinese speakers rise. However, this does not stop interest in Esperanto, and there is a thriving International Esperanto community.
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Esperanto has a twenty-eight letter alphabet, including six letters with diacritical marks. The letters with diacritical marks are ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ and ŭ. The alphabet consists of these letters: a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z. The alphabet does not use q, w, x, or y unless they are in untranslated foreign names. A number of commonly available fonts support the Esperanto diacritical characters. Among these are: Ariel, Calibri, Constantia, Courier New, Lucida Sans Unicode, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and Verdana.
Download the Esperanto diacritical characters in those fonts to cut and paste the correct characters when you type in Esperanto. Information in the description of the download contains suggestions for incorporating the characters into your spell checker dictionary.
If you are interesting using alt codes on your Windows PC to type the characters, information is available in this Esperanto Diacritical marks blog post.
Zamenhof also proposed a convention to allow the language to be used in printing (and now in computing). He suggested that the letters with diacritical marks have the symbols replaced with the use of ch, gh, hh, jh, sh, and u. Another more recent convention represents the characters with diacritical marks with the use of x, giving cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, and ux. This also allows for correct sorting of words beginning with those characters, as they will turn up alphabetically immediately after the words starting with the characters without diacritical marks, and also allows easy translation back to letters using the diacritical symbols.
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Current Esperanto Resources: Google; Vikipedio; eBooks
Both Google and Wikipedia recognize Esperanto as a living language, and each of them has a portal which uses Esperanto. In the Wikipedia portal for Esperanto, Vikipedio, there are 119,454 articles in Esperanto.
You can find keyboard layouts for using Esperanto for both the PC and the Mac.
Zamenhof's original book, written under the name of Dr. Esperanto, can be found online. It is called Dr Esperanto's International Language, Introduction and Grammar and was originally published in 1887 and was translated into English by RH Geoghean in 1889.
There are also a couple of out of copyright books on learning Esperanto available as free ebooks. The Esperanto Teacher by Helen Fryer contains all the basic grammar and vocabulary to get started learning Esperanto. Also available is A Complete Grammar of Esperanto by Ivy Kellerman. Links to both of these books are available on the site Learn Esperanto Online Free. This site lists a number of resources for those interested in learning Esperanto.
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Lernu, among other materials, has IM for speaking Esperanto with other Lernu users.
Esperanto 101 is a resource for people who want to learn more about Esperanto.
Kurso De Esperanto has a downloadable program for learning Esperanto including MP3 songs and karaoke for Esperanto learners. They also have a free downloadable dictionary of Esperanto.
Esperanto Key gives the alphabet, a pronunciation guide, and a lesson on the structure of Esperanto.
Another excellent site is The Free Esperanto Course. This course is free, sends you ten lessons with exercises, and has you email them to an actual tutor who will look at your work and critique you. At the end, they issue a diploma. They offer lessons in several languages; Finnish, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Indonesian.
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I hope this information and annotated list of links will give a you a good look at the Esperanto language and help you study it if you find you are interested. The international Esperanto community seems very friendly and enthusiastically offers assistance to new learners.