It’s strange how skeptical some people are about Esperanto when I talk to them about it – it’s somehow similar to polyamory and veganism, in that many seem rather invested in criticising these things, often without knowing much about them in actual practice.
The difference from polyamory and veganism is that I’m not breaking any social taboos I can think of with Esperanto. So I don’t really understand why people are so intent on criticising Esperanto. But they do.
The criticisms can become repetitive, even stereotypical. For veganism of course it’s the age-old “But where do you get your protein??” (Oh shit, I must have just forgotten to get protein deficiency!). For polyamory the most common one is something like, “You can’t have true love with more than one person at the same time.” (Tell that to my girlfriends).
In the case of Esperanto, probably the most common criticism is, “But what actual use does Esperanto have?”
I won’t answer that question for the sake of the eternal critics, who pose these sorts of questions without any intention of actually listening to the answer. I’ve come to the conclusion that engaging with that sort of person is just not worth the effort.
But it amuses me right now to write for the sake of people who might be open to what I have to say. Maybe not the most capitalistic measurable practical uses of Esperanto, but at least the ways in which Esperanto has enriched my life.
Esperanto has gotten me loads of hugs.
This is because a part of the people who go to Esperanto events don’t follow social norms and realise that gratuitous snuggling (Esperanto: kuŝli) is awesome.
I hang out with those people.
Esperanto events are notably populated by polyamorous people. Depending on the event, I’ve estimated that 10-50% of the people there were. (Note: I usually go to youth events).
It’s also unusually full of LGBT people. As well as that, the environment is quite welcoming to overt LGBT expressions. You don’t have to hide who you are there.
This combination has meant that I’ve found Esperanto events great places to meet people to make out with. It’s not entirely wrong to quip that Esperantujo is like a queer poly dating service. Or, well, it can be, if you want it to be.
If you’re at all alternative, you can meet other alternative people in Esperantujo. There are people there who are a bit deep, who you can have real conversations with, and who will get you as a person. Lots of people find the return to petty, vicious normal life a comedown after spending a week in Esperantujo.
A lot of these alternative people have become lasting friends.
Esperantujo* is inclusive.
*Literally translated, this means Esperantoland. It’s not a fixed place on the map; Esperantujo exists wherever two or more Esperantists come together. It feels like a place, somehow, though. Like the place at the end of Alice’s rabbit hole. Or something.
When you go to a new country, you can learn the language as well as you like, but you’ll probably never stop feeling like (or being perceived as) a foreigner.
Not so in Esperantujo. There everyone is a foreigner – or rather, no-one is. The only condition for being an Esperanto citizen is that you want to be one. (Oh and you should at least pretend to be trying to learn Esperanto).
For many, the mere fact that you are an Esperanto citizen* means that you are considered a friend. If you’re in need, anywhere in the world, you can bet someone from Esperanto will help you out.
*Note: I made up this phrase, it’s not common parlance.
One good example of this is Pasporta Servo. This is basically a sort of Couchsurfing that existed before Couchsurfing (it existed before the internet), where people let you stay at their house for free. The difference is that members of Pasporta Servo aren’t bombarded by like 1000 couchrequests a day; and also, they tend to be happy to host you just because you’re Esperanto*.
*I also made up this use of Esperanto as an adjective.
People ask, “What’s the point of learning Esperanto if I’ll never accidentally meet someone who speaks it?” While free hugs should be enough reason, I would also point out that you could be lost in any foreign city, not have anyone you can talk to, and you could find someone at an Esperanto meetup or through an Esperanto webpage who would become instant friends with you and do their utmost best to help you however they can.
Studies have shown that you learn Esperanto about 10 times faster than comparable natural languages.
I’ve proven that myself; I learnt fluent Esperanto in about a year, without making too much effort. (I studied intensively for about three days and then mostly just learnt by going to Esperanto meetups). In the same time, I’ve been living in Germany and studying German way harder than I ever studied Esperanto. After a year and a half, I still can’t even have a conversation in German.[insert_php]
The fact that Esperanto is so easy has many surprising benefits.
One, it just boosts your language-learning confidence so much. Once you’ve learnt Esperanto, and gotten use out of it, you feel like you can go ahead and learn another language and it won’t be so hard. You also get better at learning languages in general this way. As I heard from someone else before, Esperanto is like a recorder; an easy musical instrument which gives children the confidence and groundwork to go on to learn harder instruments.
Two, having another language which you can actually use lets you feel what it’s like to have a new language, and to learn to think in a different way. You get to that point where you’re no longer translating everything in your head but actually thinking in that language, and that changes you somehow, gives you a new perspective. It’s a new experience. It gives you interactions that have a different tone or flavour. You’re exposed to different cultural assumptions in your language. Of course, you can get these benefits from a natural language, but the effort-reward ratio is much better with Esperanto.
Three, because of the effort-reward ratio, Esperanto is just so gratifying. It’s an (almost) instant gratification language. You can enjoy the raw sense of achievement and the power of communication that a new language gives you.
A lot of my close friends speak Esperanto now. So when I want to talk about something with my friend and I don’t want others to hear (e.g. we’re talking about sex or talking about someone else who is in the room), we can use Esperanto.
Given that I only spent about 3 days of actual effort on learning Esperanto, I figure it was worth it just for that. It makes me feel like a kid playing a spy game, or something.
There is actually a LOT of good original Esperanto music and literature.
The relative lack of Esperanto speakers is made up for by the fact that there are a lot of very individual, creative people in the community.
I haven’t gotten into Esperanto literature yet personally, but I LOVE Esperanto music.
Actually, the concerts are one of the biggest attractions in Esperanto events. A decent-sized event will always have several really good concerts. I feel privileged, because in the non-Esperanto world seeing great concerts like this would be more expensive, and there’d be much bigger crowds, and I’d never get the chance to talk to the musicians I love. It’s almost like I get a backstage pass with all my favourite bands.
And of course, you dance. And sing. And have fun.
Make campfires. Play board games. Drink tea by candlelight in the gufujo. (Edit: a friend told me that I forgot to mention the midnight skinny dipping).
Esperanto events are about world peace and basically just having a great time. I think that’s a great culture right there.
But Esperanto is just for sad, old geeks, right?
You just keep telling yourself that. I’ll be too busy having fun to care.