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PATTEN: Explore a language today


I am a language explorer.

I have a Hebrew Bible (right to left as divinely intended), the Latin version of the first Harry Potter novel (“Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis”) and random books in Spanish. And they’re fun!


That’s not to say I’m the world’s foremost expert in any of those languages. They are all in various states of disrepair in my head. I don’t consider myself a polyglot. But you know what? The joy I find in language has little to do with perfection.

Thinking in other languages changes how I see things. I think more about my thoughts. All languages have common goals of communication, but they go about it in so many different ways. I have a feeling of wonderment even saying something like “I eat the apple” in a foreign tongue, a feeling I haven’t experienced with English since I was a child.

As I learned Spanish, I discovered I was hooked on the feeling of expanding my abilities to understand voices that were previously unintelligible to me. I also found I had a sense of adventure that pulled me to more obscure languages, as exploring vine-covered ruins of lost civilizations is much more exhilarating than learning the directions to drive to my bank, even though the latter is more useful.

My current expedition is Esperanto because Esperanto keeps things weird.

For one, Esperanto isn’t a “normal” (or natural) language. At least Latin, though dead (a debatable point of view), came about through the evolution of society and culture. Esperanto was made up by an ophthalmologist with vision.

Here’s the story behind it, as told in “The Esperanto Teacher”:

The author of the language, Dr. Ludovic (also known as L.L.) Zamenhof, a Polish Jew, was born on Dec. 3, 1859, at Bielovstok, in Poland, a town whose inhabitants are of four distinct races: Poles, Russians, Germans and Jews, each with their own language and customs, and often at open enmity with each other. Taught at home that all men are brethren, Zamenhof found everywhere around him outside the denial of this teaching, and even as a child came to the conclusion that the races hated, because they could not understand, each other. Feeling keenly, too, the disabilities under which his people specially labored, being cut off by their language from the people among whom they lived, while too proud to learn the language of their persecutors, he set himself to invent a language which should be neutral and therefore not require any sacrifice of pride on the part of any race.

Esperanto’s purpose is to be a bridge. It’s intended to bring humanity together.

As explained on the Esperanto USA website, “Esperanto doesn’t replace anyone’s language, but simply serves as a common language.”

If, say, you want to have a conversation with someone from China, and that person doesn’t speak English and you don’t speak Chinese, one of you will have to cave and learn the others’ language … or you can speak a simplified language that both of you can understand and doesn’t take half the effort to learn that English or Chinese does.

Remember all the exceptions and crazy verb conjugations you learned in Spanish 101? They don’t exist in Esperanto. It’s consistent. (Mi estas. I am. Vi estas. You are.) Here, Esperanto is weird because it’s too normal. It’s pretty rare to find a language without irregular verbs.

Tools I’m using

I’m at the beginning of my Esperanto adventure. I guess you could say I just discovered the lost city and am climbing up the first steps, which have not crumbled under me yet.

Right now, my primary learning tool is Duolingo. It’s an app and website that teaches a lot of languages (most of them natural ones) — not through rote memorization like you did in high school, but through practice. Duolingo never says, “This is how this language rule works.” You just figure it out with the questions you’re given. And it only asks for a few minutes from me each day.

I’m also using and Libera Esperanto-Libro (homepage here and full PDF here).

Esperanto is appealing to me, but it has no monopoly on fun. Learn whatever language (natural or artificial) intrigues you, or just read a book in a language you need to brush up on. It doesn’t matter what you explore — you’re in for an adventure.

You can follow Robert Patten on Facebook and Twitter.

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