How I Learned Esperanto
© Copyright, Bernd Wechner 1995

Skip straight to the summary or read on for the long story. 

I first came across Esperanto on the net and started to learn it there. I'd already spent a year travelling Europe and was about to head off to Asia for another year on the road, when an ad in caught my eye. I'd always endeavoured to meet people and explore cultures while travelling and collected a pile of useful information in that regard during my first year on the road. But of Esperanto I'd never heard. Coincidentally as a result of travelling, I'd also evolved a fascination for language and culture and how the two interact. 

This ad promised that Esperanto was the easiest language in the world to learn and of great utility to travellers. Well, I figured, if I can't learn this allegedly easiest of languages, I'll never stomach a real one so I gave it a go as a sort of testing ground. Besides which if it was of any use for establishing international and multicultural contacts and experiences I was clearly interested. 

That ad was for a Free Esperanto Course of ten easy lessons, that promised to have me reading Esperanto with the help of a dictionary on completion. I enrolled, I completed it, and I was impressed. It tickled a strong interest of mine, taught me a lot about grammar and language in general, and yes, I could read Esperanto with the help of a dictionary when I was done. 

Suitably impressed I enrolled in the recommended follow-up course. A small book called Gerda Malaperis written by a famous esperantist (Claude Piron). This was excellent exercise for the fundamentals I'd learned in the first course. It left me brimming with enough confidence to maybe start speaking. 

At that point I actually hit the road, through Asia as planned. It was in Asia that I met my first esperantist, heard it spoken and even tried a little myself. I have to confess, I asked my host out of real curiosity "You mean to say you can really speak this language? Fluently, like your mother tongue?". The response was a definitive "yes". I was somehow skeptical all the same. Something about a planned language just didn't gel deep inside somehow

It didn't take long though, before I got a little sidetracked in Berlin, in fact, I only had time to visit one esperantist in Asia on that first trip. I stayed in Berlin on and off for about six months where I got to know many esperantists. I was quite frankly befuddled. They really did speak fluently and got together regularly just for a social. More importantly there were events happening all over Europe through all of the summer and much of the winter too. 

So, I grabbed a Calendar of Esperanto Events and seized the opportunity to enroll in a one week intensive course in Switzerland. To which my girlfriend accompanied me. I have to confess I was a little disappointed with the course. I didn't learn nearly as much as I'd liked to have and didn't come out of it feeling much better off. It was aimed at the true beginner and I already had two courses behind me. It was a little practice all the same, and I enjoyed watching my partner come up to the level I'd already reached by means of those two courses I'd completed on the net. 

Very soon after, I went to Italy, for an Easter festival. An esperantists Easter festival that is. I was very impressed. Some three hundred young people from all over Europe, east and west came together for the event. Many couldn't speak either English or German (my only two fluent languages at the time) and I was compelled to struggle with my Esperanto to communicate. It was a whole week of pure Esperanto at its best, bringing many peoples together. 

In fact the whole affair challenged a very deep belief I'd held up to that point. I believed then, that anyone with an interest in foreign languages would put English at the top of his or her list of languages to learn. Put frankly, I expected that everyone who spoke Esperanto would already have learned English first. That Esperanto was a mere hobby for people interested in language I guess. After all, that's why I started it! The fact though, was that a multitude of Esperantists didn't know English. It turns out, they chose to learn Esperanto on the weight of the same promise I did. That it is very quick and easy to learn. 

At the end of that week, I was indeed speaking fluent Esperanto. I began to think in Esperanto and to dream in Esperanto. Needless to say that was a very odd and noteworthy sensation for me, and left me reflecting upon the question I'd put my first Asian host much earlier. Yes indeed, it did function as any other language does. It isn't until you are thinking and dreaming in a foreign language that you can feel yourself truly fluent. 

I have since met many Esperantists that fit a very similary pattern. A little study, usually from a book, and a single week of intensive exposure at a multicultural event, and they've mastered the language to the point of fluency. 

Since that time I have gained more and more fluency, to the point where I master it better than my native German. I now correspond with my girlfriend in Berlin chiefly in Esperanto and write my diary in Esperanto. Ironically cherishing the privacy that it grants me. It is after all, understood by relatively few. 

That then, in a nutshell, is how I learned Esperanto. 

Next on the list will be either French, Spanish, Japanese or Chinese. My success with Esperanto has instiled me with confidence in my ability to master a language. I'd never before learned a language in my adult life. 


Based upon my experiences, and feedback from numerous other Esperantists, it's my feeling, that for the average student to learn Esperanto to the point of fluency, it should suffice to do the Free Esperanto Course followed by Gerda Malaperis and then to spend one intensive week in a pure Esperanto environment. Especially in Europe, there are a multitude of such events occuring all year round, and to a lesser degree on other continents as well. 

Good Luck!