Everybody worries about gender, racial, religious and class discrimination. All these are rightly considered important social issues and people constantly try to find a solution for them. But what if I told you there is an almost invisible kind of discrimination nobody talks about, even though its victims are 95% of the entire world population?
What I’m talking about is the linguistic discrimination of non-native English speakers. If it doesn’t sound like a discrimination to you, please read on.
In order to pursue a successful career in an increasingly competitive and globalised market, people
have to compete not only with their neighbour workers, but with workers form all over the world. The job market is increasingly becoming a transnational one, and this is especially true for Europe, where workers can move from one country to the other fairly easily.
In such a situation English, as the main international language, has become an essential tool to interact with colleagues, clients and customers all over the world. As before, young people, in order to be successful, have to learn about the field they want to walk in, being it international commerce, law, science, politics or anything else. This may include getting one or more related university degrees, doing internships and developing a network of connections within the field.
In addition to all this, however, a non native speaker has to learn an entirely new language from scratch up to a professional level (usually at least a C1 level), which normally means thousands and thousands of hours spent on books, attending language lessons and practising the language.
It also involves a huge financial investment by the individual and by the state. Moreover, non native speakers usually need to spend at least some months in an English speaking country in order to become proficient, which moves an immense amount of money towards the countries in which English is the fist language.
That time and money could have been spent developing the specific skills required in the field, or even simply as leisure time. After all these sacrifices, non native speakers’ English proficiency is 99% of the times worse than that of a native speaker, which is why many companies and international organizations still prefer to hire native speakers for some specific positions.
On the other hand, all that time and money is saved for native English speakers, who can:
Pursue an international career without having to learn a second language.
Teach their own language abroad. A language that virtually everybody needs to learn.
Being involved with international customers and clients while working in their own country, using their own language as the main means of communication.
This means that virtually any native English speaker can work successfully abroad, while just a small part of the non native population can do that . Furthermore, usually non native speakers who successfully pursued an international career come from rich families that can afford to send their children abroad when they are young. In other words, a successful international career is limited to a very small elite of non native speakers.
Even though this is the real situation, almost nobody perceives it as unfair.
This is not very different from what was the perception of women submission and slavery in the past centuries. Unlike women submission and slavery, unfortunately, there is no solution to this, since any other natural language, if chosen as the international means of communication, would still give more or less the same result… Or is there a solution?
Well, actually there is. But since there’s a lot of misinformation about it, I will kindly ask you to read this article until the end before dismissing it as some sort of crazy utopia (spoiler alert: it is not).
The solution is having Esperanto as the main language for international communication.
For those who don’t know it, Esperanto is an artificial language created in the late 19th century by the polish doctor and linguist Ludwic Lejzer Zamenhof. It was created to be a fair and simple language that could make it easier for everybody to communicate with everybody else in the world. Esperanto is already spoken by about 2 million people from more than 120 countries. It has its own original literature, music and culture and it’s being successfully tested now for more than a century.
Here are the main advantages of Esperanto as an international language compared to English.
It is much easier to learn
English has a fairly easy grammar compared to other natural languages, but people are often led to thing that this means that English is a thoroughly easy language. Apart from the many exceptions in the grammar itself, the main obstacles that English presents to those who want to learn it are its pronunciation and spelling. Unlike many other languages, English is not pronounced as it is spelled, and the exceptions to its spelling rules are so many that in the end the only way to deal with it is just learning how to pronounce each word individually. This fact is often overlooked by native speakers, because when they learn how to write at school, they already know how each word is pronounced.
Esperanto is pronounced exactly as it is spelled, meaning that in order to read an Esperanto world, all you need to do is to pronounce each letter in order, as each letter has always the same sound, independently form its position in a word. To this rule there are no exceptions.
Esperanto grammar is also easier than English grammar, no matter the linguistic background of the learner. Let me give you a few more examples of this:
Esperanto, as English, has no conjugations. And, unlike English, has no exceptions to this rule:
All nouns in Esperanto end with -o. Examples: Vir-o (man); ĝoj-o (happiness); frenez-o (crazyness).
All adjectives in Esperanto end with -a, and you can derive them directly from the nouns: Vir-a (masculine); ĝoj-a (happy); freneza (crazy).
Adverbs can be formed from adjectives by changing the -a ending to an -e ending: Vire (in a manly way); ĝoje (happily); freneze (crazily).
All verbs end with -as for the present, with -is for the past and with -os for the future. Here’s example using the verb est-i (to be): Mi estas (I am), mi manĝas (I eat); mi estis (I was), mi manĝis (I ate); mi estos (I will be), mi manĝos (I will eat).
The accent always falls on the next-to-last syllable.
To create the opposite of a word you add mal- to it. Examples: Varma (hot), mal-varma (cold); amiko (friend), mal-amiko (enemy); fermi (to close), mal-fermi (to open).
The fact that Esperanto is much easier than English would mean that people could spend less time to learn it, using the saved time in more fruitful ways. If you need another prove that Esperanto is easier, consider this:
I’ve studied English for 22 years, and practised it for thousands of hours with other non native speakers, in Italy and abroad. I also lived in the UK for three months, studying English there full time. However, I doubt that this article is nearly as well written as it would be if I were a native speaker.
I started to learn Esperanto 6 months ago, studying it for 10 minutes a day online. I also read a single book in Esperanto. That is less than 35 hours of study. And I already have a blog fully written (well, apart from this article) in Esperanto: www.laesperantisto.wordpress.com.
After studying English for 35 hours I was barely able to say basic sentences using the present tense.
Of course Esperanto, deriving its vocabulary mainly from Romance and Germanic languages, is easier for an Italian or English speaker to learn. But if it is true that for a Chinese learning Esperanto could take 4 times the time it takes to an Italian or a British, it is also true that the same person would need from10 to 30 times that time to learn English.
Although this is evident to anyone who studied Esperanto even for a few hours, there are also several social researches that demonstrate that, the most famous one being probably the research of François Grin, which compares the length of study time it takes natively French-speaking high-school students to obtain comparable “standard” levels in Esperanto, English, German, and Italian.
These were the results:
2000 hours studying German = 1500 hours studying English = 1000 hours studying Italian = 150 hours studying Esperanto.
Note that Italian vocabulary is much more similar to French than the Esperanto vocabulary is (in fact, Italian and French share 92% of their vocabulary).
It is fair
Esperanto is a language without a land, therefore a dialogue between two esperantists is a dialogue between two individuals who learned it. Esperanto, as an official international language, would give no huge advantages to some peoples, and it would be much easier to master than English for everybody, apart from English speakers! And even for them it would be much easier to learn than any other ethnic language, including the other languages in the Germanic family.
It would save a lot of money
I know, it may sound counter-intuitive, but think for a moment to all the money that governments spend each and every year to teach English to their citizens. This include the money spent to pay English teachers, English material, interpreters and translators and so on (the list could be infinite). It has been calculated that the adoption of Esperanto as the official language of the European Union would save about 25 billion euros every year .
Also, consider the money spent by individuals to learn it, because, let’s face the truth, school education is never enough. This includes: studying it abroad, taking private lessons, buying material etc.
But more than everything else, it would save a lot of time that people could use in other, more productive, ways, thus generating more money for themselves and for the economy.
Before concluding, here are some answers to common critics to Esperanto as the new international language.
“It never happened before to have a stateless language as the international language”
Well, it actually happened in the past with Latin, which was used in Europe as an international language for centuries after the last native speakers died.
The same is true for Swahili, a language that originally was not the native language of anybody, and is now the main international language in east Africa.
And, surprisingly as it may sound, it happens today with Esperanto, a language spoken in more than 120 countries that has now been spoken for 120 years without interruption.
“A language without native speakers is not a real language”
English is effectively used all over the world in social interactions where no native speakers are present. The same is true for Esperanto.
“It is an artificial language, thus it cannot express everything that can be expressed in a natural language such as English”
Esperanto was artificial when it was created, but it isn’t any more. Moreover, a natural language is natural just for its native speakers, while it is a tool for those who use it as their second language.
And Esperanto is much more flexible and at least as rich as English. Let me give you just a little example of how you can create different words in Esperanto using its system of affixes and suffixes.
Am-i To love
Am-ind-a Worthy to be loved
End-a That must be done
Am-end-a That must be loved
Am-ebl-a That can be loved
Em-a Who is keen to do something/ who is keen on something
Am-em-a Who likes to love
“Languages are not used internationally because they are better, they are because of the economic power of the nations where those languages are spoken”
That’s true. And also women were submitted to men not because that was better, but because men used to hold the power for the past thousands of years. The fact that history led to something does not mean that that cannot be changed, and surely it does not mean that is should not be changed. Also, English as an international language is constantly enforced by the billions spent every year by almost all governments of the world to pay for their citizens mandatory English education. If it’s all about the power of the US and the U.K., why does everybody else have to pay for it?
“Esperanto was a good idea when it was created, but now it is a dead language and a failed project”
It’s weird for a dead language to have more than 232.000 pages on its Wikipedia (https://eo.wikipedia.org) – more than the Danish Wikipedia – , it’s weird for it to be spoken in more than 120 countries, with official international meetings every month and countless unofficial meetings, with new books and songs (just to list two things) published every year. It is also strange, because I use it almost everyday on internet, where there are hundreds and hundreds among social networks, chat rooms and blogs in Esperanto, with hundreds of thousands of users.
“If more people would speak it may be worth it”
Sure. The problem is that somebody has to start first. Two million people already did it. Would you like to join us?
Here are some ways to further explore the subject:
Articles and videos that present Esperanto:
Esperanto on English wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto
Claude Piron’s articles: http://claudepiron.free.fr/articles.htm (scroll to find the ones in English)
Five good video presentations of Esperanto (I especially suggest you to have a look at number 1 and 2 in the list): https://laesperantisto.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/la-5-plej-bonaj-videoj-por-prezenti-esperanton/
Online tools to learn Esperanto:
Join more than half a million people who decided to learn Esperanto using Duolingo: https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online
A very good website to learn Esperanto. Apart from the main course, there’s a lot of material for all levels (books, music, videos etc.): http://lernu.net/en
Oh, and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below! Ĝis revido! (see you!)
In Europe (excluding the countries where English is the main language) the percentage of the population that can speak English at a professional level ranges from 1% to 10% of the total http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf. Nevertheless, everybody has to study it for 5-10 years at school.