Esperanto as a practical aid to the language barrier for travelers

Skip to first unread message

Neal D. McBurnett

Nov 5, 1985, 9:24:44 PM11/5/85
Oops! I typed the telephone number for the Esperanto League for North America
wrong (I'm told that the number I gave was for somewhere in Berkeley.)
My apologies: the correct number is 415-653-0998. My only advice is,
try to beat the rush of orders during the holidays!
-Neal McBurnett, ihnp4!druny!neal

Neal D. McBurnett

Nov 6, 1985, 12:46:50 AM11/6/85
When I travel, my goal is to personally experience the people and
cultures of other countries. If I expected to be interested in one
particular country for many years, I would certainly feel it necessary
to study their language (or languages...) in depth, since the native
language is an integral part of a nation's culture. Even for a short
trip, I learn as much of the native language as I have time for.
Unfortunately, however, languages require years of study to attain any
sort of proficiency, and since I'm interested in many countries, I
simply don't have the time. I'm not talking about asking where the
bathroom is; I want to discuss politics, third-world development,
relationships, and other things that are important to me! Despite the
claims English makes to being an "international language", I can rarely
find people who speak it well enough to have a comfortable
conversation, especially in out-of-the-way places.

For years I was discouraged by these problems, but then I ran into
Esperanto: a language specifically designed to facilitate
international communication. It has been a practical tool for
addressing the language barrier in tourism for decades. There are
currently over a million speakers all over the world. (We don't hear
much about it in the US, where language problems pale in comparison to
the problems in Europe, Africa, and India.) Unfortunately, it has not
yet met its potential for facilitating international conferences and
negotiations, but that is mostly a political issue, and is the topic of
another discussion.

Last summer I spent 3 weeks in Europe, and used Esperanto most of the
time. First, I took part in the "International Youth Congress"
of Esperanto, which took place this year in Eringerfeld, Germany. I
lived for a week in dormitories with hundreds of people, mostly in
their 20's, from 35 different countries. There were lots of organized
activities (listening to lectures on everything from the Cherokee
Indians to the history of the Esperanto movement, singing songs,
dancing, juggling, playing volleyball, etc), but most of all we talked
to each other and got to know one another. I met a Bulgarian who has
since sent me some records of Bulgarian folk music, a Dutch girl in
high school who has already studied 5 languages, a woman from Prague
who displayed a surprisingly good grasp of American politics, one
German who was about to come to study in the US, and another who wanted
to know more about a particular brand of recumbent bicycle made in
Boulder. Five minutes after I had met one Hungarian, he urged me to
come visit his home in a village near Lake Baloton. (Unfortunately,
because of problems with the telegraph system later on in Hungary, I
missed that opportunity.)

The following week, I attended a cybernetics conference in Budapest.
About 70 people attended. There were 3 working languages: (in order of
popularity) Esperanto, English, and French. I presented a talk in
Esperanto on a computer project of mine: the "Ilaro por Esperantaj
Redaktoroj" ("Toolchest for Esperanto Editors"). In general the level
of the conference was not as high as ones I've been to in the US, but I
did meet several talented and interesting people.

As for Budapest itself, I loved it. I did learn one lesson the hard
way, though: don't change too much money into forints. You can't
change them back into western currency. I couldn't even pay for the
conference with forints! Public transportation is very good, and
prices are inexpensive (a delicious dinner for three was $2, bus tickets
are 6 cents!). One night I went out in search of some Hungarian folk
dancing (now very popular in Boulder), but instead found international
folk dancing, just like here in the US. Most interesting of all was
the night I stayed with two local esperantists. We discussed
philosophy, relationships, whether to have children, Hungarian politics
and lifestyles: it was wonderful.

The third week of my stay in Europe was again in Germany, this time in
the Bavarian town of Augsburg. 2300 people from 57 countries had come
for the Universal Congress of Esperanto. The atmosphere was more
conservative than the first congress, but once again I had the
opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and talk to them in
a single language. This proved to be quite useful during lunch one day
in a Chinese restaurant. The menu was in both German and Chinese, but
that did us no good at all. Fortunately, sitting next to us was a
foursome from China who spoke Esperanto, and they helped us with
everything from ordering to getting a "doggie bag" after the meal.

I was surprised by the lack of much of a problem with accents in
Esperanto. Given our everyday experience with accent problems in the
English-speaking world, I assumed that it might be difficult to
understand the Esperanto accent of someone from Japan or China, but in
fact the problems were minor. One major reason is that Esperanto uses
only 5 different vowel sounds, compared to about 12 in English.
(Japanese, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, and many other languages use the
same vowel sounds that Esperanto does.)

When I plan other vacations in the future, my membership in the
Universal Esperanto Association will permit me to look up "delegates"
wherever I want to go who will meet with me, advise me about where to
go and what to see, put me in contact with other local esperantists,
etc. There are over 3800 delegates in 70 countries listed in the 1985
Esperanto "yearbook". I find that esperantists are unusually
interesting people with interests similar to mine, but different
cultural viewpoints. They are also inclined to be more friendly to me
because I'm not one of "those arrogant Americans who expect everyone to
talk to them in English."

Next year I hope to go to a folkdancing festival in Bulgaria and the
International Youth Congress in Israel. I've already met some
Bulgarians who are eager to help me find esperantists to visit.

Here is a brief overview of Esperanto:
It is easy to learn (no exceptions to the rules, based on romance
languages). Studies have shown a year of Esperanto to be
equivalent to 4 years of Spanish (another "easy" language).
It is used a lot in Europe and is gaining strength in the far east
and the third world. (200,000 Chinese are taking courses now!)
The European Economic Community is funding a large effort to semi-
automatically translate among their 9 languages using
Esperanto as an intermediate language.
It has millions of speakers, tens of thousands of books, and a
hundred periodicals.
Bulgaria just started requiring the study of both Esperanto and
English in one of their high schools as an experiment (it has
been an optional subject for several years in many schools.)
Each year there is a world congress attended by thousands. It will
be in China in '86 and Poland in '87.
You will not feel either lost and bewildered speaking other peoples'
languages, or put them at a disadvantage by making them
speak English: you meet as equals!
You can learn it from books (like I did: in a few months I could
understand relatively quickly spoken Esperanto, and
could read anything at all with a dictionary).
There is also a "Free 10 Lesson Postal Course": you send in the first
lesson (which I can send you); they correct it
and send you the next lesson.
The time you spend learning it will also help you learn other
romance languages.
The documentary "The World of Esperanto" with Steve Allen may be
coming to a public TV station near you: tell them you want it!

Ask me for more info, or contact
Esperanto League for North America, Box 1129, El Cerrito CA 94530

-Neal McBurnett, ihnp4!druny!neal, 303-538-4852
4825 W. Moorhead Cir., Boulder, CO, 80303 Usono


Nov 8, 1985, 11:49:57 AM11/8/85
to rn...@mcvax.local

I'm currently doing an Esparanto course (by mail), and I would like to
have some conversation with other *beginning* esparantists. Probably
in the order of "La vetero estis malbela", and such goodies.

Anyone else just starting Esparanto, out there?
Jack Jansen, ja...@mcvax.UUCP
The shell is my oyster.

Jerry Peek

Nov 13, 1985, 10:51:09 AM11/13/85
In article <29...@brl-tgr.ARPA> wma...@brl-tgr.ARPA (Will Martin ) writes:
> I'm sure learning Esperanto can be helpful...
> ...However, I'd appreciate
> seeing some more postings on the strictly practical aspects...
> What about using Esperanto in a strictly practical and real-world
> situation?

On my last trip to northern Europe (Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, etc.)
I remember seeing Esperanto instructions on some phone booths and in some
train stations. Of course, there were also instructions in English, so... :-)

--Jerry Peek, Tektronix, Inc.
US Mail: MS 74-222, P.O. Box 500, Beaverton, OR 97077
uucp: {allegra,decvax,hplabs,ihnp4,ucbvax}!tektronix!tektools!jerryp

Neal D. McBurnett

Nov 18, 1985, 1:58:51 AM11/18/85
Will writes:
> What about using Esperanto in a strictly practical and real-world
> situation? You are standing on a street corner in a foreign city....
Yes, this is a situation that Esperanto does not help much with. On the
other hand, assuming that I have a map (a truly international language:
I ALWAYS take pains to acquire good maps), directions can be dealt with.
They continue to be a hassle, but the real problem from my perspective is the
difficulty of having "siginificant" conversations with people, and
Esperanto does help with that. Yes, I have to plan a little more, but
in most cities I will be just a phone call away from an interesting

I would also agree that Englsh speakers are more likely to be found in most
cities than Esperantists, but
1) Either they are from an English-speaking country, and thus
won't necessarily lend the cultural variety to my travel
that I search, or their English is likely to be sufficiently
worse than mine that our conversation will be strained.
2) I don't have an address book for them.
3) They are less likely to be interested in meeting me than
esperantists almost invariably are.
In particular, Bulgaria is my next goal, and Esperanto is frequently
taught there, while English is rare. I have friends who have suggested
that Esperanto is in fact more widely known than English: I'll see.

Learning Esperanto also helps me to pronounce other languages better. In
particular it teaches me a rolled "r", and how to avoid those insidious
diphthongs in English vowels. I always shudder when I remember the story
I heard in Japan about a lady who didn't understand why the stupid man at
the train station didn't know where "cay-yow-tow" (Kyoto) was.

You're right that Esperanto suffers from a lack of recognition, especially
in this insulated country. I have found, though, that it really is a
huge movement, both broad and deep. The problem is, the world is a huge
place, in which many significant movements can be lost.

-Neal McBurnett, ihnp4!druny!neal "Send for the free postal lesson today!"

Andy Simms

Nov 18, 1985, 6:05:15 AM11/18/85
In article <4...@druny.UUCP> ne...@druny.UUCP (Neal D. McBurnett) writes:
>Will writes:
>> What about using Esperanto in a strictly practical and real-world
>> situation? You are standing on a street corner in a foreign city....
>Yes, this is a situation that Esperanto does not help much with. On the
>other hand, assuming that I have a map (a truly international language:
>I ALWAYS take pains to acquire good maps), directions can be dealt with.

I find it difficult to believe that there are many Esperantists outside of
Europe and North America, particularly in the third world. Try standing on
a street corner in a Nepali village: not only will you have a long wait
for an Esperanto (or even English) speaker, but nobody will understand
your map either.

Dick Grune

Nov 21, 1985, 12:18:49 PM11/21/85
In article <5...@dlvax1.datlog.UUCP> a...@datlog.UUCP ( Andy Simms ) writes:
> not only will you have a long wait
>for an Esperanto (or even English) speaker, but nobody will understand
>your map either.

Yes, amazingly maps are not an international language either: I found
that several bus drivers in Cairo, Egypt (which is NOT Nepal) could
not read a map of Cairo.

Dick Grune
Vrije Universiteit
de Boelelaan 1081
1081 HV Amsterdam
the Netherlands

John Quarterman

Nov 21, 1985, 11:04:34 PM11/21/85
It's very rare to find anyone in black Africa who understands maps.
I recall that there was an official state tourism office in Accra,
the capital of Ghana which, among other things, gave out maps of the city.
Unfortunately, the man who was giving them out couldn't read them.

In Congo and Gabon Equatorial Guinea (or Guinea Equatorial in French:
it's a neighboring country in Central Africa) is commonly referred to as
"Equatorial". Evidently the people who do so take that to be a proper
name, since I never found one who knew what "Equator" meant.

A number of people in that area asked me, when they discovered I was
from the United States ("Etats Unis"), whether I was from North America
or South America. Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and such places
are just states in the United States, you see.

The usual answer for the distance from wherever you happen to be
(in the bush) to anyplace in the same general region is "two kilometers".
It doesn't matter whether the actual distance is half a kilometer
or thirty.

That reminds me of the chief in an outlying village of backwoods
Gabon who had no trouble believing that men had walked on the moon,
but got upset when we told him we had crossed the ocean to get to Gabon:
nobody can cross the ocean, after all....
John Quarterman, UUCP: {ihnp4,seismo,harvard,gatech}!ut-sally!im4u!jsq
ARPA Internet and CSNET: j...@im4u.UTEXAS.EDU, formerly j...@im4u.ARPA

Dave Berry

Nov 25, 1985, 10:59:28 AM11/25/85
In article <6...@im4u.UTEXAS.EDU> j...@im4u.UUCP (John Quarterman) writes:
>The usual answer for the distance from wherever you happen to be
>(in the bush) to anyplace in the same general region is "two kilometers".
>It doesn't matter whether the actual distance is half a kilometer
>or thirty.

I found a similar problem in the USA. No-one had any idea of how long it
took to *walk* somewhere. When I was caught hitch-hiking in a mid-west storm
a local told me there was a motel just 5 minutes walk down the road. By a fluke
I got my first lift for hours just after that, and it took 10 minutes *in a
car*. It's possible my "guide" was having some fun at my expense, but there
were other examples too.

Dave Berry. CS postgrad, Univ. of Edinburgh

Neal D. McBurnett

Nov 26, 1985, 1:09:34 AM11/26/85
In fact, Esperanto has a larger following in many non-european countries
than in North America. The Chinese government reports that 200,000
people there are learning Esperanto (the World Congress will be in Beijing
next year). Japan, Brazil, Israel and Iran also have strong movements.
I'm sure you're right about Nepal, though....

Neal McBurnett, ihnp4!druny!neal
"Send for the free postal course today (online)"


Dec 2, 1985, 12:20:00 PM12/2/85
Excerpt from a conversation during a trip of mine to the US:

I'm standing at a bus station and talking to someone in German.
Some random lady: "Where are you from?"
Me: "From Berlin, Germany."
The lady: "Oh, really? Did you go all the way by bus?"

Carsten Bormann, <ca...@tub.UUCP == ca...@db0tui6.BITNET>
Communications and Operating Systems Research Group
Technical University of Berlin (West, of course...)

Fred Christiansen

Dec 4, 1985, 2:41:19 PM12/4/85
> > The usual answer for the distance from wherever you happen to be
> > (in the bush) to anyplace in the same general region is "two kilometers".
> > It doesn't matter whether the actual distance is half a kilometer
> > or thirty. > > John Quarterman
> Of a similar flavor: in Cape Town SA: "Oh, we'll give you a ride into
> town. We're leaving Just Now."
> Two hours and thirty minutes later ... > Ed Nather

my favorite, while growing up in India, was the answer to any question
regarding directions .. it was "str-r-raight! str-r-raight!". typically,
there was a curve or two and a couple of turns involved.
<< Generic disclaimer >>
Fred Christiansen ("Canajun, eh?") @ Motorola Microsystems, Tempe, AZ
UUCP: {seismo!terak, trwrb!flkvax, utzoo!mnetor, ihnp4}!mot!fred
ARPA: oakhill!mot!fr...@ut-sally.ARPA "Families are Forever"

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages