Esperanto, the Universal Language
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
What if everyone in the world spoke the same language? In some circles in the world, they do.
That’s what Ludwik Zamenhof wanted to know. He saw that people didn’t get along when they couldn’t understand each other. So, he tried to solve that problem by creating an entirely new language that was not attached to any specific country.
I started learning Esperanto at eleven years old when my mom brought home a movie called The Universal Language. I wasn’t particularly interested at first. As an eleven-year-old, I had much more important things to do, like planning a wedding for my stuffed animals.
But then the movie started, and I was captivated. People of all different backgrounds, who looked different and had foreign accents, were all speaking Esperanto. It sounded kind of like Spanish, but the movie said it was a lot easier. I was excited and told my mom that I wanted to learn this cool language, and she agreed to learn it with me!
Six months into studying, we went to our first Esperanto conference. We signed up for a beginner-level class there. When we arrived, one of the organizers started talking to us. Her name was Alena, and she said my mom was advanced enough to be in the middle-level class. The entire time, I was silent. My mom said, “What about Cassidy?”
Alena looked at me and asked, “Have you understood what I’m saying so far?” I nodded nervously, and she smiled. “Cassidy should be in the middle-level class too.” I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s been six years since then, and Alena is one of our closest friends in the Esperanto community!
Because of Esperanto, my mom and I have traveled to France, Germany, Serbia, Portugal, Spain, and the US. In France, we stayed with an Esperanto-speaking (Esperantist) family outside of Paris. They had two little kids and a dog, who I enjoyed playing with while there. Staying with that family gave us a look at real people’s lives in France, instead of just the tourist attractions.
For a similar experience, Esperantists use Pasporta Servo, or Passport Service, Esperanto couch surfing. Esperantists can host each other. It’s a great way to travel because you get to see the culture of the country you’re visiting, for free.
My mom and I know Esperantists in dozens of countries, everywhere from Brazil to China to Australia. Many of them have extended invitations to their homes when we travel.
The biggest Esperanto event of the year is the World Congress (or the Universala Kongreso, Esperanto). It draws a couple of thousand of Esperantists from hundreds of countries. Every year, the location is changed so that people from all over the world can go. This summer, it was going to be held in Canada. That was a massive deal since Congress had not been held in North America since 1984. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, it has been postponed until 2022. But on the bright side, now is a great time to begin learning Esperanto, because you too can be fluent in time for the Congress!
One of the Esperanto conferences my mom and I attended over the years was called REF, or the Meeting of Esperanto Families, which took place in Serbia that year. Since it was a family event, there were plenty of kids to hang out with there.
There were 14 families from 12 countries at REF, but that doesn’t convey how international Esperantist families are. Typically, each parent is from a different country, and then they live in a third country.
My friend, Linda’s family is like that. Her father, Martin, is German, and her mother, Nikola, is British. Nikola’s parents were Esperanto speakers too, but they’re Japanese. That makes Linda a third-generation Esperantist! The family lives in France, but Martin and Nikola work in Switzerland. Linda and her brother, Oliver, speak French at school, German with their father, and English with their mother. Then on weekends, everyone speaks Esperanto.
Most of the kids and teenagers I know who speak Esperanto are native speakers. I’m one of the few who isn’t. Most of my friends’ parents had learned the language as young adults, met other Esperantists, and then raised their children with Esperanto.
One day at REF, we all went for a hike on Rudnik Mountain. As we climbed, it began to drizzle and then to pour. The group decided to turn back, except four of the parents: three dads and a mom. They wanted to keep going, and so did I. I tried to climb to the peak of the mountain. I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and I had taken my Crocs off because the rock was so slippery. The four adults agreed to keep me safe, and my mom climbed back down the mountain, waving goodbye.
Instead of a guardrail, there was only a thin cable to hold. The path was narrow, and our wet hands gripped the cord that kept us up. One of the fathers in the group was taking pictures, despite the rain pouring down.
Eventually, the rain let up, and as we reached the peak of the mountain, it was dripping and foggy. We gazed across the country through a haze. I was so proud. I was fourteen, and I had climbed a mountain with the only four adults in our group who had been willing. We were all euphoric, as evidenced by our selfie at the top!
Another trip I took because of Esperanto was when I had a chance to go to the United Nations in April of last year. I went with a group called TEJO, or the World Esperanto Youth Organization.
We were visiting the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, held in New York at the UN Headquarters. TEJO represented the Esperanto community, and we were there to make connections and teach people about our language.
I was in the tenth grade then, and I was turning this trip into an independent study. I was making a video, so I had to work up the courage to ask people for an interview. Almost everyone said yes! Since it was a Youth Forum, I met a lot of kids my age. I asked them where they were from, what organization they were representing, and what social issues they cared about most. I even asked some if they’d ever heard of Esperanto. Most hadn’t, so I told them about it. After I finished my video, I sent it around to all the people that I’d interviewed. You can watch the video here.
Esperanto has given me so many opportunities. I hope that adventurers worldwide can use this to their advantage and enhance their travels and connections across the globe.
Written by Cassidy Walker