Shakespeare and Esperanto

I dreamed last night that I was teaching Shakespeare.  I should note right off the bat that I have no qualifications what so ever to teach English literature, and the person who hired me in this dream universe must have been very desperate to find somebody for this post, though I felt that trying to explain this to my students would do nothing to endear their hearts to the man’s verse.  I remember thinking that the most difficult part of the job was making the material interesting to low-end students without making it boring to high-end students.  How do I do this job without damaging The Bard’s reputation through my incompetence?  It’s probably best that I didn’t go into teaching as a career.

Okay, how does this relate to Esperanto?  A week or so ago, every American esperantist with an email address received the following email:
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I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a movement of citizens inspired by the presidential campaign who are now submitting ideas for how they think the Obama Administration should change America.  It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”
One idea is titled: Introduce Esperanto as a foreign language subject in schools. I thought you might be interested in getting involved and I recommend you check it out. 
 
You can read more and vote for the idea by clicking the following link:
http://www.change.org/ideas/view/introduce_esperanto_as_a_foreign_language_subject_in_schools 
The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by www.Change.org, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration.  So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.
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The primary argument for introducing Esperanto into public schools sites several studies which demonstrated that children who were taught Esperanto first went on to learn other foreign languages much more quickly.  The structure of Esperanto obviates the structure of languages in general (at least Western ones) and students can use this as a basis for other languages.  I can personally attest that I learned much more about English from learning Esperanto by way of generalization than I ever did in high school English classes.  

I have mixed feelings about this.  First off, public school curricula is controlled at the state level, not the federal, though certainly the Feds can influence and make suggestions.  But let’s say that the idea found sympathetic ears and the decision was made to teach Esperanto to grade school children across America.

Where are they going to find the qualified teachers?  Will the teachers be learning along with the children?  Esperanto may be the easiest language in the world to learn, but it’s still a language, and is best learned by interaction with experienced speakers.  This may or may not be a big factor, as most esperantists that I know personally taught themselves the language, usually with the help of experienced speakers through snailmail, email, telephone, group meetings and such.  

The second concern I have is: What will happen to Esperanto when it’s subject to disparate school board oversight?  I shudder at this thought.  How long will it be before some well meaning but short sighted bureaucrat thinks, “Hey!  I’ll bed I can improve on this Esperanto thing.  First off, let’s get rid of this annoying accusative case …”

 

2 Responses

  1. Please don’t shudder. Esperanto is a well established language.

    During a short period of 121 years, Esperanto is now within the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(those who have spoken the language since birth) include George Soros, Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet, and World Champion Chess Player, Susan Polger. Yet many people still suggest that Esperanto is not a “living language”

    Further arguments can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670 and a glimpse of the language at http://www.lernu.net

  2. Your first concern; Esperanto is one of the few subjects in which the teacher need only be one or two lessons ahead of the class. They can all have fun discovering it together.
    Your second concern; people have been trying to tinker with Esperanto ever since it appeared in 1887. But the existing speakers, having taking the trouble to learn the language as it is, won’t take kindly to changes. Even getting new words accepted is a slow process, and major changes to the grammar have never gained support. If the teachers/students/authorities try to introduce big changes, they’re welcome to do so … as long as give it a new name, as it won’t be Esperanto any more

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