Friday, January 16, 2009

I've voted for "introduce_esperanto_as_a_foreign_language"

Dear Blog Readers,

If you visit

you will find that I've voted for the idea that Esperanto
should be introduced as a foreign language subject in
grade schools in the United States.

There has been some resistance in the United States to the
learning of foreign languages -- by 'resistance' I don't
necessarily mean a conscious desire not to do the learning,
but something deep down that doesn't really agree and that
holds one up even when one is consciously trying to learn
a foreign language. This is in part because the history
of the nation has involved many newcomers abandoning their
original languages and moving into English, seen as a
unifier and as a badge of the national identity that one
was constructing.

I voted for the idea because Esperanto provides a soft
landing and can help overcome American resistance to
foreign language learning. A child who has learnt
Esperanto is psychologically ready to learn other

Since Americans are not unaccustomed to the idea that
theirs is a constructed nation, it is possible that many
American children will find it useful to contemplate a
consciously constructed language. Esperanto, apart from
being an important object of study itself, and apart from
being child-friendly, is a springboard language. This
means that learning some Esperanto first specifically
prepares a learner for learning the next foreign
language very quickly. In other words, the 'propedeutic
property' of Esperanto, as this feature is called, is
a design feature of the language that goes beyond
the psychological aspect I mentioned earlier.

It is possible that the idea is not going to make sense
in absolutely all grade schools in such a diverse nation.
That's fine. When one announces an idea at a public
forum one normally presents it in a maximal form, leaving
it to individual backers or implementers to nuance the
idea in various ways. Perhaps it would make sense for
certain states to introduce the idea immediately and for
others to watch the experiment and make up their minds
about whether it will work for them. Other variants of
the idea can be fashioned. But it is easiest to think
about the idea in its maximalist form -- all grade
schools, all children -- when one is having a public
discussion. Hence my willingness to vote for the idea
in its maximalist form.

The fact that I am president of Universal Esperanto
Association obviously has nothing to do with my
backing for this idea :-).

I was in the U.S. from age four through eight and went
to a public school in a small town in New York state
(if you want to know which one, ask me). I was in the
U.S. again in my twenties and got a Ph.D. from NYU. I
have a stake in the nation's well-being though I don't
live there any more. I was saddened by the way things
were going and I feel good about the fact that people
are now trying to change those trends.



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