When you think of a made-up language, secret codes or children’s gibberish might come to mind. But take a look at Esperanto — a language created with the goal of bringing together international speakers under a common tongue.
Despite the original intent of a worldwide language, Esperanto has been slow to catch on. Many people think that even though Esperanto is a young language, it’s already dead. Think again! Esperanto shows far more promise than you might expect, especially for travelers.
Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, an opthamologist from Poland, wanted to create a universal language that people all over the world could learn and speak, regardless of their nationality. Some people call him Dr. Esperanto, since that’s the pseudonym he used when he published “Unua Libro,” a book on Esperanto.
He first started trying to popularize the language in 1887, but it’s been slow to take since then. People ask, what’s the point? To L.L. Zamenhof, it was to promote international peace. Zamenhof spoke several languages himself, and he thought that if he could create a single language that could be used everywhere, he could bring people together.
You might be surprised to learn that estimates put the number of speakers at around one to two million people. These speakers are scattered across the globe, from Europe to as far east as Japan and South Korea.
Many Esperanto speakers travel or live abroad and have found that knowing the international language is handy. They’ve used it to find places to stay and make friends. Some parents are even teaching their children Esperanto as a first language. The numbers are still low here — only about 1,000 people speak it natively. It may not have reached as far as Zamenhof envisioned, but it has moved far beyond the small community where it started.
Maybe you’re wondering, why would anyone bother learning Esperanto? How does it benefit the speakers? Those who have traveled abroad have found it immensely helpful. There’s even a network called Pasporta Servo to connect people who speak Esperanto and help them find lodgings when they’re traveling.
Esperanto is one step closer to language equality. Since most people who know it speak it as a second language, almost everyone is still learning. It creates understanding between people of vastly different cultures and unifies everyone in a way that wasn’t possible before Esperanto.
If you’re interested in learning it, Duolingo has Esperanto as one of its available languages. There are also other websites dedicated to learning Esperanto and sharing resources. Although Esperanto isn’t quite as widely known as L.L. Zamenhof hoped, its popularity is growing. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll all speak this universal language on Mars.