As a constructed language, Esperanto isn't spoken natively by anyone. Yet some linguists, language teachers, and SLA advocates encourage learning Esperanto. Why? What are the primary reasons that these experts recommend learning Esperanto?
First, I’ll dispute your premise that “Esperanto isn’t spoken natively by any one”. In fact, Esperanto, being by far the most popular constructed language, does have native speakers. People with different first languages who have met through the Esperanto community have bought up children with Esperanto as their first language. In fact, I believe that there are now some second-generation speakers. (Of course, all such people will also speak at least one other language, but still, native speakers of Esperanto do exist.)
Now on to answering the question.
There are, of course, many reasons why one might choose to learn Esperanto, just as there are many reasons for learning any other language, but most are off topic for this site. I imagine you’re asking about learning Esperanto as a stepping-stone to learning another language. Some experts do indeed recommend this.
The theory is that Esperanto, being a constructed regular language, is fairly easy to learn, and that learning a language makes it easier for you to learn another.
The first part of that is undeniably true: Esperanto is easy to learn (at least, compared to most other languages). The second does have some supporting evidence, but it is tentative. The idea of learning Esperanto first has been around for a while, but what probably jumped it into the public consciousness was Tim Morley’s talk at TEDxGranta, who described using Esperanto in British primary schools.
And it worked.
But there are some considerations which may not apply to an adult learner.
- One of the problems was a lack of teachers qualified to teach French directly. It’s easier to train teachers to teach Esperanto. This probably won’t apply in your case.
- This was, specifically, the first foreign language learned by these children. If you’ve already learned a second language and are now tackling a third, most of the considerations won’t apply.
- Learning in a classroom situation, having your peers fairly fluent is an aid to learning and confidence. Therefore, a language which is quick and easy to learn will build confidence.
- You can jump to the “creative” stuff quicker, which builds confidence, interest, and joy. Again, this probably applies more to children.
The main reason people don't succeed to learn a language, is because they get discouraged and stop. Learning a language is often hard, and people don't see results before a lot of time, so they give up. One other problem is fear: one of the best ways to learn a language is to use it in discussions, but people are afraid of their ability, they don't try to engage in conversations and because of that they don't learn effectively.
Esperanto has a lot of tools to break this psychological barrier: first it has almost no exception, so people are not afraid of making errors when they create new things. Second, it is more comfortable for beginners to speak since they don't have to worry about gender, conjugation and other things. Third, the agglutinative system makes it that if you don't know a word, you can recreate it on the fly, so you are less afraid of not knowing a word. Fourth, almost all speakers are not native speakers, but past beginners, and making errors won't make you a stranger, but a friend. Fifth, it is easy to understand even if you make errors, since Esperanto has a lot of shared vocabulary with common European languages. And lastly, Esperanto correlatives and explicit word endings are good to explain grammar. I learned the grammar of my native language through Esperanto.
This can help you for any language you are learning after. And Esperanto is quick to learn, so the return/investment balance is strong. Bonus: Esperanto friends are good for teaching you their own language.
The main reason why experts recommend learning - or rather teaching - Esperanto is its propaedeutic value, i.e. the value of teaching it before teaching other foreign languages. There has been some research on this topic. Some of it is discussed in What research has been done on the effects of learning Esperanto on acquiring other languages? on Linguistics SE. And Wikipedia has an entire article on the propaedeutic value of Esperanto that summarizes some research findings.
For example, in the 1990s, there was a project in Australia that tried to establish whether Esperanto would be a good language to learn as a first foreign language at primary school (see the EKPAROLI Project Report 1994 - 1997). These findings agree nicely with Tim Morley's experience (see the TEDx talk by Tim Morley that TRiG also mentioned).
However, I am not aware of studies on the propaedeutic value for people who already know a foreign language or for adults (since adults have, on average, more metacognitive skills than children, and such skills can speed up language learning).
As I say often to people who ask me why to learn Esperanto, it's like the "Lego" game. Each piece of this language fit together logically.
There are only five endings to define a noun (-o), an adjective (-a), an adverb (-e), the plural (-j) and the accusative (-n used on direct objects). For example:
- rapid-o = speed
- rapid-a = fast
- rapid-e = quickly
- li maltrafis la rapida-j-n trajno-j-n = he missed the fast trains (I use hyphens to display clearly the endings).
With one root and a set of affixes (prefixes and suffixes), you can create hundreds of words easily. For example with three suffixes " -et to reduce ", " -eg to increase " and " -aĉ to uglify " :
- dom-et-o = a small house
- dom-eg-o = a big house
- dom-aĉ-o = a shack.
- dom -aĉ-eg-o = a big ugly house :).
The simple tenses are easy to use:
- Past verbs end in "-is"
- Present verbs end in "-as"
- Future verbs end in "-os"
These explanations are just a preview of the potential of the Esperanto. According to me, it's why the Esperanto is recommended.
The original idea of the auxiliary/planned languages, of which Esperanto is the most successful after 130 years (this July), is to help different cultures (with native languages) to communicate easier. After considering modified Latin, Zamenhof decided to create a fully capable modern expandable language. It is intensively agglutinative and logical that you can create any expression creatively, once simple grammar (international) rules are applied to roots (mostly common romance/germanic/slavic).
Very good reasons from the creator of the Zagreb school in: European Identity, (search for) Zlatko Tisljar Assoc. for European Consciousness Maribor 3/8'11 http://www.debatingeurope.eu/2011/08/03/should-esperanto-be-the-language-of-europe/#.WIvLbPl95hG
Language is a package (communication part) of cultural (+) IDentity.
For cross-cultural communication we need a Neutral language that is not forced by commercial gains and is fair on all sides.
Soviets & Yugoslavia were unaware of role of language in identity, & they tried to develop Soviet/Yugoslav language of largest population; it did work as language of communication but could not be accepted as language of communal identity, because it wasn’t neutral. For this reason, they failed to develop (cross)communal identity. In time of crisis this was decisive & fundamentally influenced collapse of these multi-ethnic states. Without solution to this problem European Union will fall apart whenever first large scale economic or political crisis occurs...
It has been politically suppressed in history by Stalin, Hitler, etc. Due to internet it's now much easier to learn via Duolingo, Lernu! and other methods that it's popularity rapidly grows. Over ~2M speakers, 704K new Duolingo learners from ENglish and 34K from ESpana in very short time is a proof. Bonŝancon.
Economic reason (at least for Europe)
You question is not so far from the one from the Haut conseil de l'éducation.
In 2005 François Grin wrote Foreign language teaching as public policy, answering a request by the Haut conseil de l'éducation. This document attempts to answer the following questions: "What foreign languages ought to be taught, for what reasons, and considering what context?" It considers the economic costs of language policies, as well as their cultural and policy implications. It examines three scenarios: the choice of a single natural language, the choice of three natural languages and the choice of a constructed language, Esperanto.
This report has not resulted in real changes in the language policy of any State.
The report suggests that use of English gives unfair redistribution to Anglophones. A set of three, e.g. French, German and English, would reduce inequalities among speakers, but still impose a burden on those whose first language is not among those chosen. A further problem is the choice of languages for the trio (and the criteria for choosing them).
The report argues that adoption of Esperanto would save the UE 25 billion euros a year. Grin suggests that adoption of Esperanto as a working language is unlikely given prejudices against the language, but that such a move may be achieved in the long term.
Economists Adriana Vintean and Ovidiu Matiu suggested in 2008 that adoption of Esperanto would likely lead to large savings for Europe, but that teaching Esperanto would be a major expense for poorer EU nations such as Romania or Bulgaria.