Universal language Esperanto brings hope of greater cooperation, greater understanding

For people looking for something idealistic, practical and of linguistic interest, Esperanto might be just the thing. Something utopian. Something expressive of the goodness of humanity. Something fundamentally egalitarian.

Esperanto is a universal language by intention and design, and at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ, Cleveland State University’s Jeremy Genovese and Esperantist Dennis Keefe will show a documentary on the universal language and discuss some of the language’s history and principles.

This presentation is part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.

Esperanto has a relationship with Chautauqua, the Institution having hosted an Esperanto Congress in 1908. And a number of lectures were given on topics regarding Esperanto in the years at the beginning of the 20th century.

“Esperanto is a language, but not of any country or ethnic group — it is a neutral, international language,” according to the website esperantodocumentary.com. “Estimates of the number of people who speak Esperanto today range from 10,000 to 2 million. Created by Ludwig Zamenhof in 1887, Esperanto has a very regular structure, which means it is easy to learn. Communication through Esperanto does not give advantages to the members of any particular people or culture, but instead provides an ethos of equality of rights, tolerance and true internationalism.”

Keefe is teaching a Special Studies course in Esperanto this week. He learned Esperanto in 1980 when in Spain and since then has taught the language in clubs and schools all over the world. Keefe said his wife is Chinese and speaks three languages.

“She does 10 times better in Esperanto than in English,” he said.

Keefe has a master’s degree in teaching english as a foreign language from the University of Illinois.

“I have learned a lot about language teaching over the years,” he said. “But it has been with Esperanto that I have learned and felt what it is like to go through all stages of language learning in a short time.”

Language learning generally takes a long time, and teachers rarely get to see the full results of their work.

“With Esperanto, since it is much easier to learn, we can,” Keefe said.

Keefe’s co-presenter, Genovese, is an associate professor of human development and psychology. He has been interested in Esperanto for a long time, and he is largely self-taught. This week is important for him because he will get to speak the language with fellow Esperanto speakers.

One of Genovese’s research interests is human memory.

“There is evidence that learning Esperanto may help people learn other languages and that it may improve performance on tests of one’s native language,” he said.

Moreover, he believes that “studying Esperanto is a more sensible approach to cognitive enhancement than expensive brain-training software.”

Many major cities have Esperanto groups, but the interest is growing among younger speakers on the Internet. Keefe cited Duolingo as a free, language learning Internet site that launched an Esperanto course two months ago and now has 50,000 new learners.