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I have recently started learning Esperanto because I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare and contrast it with the natural languages I speak. Anyone who has done even light research on Esperanto know its two main selling points are its claim that it's easy to learn and its claim that learning Esperanto first makes learning other languages easier. For now I'm most interested about that second claim.

Pretty much every website discussing Esperanto in some way references that second claim, usually by saying something to the effect of "one may become more fluent in French by first studying Esperanto for 6 months and then studying French for a year and a half, rather than studying French for two continuous years." This seems like a rather counter-intuitive notion and made me rather curious. None of these websites seems to offer any citations in support of this claim. In fact, a cursory Google Scholar search also turned up nothing.

Furthermore, these websites offer conflicting accounts of why learning Esperanto is supposed to make learning other languages easier. Some claim that Esperanto helps learners become aware of the essential characteristics of language which allows them to focus on their target language more clearly. Others claim that Esperanto's ease and quickness of learning allows learners to gain confidence speaking in a foreign language which they can then take with them to their target language.

Does anyone on this board know of any academic sources which address this claim (either supporting or refuting)? I'd be particularly interested to see any experiments which explicitly tested this notion that 6 months Esperanto + 18 months of another language is better than 24 months of that same language.

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The claim about Esperanto having propedeutic properties for French learners comes from the EKPAROLI project, you can find a somewhat outdated but detailed report about the project. Some more recent information can be hopefully found on the webpage of the Mondeto society which is currently trying to continue the efforts of EKPAROLI on the global scale.

A recent TED Talk titled "Learn Esperanto First" mentions the Project Comenius as a frame initiative for studying the propedeutic properties of Esperanto, some more information about participating schools and activities is available in Esperanto.

Generally a Wikipedia article on this topic can be a good start for your reading too.

  • You might want to use the link from webarchive [1] instead. Wikipedia lists many projects with short summary of the project outcomes, that also might be interesting for you. [1]:web.archive.org/web/20031204061223/http://… – Alexander Galkin Mar 18 '13 at 15:29
  • The EKPAROLI report seems like a good place to start as a quick skim tells me they are indeed comparing against some controls. I'd still be interested in see if anyone was able to reproduce their results. – acattle Mar 18 '13 at 15:36
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(Apologies, I'm writing this comment in a way so that even passersby who have zero knowledge of Esperanto can make more sense of it)

As for the research, honestly there's quite a few very easily findable online, especially via Wikipedia reference links on various pages related to Esperanto. The "open library" has a few books with research summaries in them at least, one being here. The one problem is that when you're reading only in English, they tend to only be looking at how Esperanto helps with Romance languages (because that's all English-speaking countries tend to care about, not because Esperanto only helps with those). If you know anyone who speaks Esperanto, it's much easier to find the research on it through that, and there are also relatively a lot of studies on it done by France so try searching in French if possible. (There's even been notes, if not exact studies, in Swedish among other languages). While I've read a lot of reports, I haven't kept the links to any of them, but I found them by simply searching for general information about Esperanto. Any remaining research reports basically need to be actually purchased from somewhere (ex. a University).

Here's just a couple: Modern research, date unknown, better sources for it must be able to be found: About how the Chinese counting system improves mathmatics grades, among other things. Esperanto uses the same exact counting system, the words are just a tiny bit longer to say: http://gladwell.com/outliers/rice-paddies-and-math-tests/

2012-2013: Various reports from Australia on the effects of using Esperanto in primary school as a first second-language for the children: http://www.esperantoresearch.org.uk/site/publications

Since I haven't saved any more links, here I will show you some examples I've personally gathered, for why Esperanto helps with learning other languages. It's not exact scientific research but it ends up being pretty obvious in showing how Esperanto helps, I think anyway.

I have to first summarize the main idea, by saying that in Esperanto, word-construction (compounds, affixes), grammar markers (anger vs angry vs. angrily; accusative case), certain words (reflexive pronouns), and so on are simply the basics of grammar of most languages, especially Indo-European ones. It's the same as going through a page of a book, and colour-coding which words are adjectives in one colour, which words are nouns in another colour, which are direct/indirect objects in another colour. That is partially what greatly speeds up the learning of other languages; it very, very clearly teaches you when to use each form of a word in a sentence, whether it's in Esperanto or any other language.

Especially compared to English, Esperanto has a small base vocabulary with few synonyms, which very closely mirrors languages like Japanese and Swedish; the remaining necessary words are created by compounds in all three of these languages. That's another main reason for why Esperanto speeds up learning, because the English-speaker's brain is already trained to use "only basic words", as must be done in most foreign languages.

Now for some explicit language comparisions so you see what I mean:

1. Vocabulary and word make-up (forgive me for not bolding the relevant parts, I'm too lazy):

Esperanto (EO): kat-ido, hund-ido, ĉeval-ido

Swedish (SV): katt-unge, hund-unge, häst-unge

Japanese (JP):こねこ、こいぬ、こうま

English (EN): "baby cat, baby dog, baby horse", kitten, puppy, foal

——— 
(EO) manĝ-voli, tranĉ-ilo, vet-eto

(Greenlandic) neri-uma, savi-mmik, eqquiniu-nnguaq

(JP) たべ・たい、こ・がたな、こ・かけ

(EN) "eat-want, cut-tool, wager-ette", to want to eat, a knife, a small bet. Note that in Japanese instead of cut-tool, "small sword" is said.

2. Accusative case:

(EO) ĉi tie, ĉi tien, hejme, hejmen, ekstere, eksteren, li, lin

(SV) här, hit, hem, hemåt, ute, ut, han, honom

(EN) here, hither, home, homewards, outside, out, he, him

———— (EO) La kato kuras sub la sofo


(Faroese, FO) Kettan rennur undir sofuni

(EN) The cat runs around under the sofa (without leaving the underside of it)


———— (EO) La kato kuras sub la sofon

(FO) Kettan rennur undir sofuna

(EN) The cat runs underneath the sofa (it runs from outside of the sofa, to underneath it)

3. Reflexive pronoun difference: (I don't know French etc. but I'm fairly sure they have the exact same difference)

(EO) La knaboj ludas kun sia kato


(FO) Dreingirnir spæla við sína kettu


 (SV) Pojkarna spelar med sin katt 


(EN) The boys play with their cat (their own cat)

———— (EO) La knaboj ludas kun ilia kato


(FO) Dreingirnir spæla við teirra kettu


(SV) Pojkarna spelar med deras katt


(EN) The boys play with their cat (a cat owned by someone else)

———— (EO) Faru ĝin mem. Li ŝatas sin. Ĉesu vundi sin mem

(SV) Göra det själv. Han gillar sig. Sluta skada sig själv

(EN) Do it yourself. He likes himself. Stop injuring yourself

As you can see, even in non-Indo-European languages such as Greenlandic and Japanese, there can be some direct similarities to Esperanto. This definitely isn't all the similarities but it's just a a taste. It's really hard to describe most of the similarities in just a few words or examples since English is just too different, plus I don't want to go into the grammer etc. of Japanese and so on, so I don't want to go on any further. That includes giving better examples of compound words among other things. Sorry about that, I'm just too lazy. Of course, every similarity is what helps you with a foreign language.

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