Thoughts on Esperanto Study May, 2021
I've tried to learn a second language before, specifically Esperanto. I outlined why I wanted (and continue to want) to learn Esperanto in [ this post]. This post is some thought I’m having as I go through the process.
For this second time, I'm taking a very different approach than I did the first time. Inspired by the video game map, I decided to focus on vocabulary first, rather than grammar.
This ties in nicely with Esperanto’s incredibly simple grammar rules, where grammar and vocabulary are one in the same.
Getting out of the school mentality
One of the biggest challenges I found for myself was that I was still approaching learning as if I was in school, where my answers are being graded. This grading process caused me more anxiety than I ever realized! As an aside, this speaks to the way the school system is dysfunctional, but for now, I just needed to let go of the idea that “Wrong answers = bad” and simply allow myself to use wrong answers as an opportunity to self-directed improvement.
I found that memorizing some words or phrases was particularly hard. Esperanto’s correlatives challenging, so I created some mnemonics to help me remember them quickly, such as:
-am (when) = “AM, as in the morning”
-al (why) = I imagine Peggy from Married with Children asking, “Why Al????”
-el (how) = I imagine a leg moving a pedal and that’s how the bike moves
-u (who) = “Is it you?”
-om (quantity) = I imagine a meditator chanting “Omm” and then I count how many times
Ultimately these kinds of tricks are just tricks, they don’t substitute for learning, but they get me through the initial hurdles, and I’ve used them throughout whenever a word is having trouble sticking in my brain.
As I’ve increased my vocabulary, I’ve begun slipping on some words, and I’ve begun embracing multi-modal learning. The idea of “modes” is that each of us has ways in which we take in information, through reading, through hearing, through writing, etc. Some of us have methods that work better, but what almost always works best is combining modes, that is hearing, speaking, reading and writing.
I’ve found this specifically helpful where I find myself confusing two words, either because their meaning is similar or because they’re similar in structure. For example, the word audi means “to hear” and aŭskulti means “to listen”. For this, I’ve found that writing the words down helps tremendously, and then combining it with other techniques helps even more- such as imagining the hearing a car, an “Audi” but one would not “listen to” a car for comprehension. Similarly I’ve found the words lasi, to let, and laci, to be tired, confusing. Simply writing them down has helped, because speaking them and hearing them hasn’t. Using a multi-modal approach, I can most effectively absorb the information.
Using the dictionary
The dictionary has become my best friend in learning words. This may seem obvious, but when using an app, it can become “unnatural” to consult a dictionary during its use. Nonetheless I find that looking up a word can make a huge difference, such as as in the word koramiko, which means boyfriend. I could already identify the root -ami- (friend) in it, and saw the -o affix, but reading that kora- means “of the heart”, as in “cardiac”, helps me see that koramiko means “heart friend”, which is a sweet way of expressing the relationship.
Had I not gone to the dictionary, I’d have been trying to memorize the entire word, rather than sticking to the affixes, which help move me along.
Learning Across Contexts
I've found that if I see a word in more than one context, I'm more easily able to associate that word with its symbolic meaning. Here I am making a distinction between symbolic understanding and what I (for lack of a better term) am going to call “translation” understanding. In translation understanding of a word, I am associating a word with its English translation in my mind, whereas with symbolic understanding, I am associating a word with the symbolic meaning of that word. As an example, if I see the word “libro”, a translation understanding of the word would be to see the word “book” in my mind, whereas a symbolic understanding would be to associate “bookness” with the word.
This is part of all language acquisition, but for monoliguists especially, it can be difficult to associate symbolic meaning with words, so seeing a word in multiple contexts, such as in text, video, etc. helps with moving a word from translation to symbolic meaning, at least for me. I know I have symbolic understanding when I feel myself searching for the word in English associated with an idea, rather than searching for the word associated with another word.
Resources for Children
One wonderful thing about resources for young children is that they tend to have simple stories with clear progression and lots of repetition, making them ideal for new language learners. To that end, I've searched on Youtube for Esperanto videos for children and found several skits, animation and songs which make moving my understanding from translation to symbolic understanding easier.
Another exercise I've found very compelling is to translate things I've found, such as songs or short passages of text. By translating them, I've found that use many of the skills I've found, including word identification, affix identification, symbolic understanding, and maybe most usefully, an understanding of how the language is actually used.
One challenge I've encountered is that vocabulary is hard to manage without practice. Words simply fall out of my memory, even with repetition exercises. Because of this, my vocabulary acquisition has slowed down a bit, and that concerns me.
One thing that language learners recommend is speaking as much as possible, and I simply haven't found the courage to do so yet, neither verbally or in chat form. I feel too unready for it in real time, primarily due to lack of a working vocabulary.
Things are going well learning Esperanto. Now I just need to keep going, as the newness and shininess is wearing off, it's time to buckle down and keep going.