Book Review: Teach Yourself Esperanto

Teach Yourself Esperanto:  A Complete Course For Beginners, by John Cresswell and John Hartley, revised with additional material by J.H. Sullivan

This book answers a question I had when reviewing a previous book that had been paired with this one [1].  In many ways the two books are a bit of a yin and a yang.  The dictionary has a fairly rudimentary and straightforward and short discussion of grammar and then a focused and expansive selection of words in its vortolistoj (word lists) between the two languages.  This book is the mirror image of that, with an expansive selection of questions and exercises and short texts and dialogues and a short and rudimentary set of words between the two languages, mostly organized thematically rather than in alphabetical order by root or word, at least for the most part.  As someone who has read quite a few books that serve as lessons for Esperanto in some manner [2], this one carves out its own niche by providing example of the sorts of texts that one would see if one visited Esperantujo (Esperantoland) and wanted to spend one’s hard-earned staroj (stars, the name of the imaginary (?) Esperanto currency) on various good and services.  In giving a certain vision of what an Esperanto culture looks like in print, this book does a solid job for the beginning student, especially in the United Kingdom.

For a fairly ordinary-sized book of about 250 pages, this book manages to include a fair assortment of varied materials.  The core of the book consists of about 180 pages divided into fifteen lessons.  The lessons range in subject material from family and house to a room to a town to a letter to holidays, the weather, television and radio, nature, the web, the life of Einstein, advertisements, hobbies, letters to the editors, weekend, and miscellaneous worldwide information.  The chapters themselves include various subject matters related to grammar, along with texts and dialogue and exercises to translate from English into Esperanto and Esperanto into English.  After these materials comes the answer key to all of the exercises, which makes this like a teacher’s guide for somewhat more formal instruction of Esperanto–this book has the feel of the language books in Spanish I grew up studying as part of my own formal foreign language education.  The last part of the book contains a short and rudimentary dictionary divided into English-Esperanto and Esperanto-English.  The book as a whole can be taken gradually by an individual learner or can be a part of a formal program for studentoj, although one can imagine such programs are probably a bit rare.

This is a remarkable book, in that it provides at least a hint of what an Esperanto reader would look like and gives a lot of clever words and phrases and samples of the language for people to read and translate and understand.  The book is also remarkable in its sense of unity and generosity of spirit.  The authors of the book state that someone can be considered an Esperantist after the first four of fifteen chapters if they speak it and write it and have mastered that material.  This is a remarkably tolerant attitude, since the amount of hours it would take to become an Esperantist would not be particularly large, and because it would only be about a quarter of an elementary text on the subject.  The extent to which this generosity of spirit is a desire to allow people to feel welcomed in a community of speakers, or because of the comparative ease of learning the language, or what.  Perhaps that sort of thing will remain a mystery, but this book gives a glimpse into an interesting alternative universe, and that alone makes it worth reading and appreciating, besides its other considerable virtues.


[2] See, for example:

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I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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