Book Review: Beginner’s Esperanto

Beginner’s Esperanto, by J.F. Conroy

Although it is without a doubt that I probably read too many books on the grammar and instruction of the language of Esperanto [1], it is enjoyable to see how different people conceive of the task of instructing others in Esperanto and to learn from the approach and the style of each of the authors.  This particular book has a lot to offer especially because the writer has a somewhat detached perspective himself.  He writes as someone who knows and enjoys the language and also has an appreciation for the ideals of the language, but also someone who does not feel himself to be involved with any of the larger political agendas that are present within the culture.  However, one thing this book does extremely well is to display the diversity of interests within Esperanto speakers, and the author’s high praise to those who, like the railway workers federation within Esperantujo, are ordinary people dealing with the Babel of confusing languages, is itself an admirable position that demonstrates the author to be a person of high ideals himself, whatever his reluctance about claiming a political identity within Esperantism.

The book itself is structured in a very thoughtful way.  This is, actually, the sort of book that would be perfect for a semester or quarter-length class on the language.  It has twelve sections (presumably one per lecture or one per week) and each of those sections is fairly demanding in terms of the learning of the language.  I wish I had more time to devote to the book myself, but I had to return it fairly quickly and was only able to read it through at somewhat of a fast clip, looking in particular for useful words that would make my Esperanto speaking and writing more Nathanish.  Although the chapters and lessons themselves do not really have themes, they each have a unified structure that is consistent throughout:  Each chapter begins with a dialogue (whose translation is at the end of the chapter), and then continues to give learning tips, practice questions, notes on grammar, exercises, adresses and organizations to file away, notes on the larger Esperanto culture that one can be connected to, and plenty of wordlists to help with vocabulary building.  As might be expected, the lessons grow more and more complicated as the book goes on, and the book clearly has the aim of making someone an effective stylist in the language and also able to create new words out of a flexible use of affixes and combinations of roots.

When a writer chooses to take on the subject of introducing someone to a language, they have the choice of either showing that culture implicitly through their actions or explicitly through instruction.  As this author appears to be somewhat detached from Esperanto culture in some ways, it is striking that he works so hard to connect the reader to Esperanto culture in other ways, through explaining how he got to know the language, in showing how the various study groups within Esperantism work, and even by giving an example of how inspiring it is to see people from many nations communicate with each other through the same tongue.  The author also has an evident desire in sharing the quaint and playful sides of Esperanto culture and the way that the language has been shaped by its history like any other language culture would be, in ways that make it striking and unique.  Few introductory language texts, after all, would tell the reader how to say a term that expressed the idea of pronouncing something in a way that makes words sound dirty, or what an awkward person would be, fairly complicated concepts that are nevertheless fairly straightforward in Esperanto.  As a beginner’s guide, this book is not only worthwhile for individual learners but also makes for a fine textbook for more moral language instruction.

[1] 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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