Esperanto is the world’s easiest language, but even learning an easy language requires time and a certain amount of effort. What makes an easy language easy? Mainly its very simple and regular grammar. Famously, the basic grammar of Esperanto consists of only 16 rules – admittedly these include a large number of subdivisions and have spawned at least two thumping tomes of exegesis, but in any case it is certainly true that Esperanto grammar is far easier to learn than that of any other language.
What requires more effort on the part of Esperanto learners is the vocabulary. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, facilitated vocabulary learning by drawing on the most widely used forms in the European languages (for instance lingvo language, libro book, infano child etc.), and also building vocabulary by means of compounds and affixes. Even so, this is the part of language learning which can only be acquired by study and practice.
I have always had an interest in creating reading material for learners by producing short, easy texts based on a limited vocabulary list. I remember when I was at school being given supposedly easy magazines in French and German, but being unable to read them because they included too many words that I hadn’t encountered before. For this reason, when producing texts for learners I felt it was important to start off with a basic vocabulary list and to stick to it as far as possible, adding glosses for any words outside that list.
But perhaps I’m jumping ahead of myself. I should explain that I am the founder and editor of a site for Esperanto learners called uea.facila. UEA stands for Universala Esperanto-Asocio, the World Esperanto Association, while facila of course means “easy”. My aim in creating the website was to introduce Esperanto learners to the Esperanto movement, and specifically to UEA, its most important organization. At least two million people have learnt Esperanto using the online app Duolingo, but most of them know nothing about the movement which has grown up around the language: not just UEA, but also the national and specialist associations, the conferences and other meetings, books, magazines, radio stations, etc., etc.
UEA’s official magazine is too difficult and probably not very interesting for people who are only just discovering Esperanto, and I felt they needed something suitable for learners. This is why I founded uea.facila at the end of 2019, with the help of a grant from Esperantic Studies Foundation. As I mentioned above, articles are based on a limited vocabulary list. The list contains approximately 1000 word roots including affixes and grammatical endings. Don’t forget that with the addition of appropriate endings an Esperanto word root can function as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. For this reason, far more can be done with 1000 roots in Esperanto than with 1000 words in English or most other languages.
If an article contains a word that is not in the list, readers can click on it to receive a brief definition. Definitions are written in Esperanto using only words from the list – after all, it’s useless to add a gloss that is more difficult than the word it is intended to explain. This often requires a lot of ingenuity, and clearly the definitions have to be very simple. The aim is not to provide a complete definition as would be found in a monolingual dictionary, but merely to help learners understand the word in the given context. The definitions are also listed at the end of each article with added illustrations – as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
An important point about articles in uea.facila is that they are short. For a learner a full page of text can be daunting, so articles have a maximum length of 400 words, or 600 in the category Legaĵoj (readings). Complicated sentence structures are avoided. The aim is to provide learners with plenty of easy reading matter which they can consume quickly, with enjoyment, and hopefully not too much head-scratching. This will give a sense of achievement while it reinforces material already learnt.
As explained above, the original aim of uea.facila was to introduce the Esperanto movement to people who are learning the language. There are articles about Esperanto news, specialist associations, conferences, personalities, and history. However a magazine consisting only of information about Esperanto would probably be rather dry, and so there are also short stories, poems, and articles of general interest.
There is often a tendency to give language learners texts such as fables or childish anecdotes which they would not normally read in their own languages. Although language learners need simple reading matter, it should be remembered that the readers of uea.facila are adults who are perfectly capable of understanding articles about politics or the economy – and words like politiko and ekonomio are actually “easy words” for most language learners. Recent articles in uea.facila include pieces on a traditional Korean poetic form, facial recognition technology, the 60th anniversary of Radio Havana in Esperanto, a short biography of Josephine Baker, a questionnaire produced by Unesco on the future of education; this gives an idea of the variety of articles all written using a very limited and basic vocabulary.