The lost language of train-spotters

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Why is it, asks Esperantist Ann Morse-Brown (TES, December 29) that the obvious benefits of a simple international language are so widely neglected? The question may well have been rhetorical but nevertheless deserves a few answers.

Esperanto is entirely artificial and might more accurately be designated a code rather than a language. In educational terms, therefore, it offers nothing on the history or culture of its users or on the linguistic development which reflects that culture. The canon of Esperantist literature is at best negligible.

Esperanto can be used only amongst fellow enthusiasts. Ann Morse-Brown writes of "worldwide penfriend and hospitality networks" and of the wide readership of research papers in Esperanto.

It is, however, completely useless for business and cultural links and for normal social intercourse with the vast majority of people. One Esperantist may be able to communicate with another, but not with the butcher, the baker or the candlestick-maker.

To imagine that Esperanto could ever make it into the European Parliament or eliminate the translation bills of other international bodies is stretching credulity to its limits. Pigs may fly.

To advocate Esperanto to ease the subsequent learning of "another language" is unnecessary. A variety of perfectly valid language awareness courses already do this. Much more to the point is George Varnava's plea in the same issue of The TES for an extension of the teaching of real languages in our schools.

This is the stuff of practical educational politics, rather than high-flown but unrealistic idealism. Gillian Shephard, too, inhabits the real world as she calls for a vocational short course at key stage 4 for reluctant language learners.

It has never ceased to amaze me that Esperanto has been afforded house-room on the curriculum of even a tiny minority of schools and that it has ever been an academically validated examination subject.

Like train-spotting, Esperanto is a legitimate interest for consenting adults in private, but has little to do with education.

Michael J. Smith is a retired teacher living in Norfolk.

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