Learning the Easiest Language in the World – Esperanto

Esperanto Flag

Hodiaŭ, mi skribos pri unu el la plej facilaj lingvoj por lerni, Esperanto

Less than 0.03% of all people would be able to understand what I just wrote in Esperanto.

If you are one of them, great. But, if not, read on.

You see, although it would look like Greek to anyone, Esperanto is surprisingly easy.

But first, let me assure that I did not write that first line. That was all Google Translate. Despite this, I am quite competently fluent at the language to be able to understand it when it is written, or spoken (slowly).

This is what the phrase means: Today, I’ll be writing about one of the most easy languages to learn, Esperanto

First, the history of Esperanto

Esperanto is possibly the largest artificially constructed language in the world. It was created in the late 1800s by a Polish man who sought to create a means through which different cultures could interact with ease. He also sought to spread acceptance of diversity through his creation. Quite simply, he wanted to create an international language to foster unity.

He did this by amalgamating the languages of Europe: French, Polish, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian, and a whole host of other languages.

Today, the language is spoken by about 350 native speakers, and by about over 2 million second level speakers.

Certainly, its creator’s ideals have not been achieved. Despite that, the language has many benefits, making it a useful task to gain fluency in it.

Learning Esperanto, and its benefits

Learning Esperanto

This is quite possibly the best part of the language – it is perhaps the easiest language to learn in the world. To put this into perspective, it took Leo Tolstoy about three or four hours to achieve fluency in Esperanto, or so he claimed.

Now, having attempted to learn Esperanto through the Duolingo app on my phone, I don’t quite believe what Tolstoy said. I have been learning it for an hour each day for over a month now and I am not yet fluent.

However, perhaps there is some truth to Tolstoy’s words. You see, because Esperanto is constructed using European languages, simply knowing any European language means that you will have a great advantage when learning Esperanto. In addition, because of its artificial nature, Esperanto has not come to have the nuances of other languages. What I mean by this is that every language has grammar and linguistic rules. But, every language also has exceptions to those rules. Since Esperanto is made up, it is made to stick to a very short list of rules, from which there are no deviations.

In addition, while it takes 1000 hours to achieve a standard understanding of Italian, it only takes 150 hours to achieve that in Esperanto.

Because of this, the learning of Esperanto is impossibly simple.

So what are the benefits?

Why would anyone ever consider speaking a language that is understood by less than the population of New Zealand? Surely it has no perks when travelling. And, there isn’t much literature or video material produced in Esperanto.

Well, the pursuit to learn Esperanto for many is not just to learn Esperanto. Instead, it is seen as an easy stepping-stone to the pursuit of fluency in other languages.

To put this into perspective, a controlled group of students who studied Esperanto for one year and then French for three years achieved a greater level of fluency in French than another controlled group of students who studied French for four years only.

Various studies have shown that education in Esperanto expedited education in other languages.

So why am I learning Esperanto?

Esperanto Communication

I’m sure you have guessed this, but I am learning Esperanto so that I can learn other languages.

You see, I am fluent in both English and Afrikaans. Afrikaans, much like Esperanto, is influenced by many European languages. These include English, French, German, and most notable, Dutch. It has often been called low Dutch.

Because of this, and my education in Esperanto, I will be well equipped to learn Dutch. And then to learn German. And then French, and so on. Essentially, it will help me attain fluency in various languages. This is an aspect which I feel is vital not only for my historical research, but also for my travels, and for understanding other cultures.

So, like its creator envisaged, many, like me, are using it to broaden diversity and ease communication.

It is a pursuit which I would encourage others to attempt.

Simply head to Duolingo now, and hopefully you’ll be fluent in a few hours.

Arrowood – A Haunting Tale of Accidental Deaths and Charming Period Mansions

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Yesterday, I wrote about The Historian – a slow and lengthy read. I also mentioned that I had read a similar book recently. This book is called Arrowood.

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Arrowood by Laura McHugh
Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Like The Historian, I cannot deny that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

It tells the story of Arden Arrowood returning to her childhood home – Arrowood – a large period mansion in the small town of Keokuk in Iowa.

But with the return of her home comes the return of a mystery that has haunted her all her life – the disappearance of her twin sisters when she was just eight. Ever since, her life has never been the same. Constantly moving around the country, her parents divorced, a humanities degree that doesn’t seem to help her, and a disastrous end to an ill-advised relationship.

Arden hopes that her return to the place she once called home will be the return to her life before the disappearance of her sisters.

Instead, their disappearance returns to haunt her, and Arrowood. So, she is propelled into a search for the truth with amateur investigator Josh Kyle. However, the answer is something she never could have imagined, and never could have possibly asked for.

But out of it, she gains not only closure, but the rekindling of old friendships, the start of a budding romance and a way forward from her tumultuous past.

What I didn’t like about it

To be honest, I expected a horror novel. Or rather, a mystery suspense thriller. It was one, but unusually so. Conventionally, novels of such a description do not take long to show the reader some action. So, it came as a surprise when I had finished reading one hundred pages and still had yet to see the exciting and violent confrontations, the amateur sleuthing or the horror of the disappearance of the twins.

To me, that was slightly disappointing. But, not enough to take away a star for my rating of this novel, which I would still give five stars. For, despite the lack of a ‘rush’, the novel kept me going in anticipation of that rush.

Despite how slow the novel went (I’m used to the fast-paced, one-night, Dan Brown thrillers), I thoroughly enjoyed the aspects that it was laden with.

So here’s what I loved about it

First of all, McHugh really knew what she was writing about when she described the town of Keokuk. Coupled with the vivid nostalgia that Arden conveys to the reader – the food, the drinks, the festivals, the experiences – the description that McHugh conveyed to my mind was exactly in keeping with what I read and saw of the town on Google.

In addition, I really loved the focus that McHugh placed on the opulent lifestyle of the past and how she contrasted it with the decaying lifestyle of the present. She did so through masterful descriptions of the styles of various period mansions around the town as well as with the frequent mention of how history graced Arrowood itself – the mouldings, the rich wallpaper, the panelled wood, the massive rooms, the antique furniture, even the noisy pipes. As someone who appreciates the old charm of such homes, it was a pleasure to see what a heavy influence the character of Arrowood had on Arden.

Furthermore, McHugh placed subtle clues of the hidden truth all through the novel. This was masterfully done with images of the rivers Mississippi and Des Moines, their confluence, water as a central element in Arden’s life, and the frequent floodings of various areas of Arrowood.

Chillingly, she tied in these signs with hair raising scenes that leave you wondering whether or not the missing Arrowood twins – Violet and Tabitha – really do haunt the house. And, there are enough of these well placed scenes to keep the book compelling just as one may think it is getting too boring. It certainly kept me up reading till two thirty in the morning.

And, finally, the end came, and with it, the violent confrontation that I had been waiting for.

In conclusion

Arrowood is definitely a novel that I will revisit. And, Laura McHugh is definitely an author that I will follow.

Despite its pacing, Arrowood had enough to make me love it. And, looking back, the setting was as such, that it could be no other way. With McHugh’s excellent storytelling skills, it is definitely a book that I will give five stars. And, it is definitely a book that I would recommend to others.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – A Fascinating Tale of Scholars, Vampires and History

The Historian

I have read and loved many books since I can remember learning to read. Yet, I have only read a few of those over and over again. These special books, enough to make me read them again, include the whole Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, and, most recently, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Today, I want to write about why the last book is special to me. It is a long book. And, it is undeniably boring. That reminds me, there is another book that I have just read, matching the same description. But, more on that later.

The Historian – An Excruciating Task

The Historian - Cover
The Historian – Cover

When I first read The Historian, I was at a point in my life where I was determined to rekindle my relationship with reading. To do this, I chose a tome of epic proportions – one that would give me many sleepless nights trying to get through it. The Historian promised Dan Brown proportions of marvellous plot and intricacies.

I was bitterly disappointed in many ways. This 720-page book did not take me many nights to finish. It took me a day. It was not full of exhilarating plot.  To top it off, the book was lengthy and boring.

At the time however, I did not see all of this. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was a perfect rekindling of my literary love affair. The beginning of more sleepless nights, fighting to finish books boring and exciting.

But as I read what I had learned to call my favourite book over and over, I also learned to call it the most excruciating read I ever had to face. It drew me in like an unwise fool each time I began to read in anew, only to spit me back out – lethargic, and wiser, telling myself that I would never subject myself to that torture.

The Historian – Undeniably, a Love Affair

You are most certainly confused by now. I have taken the time to write a lengthy blog post – a review – of a book which I called special. And, I am criticising that same book to unfettered ends.

You see, I have bittersweet thoughts about The Historian. I love it, but I also hate it.

Why do I love The Historian?

There are many things to love about The Historian. It presents a wide myriad of cities, towns, landscapes, and historical climates to the reader. Through Kostova’s brilliant prose, she displays erudition beyond compare. I have never seen another author understand what she has understood so intimately. This includes the cultures of almost every country in Europe, and Turkey, as well as the complex history of those regions from the early 15th century up until the Cold War. She also demonstrated a deep understanding of their foods, languages, and social tendencies. Undeniably brilliant, she has created a tapestry of history, culture, travel, scenic landscapes, monasteries, and let’s not forget, vampires.

So why do I hate The Historian?

But, that tapestry is not smooth and artistic as it seems. Beneath the beautiful prose and stellar description is a rotting that makes the tapestry hard to follow. The 720-page tome is laden with narration from various aspects. An unnamed girl. Her father. Her father’s advisor. And if memory serves me correctly, a few others. And the narration is sewn in quite jarringly through the plot. The reader is constantly switching between the narrators, their letters, descriptions of libraries and monasteries, and examinations of manuscripts.

And while the plot was undeniably motivating – or maybe it was just the challenge of reaching its resolution that motivated me – even when the reading got rough as I stumbled through the beautiful yet discordant descriptions, it came to a crashing halt when the villain, Dracula, was revealed to be no more than an ****SPOILER ALERT**** irritated librarian.

Kostova had kept me reading through the entire tome, enduring the seemingly repeated descriptions of places and things, and somehow keeping track of the complex plot, all in the hope that the resolution would be as exciting as the book description promised. Instead, I was met with a disappointing anticlimax followed by another lengthy resolution.

Was The Historian worth it?

So was The Historian worth it? Was the excruciating read something I would endure once again. Oh yes!

I will always return to The Historian, because even though I know its end, and I suffer through the intricate plot (which I have come to know, almost), it never fails to surprise me with just how masterfully crafted it is.  It is a marvel how Kostova has created such a masterpiece whose only failings are its complexity of plot and anti-climatic resolution.

I do not see myself as someone who only reads for pleasure. Rather, I read to broaden my mind, to learn. And The Historian taught me. It gave me exactly what I had secretly been looking for. A story of the past, moulded into a story of the present, with history, travel, food, and culture intertwined in it. It is certainly not a fast paced read, but I was somehow excited by its boring nature.

I would definitely call it a travel guide. But its a damn good one at that. And, if one is to read a travel guide, why not read one that will expose you to the countries’ places, food, language, and culture while telling a story. Even if that story has a disappointing end.

Kostova has undoubtedly created something that is hard to rival. It has various major flaws, but I am only writing about them here because I must. I do not even think about them when I return to the book.

So, as with any literary novel, many will hate The Historian, but I am sure, that in time, it will be remembered as an unrivalled piece of art.