Note: Esperanto is a constructed language created by the Jewish Polish doctor L. L. Zamenhof, who lived in the Russian Empire, and published after many years of work in 1887. Its original intention was to serve as an international auxiliary language (IAL), or a universal second language for people of all countries. There have been numerous different proposals for constructed IALs over the years, but Esperanto, with both its long history and its estimated two million speakers worldwide, is generally regarded as the archetype and most successful of the IALs. Other especially notable IALs include Ido (which is itself a derivative of Esperanto sometimes referred to as “reformed Esperanto”) and Interlingua.
I didn’t find Esperanto until midway through high school, but when I did it was something of a revelation. By that point, I had struggled conceptually with Spanish through three years of middle school instruction and two more in high school, and the first great draw of mine to Esperanto was its simplicity and incredibly logical structure. I had never studied a constructed language or even encountered one before, and I was amazed at how much more conceptual sense it made than any of the languages that I had studied before (Spanish and English) or would study after (German). After especially struggling with Spanish’s grammatical gender and relatively complex verb conjugations, I thoroughly enjoyed the lack of grammatical gender and beautifully simple verb conjugations in Esperanto; to this day, I can conjugate any verb in Esperanto: the suffixes are -as for present tense, -is for past, -os for future, -u for imperative, -us for conditional, and -i for infinitive. (Esperanto also has a full set of participles, both active and passive, that logically share vowels with the tense to which they correspond.)
Esperanto also has plenty of other substantial advantages over the other languages that I have studied, ranging from its completely phonetic alphabet (essentially a Slavic alphabet written in the Roman script) in which there is a universal one-sound-to-one-character relationship to its use of regular suffixes to denote parts of speech and numerous prefixes and compound words to reduce the absolute vocabulary necessary to gain a command of the language. However, its most interesting element to me is how it naturally enables more logical thought patterns through the very way in which it is constructed. The simplest example is how any noun (all of which end with the suffix -o) can be easily transformed into an adjective (-a) or adverb (-e), which allows for the much easier construction and communication of a thought along the lines of “[noun]-like”. For example, if you wanted to describe another sport as being like soccer (futbalo), you could easily call it futbala or refer to a related action connoted by a verb as futbale. While studying Esperanto, this functionality really made an impression on me and certainly made me wish that this was easily done in English as well.
Even more striking to me was what is called the “table of correlatives” in Esperanto, a completely logical grouping of the correlative terms that is entirely unlike anything I’ve seen in the other three languages I’ve studied. The basic idea is that all correlatives consist of a prefix and a suffix that they share with the other words to which they have a logical relationship. For instance, the word for what (kio) shares its suffix with the other “things” tio (that) and nenio (nothing) while also sharing the question prefix “k” with kiam (when), kie (where), and kiom (how much). Predictably, never is neniam and there is tie. To me, the table of correlatives is truly brilliant and is perhaps even Esperanto’s “killer app”.
Taking more of a broad view, I was also fascinated, and continue to be fascinated, by two purposes that Esperanto can serve and indeed has been advocated for serving over the decades. The first is as an international auxiliary language (IAL). Due to both its sheer simplicity and the fact that it is (relatively) neutral and not the native language of any nation, people, or government, Esperanto has been suggested as an IAL on a number of occasions since its creation in 1887, most notably when it was proposed as (although it ultimately failed to become) the working language of the League of Nations in the interwar period. While critics have observed that it is not perfectly logical and noted other factors that have helped prevent its widespread adoption as an IAL, I still believe in the premise and really do think that a worldwide language landscape in which Esperanto (or some other IAL) is adopted (nearly) universally as a second language would be vastly preferable to the current use of non-constructed, “natural” languages (especially English) as international languages for a variety of reasons, ranging from ease of learning languages to protection of (especially smaller) endangered languages to basic concepts of fairness.
In my opinion, another (fairly different) advantage can be gained by studying Esperanto at a relatively young age (probably in elementary school), which has long been argued by a number of experts in pedagogy as being beneficial for the learning of other (more difficult) languages later in life. Looking back on my own personal experience, I believe that I began studying foreign languages too late in my life, in sixth grade. If I could do it all over again, I wish I could have studied (and mastered) Esperanto in elementary school before starting Spanish classes in middle school. I personally think that Esperanto would serve as a great option for a foreign language for students who do not have a strong desire to learn a specific foreign language (especially the fairly common choices of Spanish, French, or German) or even learn a foreign language at all. The simplicity and logical structure of Esperanto are incredibly reassuring while studying, and I know from personal experience that it can be a much more fulfilling language to study than more difficult and frustrating non-constructed languages.
I believe that in a perfect world, Esperanto (or a similar neutral IAL) would serve as a global auxiliary language studied by all, while then the study of other truly “foreign” languages would be directly connected to cultural immersion and programs such as study abroad. In other words, an IAL (such as Esperanto) would serve the more functional purpose of international communication while studying a third language (or more additional languages) would be much more about studying or connecting with the culture that speaks that language on its own terms, instead of in a neutral international setting with an essentially neutral IAL. Personally, I think that this would be good for both the IAL and other “foreign” languages, in addition to language learners everywhere.