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The language challenge -- facing up to reality

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The language challenge by Claude Piron Facing up to reality Hello! I guess I'm being a bit presumptuous in daring to talk to you in English, a language I always feel as foreign. But I'm glad I have this opportunity to testify about my language experience, and I hope you'll be indulgent if my English is not up to the standard you expect. You see, I've worked for international organizations all over the world. So, I know as an insider how communication works. As well in large assemblies, as in small expert groups, or in day-to-day contact with the population. My approach to the language challenge may be somewhat unusual in that I've been speaking Esperanto since my teens. Esperanto is an international language that developed on the basis of a project launched by a young man in Poland in 1887 and it has spread all over the world. There are today people who speak it in more than 120 countries. Mass media, politicians, most linguists and the man on the street ignore it completely! But it lives and is in daily use in a segment of the world population. Many people think that the language challenge is met by English, but this is not true. Native English speakers make up only 5% of the world population, and non-natives capable of using it at a good level represent only 5% more. In continental Europe, 90% of the population cannot understand a simple sample of everyday English. When an average Pole with an average Italian or Korean or Portuguese try to discuss in English, they'll look like aphasiacs. As if they had suffered a stroke, and the language center in their brains had been damaged. They constantly scan their mind for the right word. Their pronunciation is poor. They use gestures to make up for the lack of word. They need a few repetitions to understand, and very often they simply give up, because the exhaustion of expressing themselves in a language they don't master is too strenuous. Yet, they studied English for six or seven years with four or five hours a week. English teaching is a terrible waste, and the reason is not the teaching methods or teachers are inadequate. It's simply that English is not adapted to the demands of intercultural communication. I've attended hundreds of international meetings held in English, hundreds with simultaneous interpretation, and hundreds in Esperanto. The only really lively ones, the ones with equal participation of all, the ones in which people can really be spontaneous and at ease are the Esperanto one. The language is so structured, that the form that comes to mind is the right form. Six months of Esperanto brings you to a communication level that you haven't yet reached after six years in another language, including English. Esperanto is really cost-effective, especially if in cost, you include time and effort. I've spoken Esperanto with local residents in more than 50 countries, from Japan to Brazil or the Netherlands to Uzbekistan, and I've always found it extremely pleasant. In Esperanto, you can be yourself. In English, non-natives have to try and imitate a foreign model, knowing that they'll never succeed perfectly. The miracle of Esperanto is that you can keep your accent and your way of forming your sentences, and yet, everybody understands everybody, and no one ever feels inferior, ridiculous, or simply foreign. For instance, to express the idea: "I've learned it really quickly." People will say according to their origin and one century of use has proven that these differences do not impair perfect, mutual understanding. As a former UN translator, I can testify that Esperanto is an excellent language for translation. It's more precise than English, and thus better suited to legal and scientific texts. It lends itself very well to humor and to poetry, and it's particularly good for expressing feelings and emotions, thus the forms that come up spontaneously have never to be inhibited by exceptions, complicated grammar, or the lack of a consistent system of derivation. In Esperanto, if you know how to say moon, you don't have to learn lunar. You form it yourself. Just as This possibility of freely combining invaluable elements, a feature that Esperanto shares with Chinese, gives you a rich and expressive vocabulary without imposing too much work to memory. Since 1985, there hasn't been a single day without Esperanto being used for an international convention, conference, or other encounter somewhere in the world. It is widely used on the net and there is an Esperanto version of Google, and one of Wikipedia. A political will to promote it, would cure humankind of the aphasia from which most of us suffer when we have to interact with foreigners. Coordinated action by governments to organize its teaching in all schools of the world, and the recommendation to adults to devote to it 10 minutes a day for 3 months, 10 minutes, that's less than what you need to do a crossword puzzle or a sudoku, would start a snowball process, which after a while would completely change the language panorama of our planet. Everybody would retain their mother tongues, but have at their disposal a practical means of communicating with people from any country. There would be more fairness for all people, better mutual understanding in all fields, and a much better use of taxpayer's money. Economist François Grin has calculated that if Europe adopted Esperanto, this would mean a saving of per year, that is an annual saving of Aren't all these facts worth being seriously considered and acted upon? I thank you for your attention.

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: Switzerland
Language: English
License: Public Domain
Producer: DANNIRéalisations - Lausanne
Director: François RANDIN
Views: 34,201
Posted by: dannirlsne on Oct 18, 2007

A former UN and WHO translator, who is also a psychologist -- Claude Piron taught for 20 years at the Psychology Department of the University of Geneva - shares his experience of international communication and discusses the international language Esperanto.

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