Challenge for Europe

Europe‘s challenge in creating a cultural and political community: languages

Political and intercultural dialogue in Europe is faced with a linguistic barrier: only a minority of Europeans has a sufficiently extensive knowledge of a foreign language to engage in a complex debate (level C1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). Language learning is therefore legitimately considered a priority for the Union: every European should be able to speak a language of international communication and a second European language of his choice, besides his native (Maalouf report). The goal is very ambitious, considering the average time needed to reach level C1: devoting several hours a week to the language, it will take around ten years (the investment required varies however according to the proximity of the learner’s native language and the target language: it will be smaller between Dutch and English than between Spanish and English). It is therefore essential to prepare young people to learn foreign languages from primary school.

One of the key factors in language learning is the learner’s motivation. Learning a foreign language is much easier when three factors coincide: (1) one should be confronted with people who do not speak one’s language; (2) such people should be worth getting to know, because they convey an interesting message for the learner and; (3) language learning should be rewarding: progress should be rapid and tangible.

Learning natural languages: reproducing social inequality

Preparation for learning foreign languages is nowadays the responsibility of schoolteachers in primary schools. Teachers are under pressure coming from two different sources: social pressure from the parents, aware of the importance of mastering at least one foreign language; and pressure from their hierarchy and ministerial programmes. Teachers often do not have sufficient knowledge of a foreign language to face these new needs. Trying to catch up under significant time pressure, they can only reach a mediocre result, dissatisfying for their pupils as well as for themselves. The teachers’ mediocre knowledge of foreign languages is due to the fact that effective language learning is a long and difficult process.

The children of more affluent families are therefore sent to the UK or Ireland for immersion language programmes. This strong demand makes the formula of free exchanges practically inaccessible, since the supply is much lower. In fact, English-language students are much less encouraged to learn foreign languages. As a consequence, this situation forces families to pay for language programmes abroad which creates a real market for them. The – sometimes exorbitant -costs of courses, combined with travel costs, make access to such programmes particularly difficult for the less wealthy. The concentration of demand for language programmes in Anglophone countries (UK, Ireland) becomes a factor of social inequality regarding the access to language education.

Esperanto: the right and effective method to prepare and motivate to language learning

Esperanto, in the context of cross-border primary school classes, presents a unique way of teaching languages. Due to its completely logical structure, to its compliance with the natural way to learn a language, and to the fact that it employs some morphological roots among the most widespread in European languages, it can be learnt quickly by Europeans – 5-8 times quicker than any other ‘natural’ language. Thus, the level allowing a first meaningful dialogue (B1) can be reached within about one year. The speed at which concrete results can be attained is a considerable source of gratification for primary school pupils participating in cross-border class partnerships; it also allows teachers to be quickly and effectively trained.

The mobilisation of an international network of primary schools also contributes to raising students’ motivation to learn. Through direct experimentation, pupils will understand that foreign languages give access to people it would otherwise be impossible to interact with.

As Esperanto is not a national or regional language, the class partnership network will be balanced. It would be the opposite of the current situation, where the language of international communication is one natively spoken in two EU member states (UK and Ireland). That is why these two countries attract today an impressive majority of partnership requests.

Communications tools based on the internet (instant messaging, e-mail, blogging or VoIP technologies as used by Skype) are quick, effective and cheap, and independent from distance. They are therefore open and accessible for all social and economic groups. They activate both written and oral expression, and can be used to practise all forms of linguistic expression.


We propose to organise a European primary school partnership network employing electronic communications tools on the internet (instant messaging, e-mail, blogging or VoIP technologies as used by Skype) for which the common language should be Esperanto. Such exchanges prepare and encourage foreign language learning and stimulate discovery of other lives and cultures. Pupils who have experienced such exchanges in primary school are better prepared to learn foreign languages and to engage in intercultural dialogue. Having been exposed to a simple learning method, they will have a greater desire to learn thanks to the positive and gratifying experience. They will also have made the direct acquaintance of other Europeans, thereby developing a greater desire to live together.

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  1. Bonjour,

    bonne initiative, merci !
    Je relève une faute d’anglais (qui prouve que l’anglais est une langue compliquée), classique chez les francophones :

    Vous écrivez “A Europe who can also show solidarity. These are the objectives set by the three associations who have launched ”Challenge for Europe”.”

    Vous deriez écrire “A Europe THAT can also show solidarity. These are the objectives set by the three associations THAT have launched ”Challenge for Europe”.

    L’EUROPE et des objectifs ne sont en effet pas des personnes mais des choses, donc “who” ne s’applique pas et il convient d’utiliser “that”.

    On peut se demander, toutefois, pourquoi vous choisissez de vous exprimer en anglais, ce qui semble contredire votre thèse…
    Je suis moi-même anglophone, germanophone, hispanophone ET espérantophone.


  2. Esperanto is proposed as the first “Language Other Than English” in Australian schools because it is an achievable goal, providing both access to a wide variety of cultures and a solid basis for later language learning.
    It can be taught and practiced in frequent short lessons provided by the normal classroom teacher which avoids the chronic teacher supply problem and is very much more effective than weekly lessons.
    Let’s all meet each other halfway in Esperanto!

  3. Bonjour Cédric,
    Bonne remarque! Et pourtant, si on avait choisi de s’exprimer uniquement en français, on aurait touché qu’une petite part des européens! Le but était de ne pas être lingui-centré… Tout le monde n’est pas quadrilingue!
    Mais, sur le fond, tu as raison : à quand le blog en esperanto!? Peut-être est-ce une réponse au débat européen… et à certains débats nationaux??
    Laurent Zibell aura surement quelque chose à répondre là-dessus.
    Charlotte, chargée de projet pour

  4. When I spent a year at an English medium, International School in the Czech Republic several years ago, I was lucky that as well as English I also spoke Esperanto. At the school everyone mainly from different countries, did speak English at various levels of proficiency. Outside the school it was almost impossible to find anyone who spoke English.

    No doubt there were good English speakers in the big hotels, banks and fancy shops but that is not where you can get to know people and acquire a knowledge of their ways and culture. It was only through contacting Czech Esperantists that I felt I came to an understanding of this wonderfully interesting nation and its people.

    When I did ask English speaking Czechs why they did not learn Esperanto as their international language instead of English which is much harder to master, they ofen said that they would prefer to learn Esperanto, but they didn’t because English speakers don’t learn it.

    This is when I realized how important it is to encourage English speakers to learn Esperanto, if they really believe in being fair. English speakers are the most advantaged people in the world and yet they are becoming more advantaged by not having to spend time and money on learning another language. As they are becoming more advantaged others are becoming less advantaged. Isn’t this the real cause of terrorism?

  5. Fakte, Charlotte, kial ne esperanta babililo? Aŭ al menaŭ kelkaj esperantaj mesaĝoj en la nuna babilaro??

  6. I really enjoyed reading this article as I do speak Esperanto for more than thirty years. And I very much like to be part of this growing international community of people who speak Esperanto.

    The article states: “Thus, the level allowing a first meaningful dialogue (B1) can be reached within about one year.” Quite often people become fluent after much less time. I sometimes teach Esperanto in weekend courses. A “first meaningful dialogue” is possible after one or two weekends. And no one up to now ever wanted to book more than three weekends – they just continue learning by speaking or reading.

    Laurent Zibell makes the proposition “to organise a European primary school partnership network”. I would prefer a network for pupils at the age of 14 up to 18 years. They know much better what they really want and it is much easier for them to travel to meet the others. And because they already learnt English, they are somehow free to learn a language just for fun and international understanding. (Yes, I know, Esperanto first would be a good preparation for English – but nearly no one wants to hear this, people are nearly crazy about their children learning English as quick as possible. So I prefer the way with more perspective.)

    I would like to add an idea about Esperanto in schools. I think every European pupil should be tought what Esperanto nowadays is, during one or two lessons in school. Older ones could give a presentation they prepared. I think, as a first step this would help Esperanto much more than teaching Esperanto in just a few schools. People need to know first, how Esperanto is used today and how it is spreading, before they can make a sound decision in favour (or against it).

  7. Diano’s final point has particular importance. If people realise that they have been placed at a lifelong disadvantage merely because they were not born in an English-speaking country, whilst others have a permanent, unearned, advantage merely because they were born in an English-speaking country, they can react negativly and sometimes violently, i.e. terrorism.

    Therefore peace really is linked to justice and fairness, and Esperanto epitomises both. As a COMMON language, of course, not as a SOLE language. Diversity, linguistic as much as that of flora and fauna, is a richness to be preserved, whilst communicating beyond language boundaries in a language which underlines equal rights and parity of esteem for everybody. Esperanto can admirably fulfil this role, but it can also improve language-learning in general and thus strengthen multilingualism.

  8. I think Esperanto is the universal language. Mi parolas Esperanton de antaux 30 jaroj kaj mi komprenas la anglan, tamen mi ne kapablas gxin dece paroli, kaj Esperanto donas al mi pacon kaj fido je la homaro.

  9. Iba a empezar mi respuesta disculpándome por no saber el suficiente inglés como para redactar este mensaje en esa lengua. Pero me he puesto a pensar que realmente no estoy haciendo nada malo expresándome en mi propio idioma. Puedo comprender lo leído en inglés casi al 100% pero el crear frases es algo más complejo ¿verdad?
    Cuando aprendí Esperanto de forma autodidacta recuerdo mi perplejidad al comprobar que una herramienta tan sencilla pero expresiva no estuviera propagándose a los cuatro vientos sin más apoyo que su propio e indiscutible mérito. Entonces era muy joven e ingenuo. Más tarde aprendí sobre los intereses económicos y políticos, sobre las considerables inversiones que algunos países anglófonos llevaban a cabo para promocionar su lengua en todo el mundo y comprendí que tomaba parte en una batalla perdida de antemano, que militaba en el bando equivocado. Es tal el bombardeo publicitario sobre la “necesidad” que todos tenemos de aprender inglés que ya nos lo hemos creído, hasta tal punto de disculparnos por no saber hablarlo. ¿No deberíamos aprender los españoles francés o portugués antes que inglés? Más que nada por aquello de la proximidad y las probabilidades reales de disfrutar de estas culturas tan cercanas y cautivadoras…
    Hoy voy a romper una lanza por el Esperanto. Retomo mi ingenuidad e idealismo. Las buenas ideas son tercas. Apoyo sin reservas cualquier proyecto encaminado a enseñarlo, si bien no comparto del todo el objetivo último que me ha parecido entender aquí: que sirva como paso intermedio hacia el aprendizaje de otras lenguas. ¿Creen ustedes realmente que después de haberlo aprendido, de haber constatado en primera persona su facilidad, precisión, regularidad, lógica y expresividad el ya esperantófono se va a embarcar en el aprendizaje de una tercera lengua nacional, irregular, ilógica, saturada de frases hechas, con fónetica a veces imposible de reproducir? Lo harán los amantes de las lenguas o aquellos con intereses directos en el país donde se hable. Los demás preferirán seguir encendiendo fuego con una cerilla en lugar de hacerlo frotando dos palos. La ley del mínimo esfuerzo.

  10. Catalan:
    Estic d’acord amb vostè, Juan, sobre el portuguès i el francès; jo fins i tot diria que el gallec, el basc, el català i l’occità són a més de més propers i atractius, fins i tot oficials en algunes comunitats espanyoles.

    Mi konsentas kun vi Juan pri la portugala kaj la franca; mi eĉ dirus ke la galega, la eŭska, la kataluna kaj la okcitana estas krom pli proksimaj kaj allogaj, ili eĉ estas oficialaj en iuj hispanaj komunumoj.

    I agree with you, Juan, about the Portuguese and the French; I even would say that the Galician, the Basque, the Catalan and the Occitan are besides nearer and attractive, even official in some Spanish communities.

  11. Svenska
    Jag har använt Esperanto sedan 1965. Jag har tack vare Esperanto blivit mer medveten om mitt eget språks grammatik, liksom att jag även förbättrat mina kunskaper i Engelska.

    Jag är därför övertygad om att Esperanto kan hjälpa personer som tycker att det är “svårt” att lära sig ett främmande språk.

    I have used Esperanto since 1965. Due to Esperanto I have got more conscientious of the grammar in my own language as well as the grammar of the English language.

    I am convinced that people who think it is “difficult” learn a foreign language will find Esperanto a nice “springboard” to other languages as well as their own native language.

    Mi uzis Esperanton de post 1965. Dank´al Esperanto mi iĝis pli konscia pri la gramatiko de mia propra nacia lingvo (la sveda), krom fakto ke mi ankaŭ evoluigis mian komprenon de la gramatiko de la angla lingvo.

    Mi estas tute konvinkita ke Esperanto povas esti je helpo al homoj kiuj opinias lernado de fremda lingvo “malfacila”.

  12. @Louis F. v. Wunsch-Rolshoven
    I thank you for your warm comments. The reasons why I believe that it is more adequate to have this network of exchanges at primary school level are the following:
    * preparing oneself for language learning only makes sense BEFORE the actual language learning has started – once it has started, a preparatory exercise makes less sense
    * having a first, positive and gratifying experience is an advantage and a source of motivation for later language learning. Several studies, specifically at the University of Paderborn in Germany have illustrated the propedeutic virtues of having learnt a simple language before embarking in the more arduous experience of a natural one. You say that “no one wants to hear this” – well, if the ultimate goal of better speaking English in the longer run is reached (and it has been demonstrated), then I believe that the argument may indeed be heard.

    @ all
    The purpose of this proposal is very much to help young Europeans to discover by themselves how intersting and potentially easy it can be to communicate with people from different countries. It aims at motivating them to learn about other places and cultures, to train them in thinking in a different language (which is a discovery for those born in a mono-lingual environment). If this goal were reached, it would already be a huge achievement: learning a foreign language would not only be an abstract “must do”, a hard and frustrating experience, but on the opposite a source of pleasure and enjoyment.

    After this direct communication experience, the children either may very well be motivated to learn the language of the country of their partnering school: this would favour the diversity of language learning in Europe, along the model of the “language of heart” of the Maalouf committee.

    If after that, they also want to continue speaking Esperanto, this is their responsibility…

  13. To test whether Esperanto worked, after I had learnt to speak it, I spent a fortnight in a summer-school where there were people from many nations, in Czechoslovakia, in 1980. I was deeply impressed to meet an Inspector of Esperanto from Hungary, with a group of Hungarian children. They were able to socialise easily with all the adults and children there, and I feel sure that, like me, they never forgot the atmosphere of peace and mutual understanding.

    Por testi chu Esperanto funkciis, lerninte paroli ghin, mi pasigis dusemajnon en somerlernejo kie estis homoj el multaj nacioj, en Chehhoslovakio, en 1980. Profunde imponis min renkonti Inspektoro de Esperanto el Hungario, kun grupo da hungaraj geknaboj. Ili povis socialigi facile kun chiuj el la adoltoj kaj geknaboj tie, kaj mi certas ke, kiel mi, ili neniam forgesis la etoson de paco kaj interkompreno.

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