AE 524 – Interview: How Richard Delamore Learnt Esperanto to Fluency Online
G’day, guys! Welcome to this interview episode to day. I hope you guys are well I hope you’re having a killer week.
Today, I have a very awesome interview for you guys where I’ll be talking with Richard Delamore, also known as Evildea, maybe you guys have heard of him if you speak Esperanto, but I’ll be chatting to him on the podcast today all about how he learned Esperanto, a constructed language, a language that has no country and its history is very, very, very recent, how he learnt this online. So, Richard did this all in Australia, obviously. The language doesn’t have a country. There’s no real place you can go abroad to go and study this language in a fully immersed situation. So, it was a very interesting interview.
Now again, there is a bit of a swear warning on this interview, guys. We do talk a little bit about rude words in Esperanto towards the end of the interview. I just want you to know that that is coming up. It’s nothing too severe, but we will be using the odd swear word whilst discussing those kinds of things, ’cause I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask: how do you swear in a constructed language, right? A language that is only about 100 years old.
Anyway, with all that aside, guys, let’s dive into it. I give you guys a Richard Delamore also known as Evildea.
G’day, guys! Welcome to this episode of the Aussie English Podcast, I have Richard here today who is a fellow Australian and who I knew until recently as Evildea, I didn’t actually know your first name until recently, but Richard speaks, probably you’re the only person I know who speaks a constructed language fluently so, can you start, Richard, by telling me a bit about you, where you grew up, where you’re from and then how you ended up learning Esperanto.
Yeah, sure. So, yeah, my name is Richard, obviously. I grew up in Queensland, in rural Queensland so on a tiny town called Emerald, which is basically in the middle of nowhere so I grew up in that town and that town is all English speakers, but I think if you go back one generation it’s like German speakers.
So, yeah, there’s like tons of immigrants came in and then I remember when I was growing up I heard English all around me so, I didn’t even know what other languages were, but my grandma would speak German and I didn’t understand German so, I just thought she speaking of really bad English, like that’s all I do, okay. And I remember when we finally, I was about 12 years old, my family decided to move to the coast. Then we moved across a few different towns and that’s when I first started noticing that, you know, other languages exist and I studied Japanese in primary school and I was mainly there just for the girls, it wasn’t actually for the language.
At least you’re honest.
Yeah, you know, you get these things out of the away. So, I was in the class and I remember I was in that class for like three years and they were just, you know, they were showing all the different signs and what they mean and I remember one day like ”actually, I’m going to write something in Japanese”. So, I went to my teacher ”how do you say the word THE in Japanese?”, and she is like ”there is no word for the” and I was like ”what a stupid language! Why doesn’t it have the?”, you know, the concept just didn’t get to me that languages are structured differently.
And that reminded me when I started French and I was like ”what do you mean there’s different grammar? I thought I was just you change every word in English into French word and that’s the language, right?”
Yeah. Well, that’s exactly what I thought for like three years, it’s literally oh you just swap words. It’s like the old puzzle book we swapped the head in the body.
So, yeah it didn’t really work out too well. So, I wasted about four years on Japanese and I learned how to count. I can still do that. And then after that I was like well, obviously I’m not suited for languages so, I’m not give up on this. And then after I finished high school I joined the Australian army so, I was in the Army for six years and they posted me at this place called Singleton, another little town in the middle of nowhere and there was like literally two or three things I could do, I could go out drinking, I could go out to the cinemas or I could sit at home playing video games.
Is this in your spare time when you weren’t training and shooting your targets and stuff?
Pretty much, so there was like nothing to do out there. It was like the town consists of miners and military and that’s basically it.
That sounds like Townsville to me, in Queensland.
It’s basically Townsville, but smaller.
So, I was sitting there and after about a year of gaming, I was starting to lose my mind and I still had a few more years here. So, I was looking for things to do and I don’t know, one day I start thinking maybe I’ll go back to, you know, I’ll study something from my past that I failed miserably at, but I didn’t want to do Japanese at that stage because I had traumatic memories. So, I was asking around and everyone there was like, you know, the older generation they’re all like oh you should learn French, you know, the French Empire type of thing. And I was like oh ok I’ll try French out. So, I tried French for about a month and to me it was just this weird language where you write like 30 characters and you say like two of them and then like everything’s just smashed together and they have like…English with the word don’t, is like do not and they do that in French like on a massive scale. And it just did not make sense to me, there was just all these irregular rules and strangeness and after a month I was like, yeah, this ain’t happening. So, I gave up again and I remember… I don’t know if any of you guys have done this, if you’re like me I’m one of those people who sits on Wikipedia and I read an article, I’ll click and I’ll read, and I’ll click and I’ll read. And, you know, you start somewhere and you end up somewhere totally different.
Yeah, yeah because they was like those words highlighted, right? So, you’ll be an article about biology and that term will be highlighted about something completely different.
And you be like I’ll read that and I’ll come back, but you never do. So, I was one of those Wikipedia dives where I was going through things and somehow I landed on international languages.
No kidding! Ok.
Yeah and on page about international languages they were saying oh so international languages are generally, you know, powerful economic languages English, French, but there’s also created languages and I was like ‘huh? Created? Ok, that sounds fascinating.
Or it would have been before Dothraki.
So, the list basically consists of very small and Klingon. So, I clicked on that and I was reading through it and I’m like oh okay this sounds kind of fascinating and really nerdy, you know, something like I’d probably be interested in, and I remember I saw Esperanto in the list, but I skipped over it because I thought it was Spanish. Like, I thought it was Espanhol.
I thought it was Castellano or whatever, when you see that word coming up on subtitles and that’s Spanish, Spanish, right? And I thought, for some reason I had it in my head when I kept seeing Esperanto a few years ago, I’m like it’s just a different dialect of Spanish or something.
That’s exactly what I thought. I skipped past it, but somehow on my link diving I ended up back on it and I remember I was reading it and I was like this is really fascinating, like some dude created language and now like, you know, a 100 years later people are actually speaking this, this is like me as a kid making a language and 100 years from now people like speak, like that’s insane, so I was reading it and it was really fascinating and I got to the part where it says, you know, there’s native speakers and I was like, if it’s got native speakers it must be like a real language, you know.
You can’t speak like a broken language. So, I was like you know what? I failed a Japanese, French is not doing it for me. I’ll give this a shot. You know, I’ll give it half an hour maybe it’s interesting. So, I gave it half an hour and I actually understood the concept. So, after half an hour I was like wow I speak more of this than Japanese and French thast I’d been learning before. And I was just like well between gaming sessions I’ll come back and I’ll do more lessons. So, it was one of those things where I did like, you know, half an hour a day for fun and then I’d go back to gaming and I can claim on being productive.
Yeah, exactly, exactly. The carrot and the stick, right? When you’re rewarding yourself and…
Yeah, pretty much.
So, can you tell us about how it was designed, how it is made and why?
So, basically the guy who created it his name was Zamenhof. He comes from what is now Poland so, Bialystok, which is like one of the main cities there and he came from this city which at the time was like this little town on the edge of the Rome, not the Rome, the Russian Empire, ok?
‘Cause Poland was controlled by Russia.
Anyway, in that town it was very divided between language groups, you had German speakers, Yiddish speakers, Polish speakers, Russian speakers and they didn’t like each other, they didn’t speak to each other. You know, they had to put up with each other, it sounds like any other town, I guess. So, they are all like squished in there together and he kept thinking from when he was young ”why don’t we just have like one universal language?” and his idea originally was to try revive Latin.
So, he went learnt Latin.
Well, you start with what’s there, right? You’re like ok, this language is which is made. I just have to learn it.
Yeah pretty much, he’s like ”I’ll learn Latin and then I’ll promote it” so, he went to learn Latin he’s like ”yeah that was bad idea”.
How long did it take him too? Because that’s the part that’s always put me off. That was a subject at my school when I was there and I remember the guys being like ”this is like grammar lessons from hell constantly” and no one knows how to speak it properly, it’s just you know it’s the matrix.
The grammar of Latin is insane. Like, I’ve been learning it actually for a few months now and just because of interest’s sake.
Just because you hate yourself.
Yeah pretty much, I like self, you know, flagellation, I guess, whatever. But anyway, so it’s pretty insane and then after that he’s like ”well I’m going to standardize Yiddish and make that the language of the Jewish diaspora.
So, he went around doing that and even put a dictionary and everything together and he’s like… but no one really cares about that. So, you kind of gave up on that. Then he’s like okay so, ”why don’t I create a language that’s a mixture of all the European languages?” so he created it and he put it together and this was he actually did all this before he got to uni.
Jesus! Far out.
So, he was really young.
I was wondering. I was going to say, what was he doing for work? While he was creating languages, but obviously you don’t have to have a job because he was at home, you know, living with his folks.
Well, I guess I was before Xboxes existed, so, people…
So, anyway he created it and then his dad’s like ”you’re wasting your time!” so, he burnt all his notes when he went off to uni. So, then he recreated it
Because he already spoke it, obviously, it was all committed to memory.
I think he knew most of it, but it was probably a good thing because then he refined it.
Man, how pissed would you be? You’d be like ”dad…”.
Oh yeah ”God, damn it, dad!”. Anyway, so he then put it all together and his original idea was not to create say a language where we just go around speaking it, it was to create like this booklet form where you have a language in a booklet and you use it as like a translation guide quickly to write letters so, you’d have a letter you’d look at the book and you’d just check the crossing and go ”ok, this is how I write it and I send the letter and then the person will translate back into their own language”.
Yeah. So, it was meant to be like that but he also in the back of his mind had the idea that, you know, I could make this into a language so, he tried translating all sorts of different stuff and the original idea was I will publish this booklet and at the end of the booklet there’s a thing that says ”sign up to this. Send it to me and if a million people sign up I’ll let you all know and all learn in it together”.
So, a bunch people decided well I’m going to wait for a million people, they just went and start learning it and then they start contacting him and then from there it just started growing. So, we had a few speakers and we had a couple hundred and then in 20 years they had the first big international meeting.
And the crazy thing is this was all happening in the late hundreds, early nineteen hundreds, right? Around that time.
This is like right before World War One.
Yeah. So, right now the timeframe where everyone is trying to kill everyone.
There’s no internet, there’s no digital era. It’s all, you know, writing on paper, right? And sending each other letters and getting pamphlets and stuff from one another.
Yeah. And remember that like the rate at which these things get sent between each other, but somehow this all managed to grow and a community of speakers from all around the world managed to actually start appearing and using this language. We even had people in Australia back in the early 19 hundreds, who’d like signed up to his letters and were learning it. So, like…
Wow. So, he was sending these letters out to everyone, was he?
Yeah, yeah, he was sending them out of like around Europe to the Americas, down to Australia, this is what it was all just mail. It’s crazy.
So, how did it maintain itself, though? Because I would imagine back then the language would have been somewhat infantile in like the size of the vocabulary and everything. So, you might have got the grammar sorted out, right? And that’s one of the beautiful things about Esperanto is that there is no exceptions, the grammar is perfect and there are no broken rules like in English or like in any language. But what happened when people wanted to have words, say for didgeridoo or for kangaroo in Australia, were they able to just create their own words, use the English ones or do they have to like ask for him to make up words for them to be able to talk about, how did that get maintained?
Yeah. So, he was very different. I’d say he’s kind of like the first person to open source something, because what he did is that in the beginning of the book he literally straight away said ”this doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to you the speakers and if a word doesn’t exist or a concept doesn’t exist, take the most international concept and import it into Esperanto.” So, to give you an idea, as Esperanto spread around, yeah words like for local regional things just didn’t exist so, people would be like ”oh well I’ll just write like Esperanto version of what I say”.
And then that starts spreading around, like the word for chopstick in Esperanto is ‘haŝio’, which comes from Japanese, ’cause the Japanese needed a word for it.
So, that’s how it got into the language and it spread around. So, it’s just interesting.
So, it was all passive, just naturally occurred, there was no active ‘make sure that we have to collect all the Japanese vocab they’ve made in Japan and the Australian words and put them all together” it just happened passively, did it?
Yeah, and at sometimes you’d have competing word forms and then eventually one would beat out the others and it would spread through the whole community, like back in the early 80s, I think, it was when computers first started appearing there was no word for computer.
Now, there was several different competing forms there was ”komputilo”, which literally means tool for computing, tool for calculating.
And then other people were inventing words like ”komputero”, which was just a rip off from English and there was a bunch of others and they were all fighting for a period of a few years and then ‘komputilo’ simply slowly took over the whole commune and became the standard word and the other ones fell out of use.
But that’s crazy, I can’t imagine that happening early on such a massive scale, right? Like as you can imagine ”oh yeah, you just make a language, you know, you just have to make the basic grammar and then expand out from there”, but it’s like you know how many words there are in a language that would be such a huge task, but open sourcing it was obviously the easiest way for it to be done and the best sounding words in these cases, obviously, just get picked up.
So, has Esperanto started I thought as a Polish, Yiddish, English some Spanish and French as well, all mixed into the one language. Is that now like it literally has almost at least a word from every language in the world kind of thing or at least all the common ones because it’s got speakers everywhere?
So, I’m not…I I don’t think it’s got a word from every language in the world, but what it has done is it has taken words over time from different language sources. So, at the beginning of Esperanto history, this was a time when French was the international language. So, people back then, if you were educated spoke French. So, a lot of the only words that came into Esperanto are actually taken from French.
So, that’s why it has a French flavour to it.
Yeah. And then as English started to take over, a lot of the words started coming in from English. So, a lot of the scientific terms, modern scientific terms are actually very English based, but a lot of like, you know, descriptive, poetic words all these types of other types of words are all French. And then of course you get a small smattering of words that come in from other languages so, you got like words about anything to do with Islam is basically being imported from Arabic, certain like East Asian things like chopsticks and stuff have been imported in from those languages.
So, all those like culturally specific things that they’re going to need to be able to refer to and talk about all the time get named by those people.
Crazy. So, what was the process like for learning this language if it is obviously not as common, you would imagine, as French or Italian with regards to being taught anywhere and having resources? What did you do when you were in Singleton in the army, you know, trying to learn this language for which…and which year was this? Was it 10 or so years back or…
This was in 2010.
Yes so, it was actually fascinating because I remember the first three months I was learning it for fun and I had no idea that anyone actually spoke it nearby.
So, I was just learning it more for, you know, my own sake and then after three months I was like ”I wonder if anyone does speak it nearby…”. So, I started searching and I found there was a group about an hour and a half away from Singleton and I decided to jump in my car one weekend and drive down there and I’ve got the train and, you know, trained all the way down there. And I remember when I arrived I had like the phone number of the person I was meeting up with, but I didn’t really have any other details and I was sitting there and I’m like, I call the number, and I’m like ”hello, it’s me, I’m the new guy, contacted you” and the dude was standing right next to me, I didn’t even realise and he is just like massive, Russian dude that looks like he’s from the mafia type of thing. Like, big guy, ok, beefy. But he’s like the kindest guy in the world. Then he introduced me to a local group there, which consisted of speakers out of Korea, out of Russia here in Australia and it was a very small knit community, because this is outside of Sydney. And then after I left the army, I moved to Sydney and in Sydney there was a really vibrant community, there is a lot of speakers here so, I’d say probably all up maybe 100.
You don’t meet all of them and in fact I probably haven’t met all of them, but there’s different like hangouts where you go so, like if you’re in this type of group you go to this one. It’s kind of like friend groups type of thing.
And they all kind of cross over each other. So, if you’re in a major city, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there are speakers around you. It’s just a matter of finding them and once you find them, they’ll connect you with the others.
What are their motivations for learning the language? Do you find that it’s always the exact same thing for you, boredom begins it or is it completely different you know left field reasons for beginning Esperanto as a foreign language?
It’s actually really different for different people like one of the people here, Nicole, she speaks Esperanto because she learnt as a child.
Oh wow, so she’s a native speaker, is she?
She’s basically, yeah. So, I think she learnt it a little bit later in her childhood, but she still learnt as a child and it’s been in her family for a few generations so, for her it’s a cultural thing.
Yeah. So, for me I learned out of boredom, but you know the Russian guy said Dimitri, before he moved to Australia, he didn’t speak English he learnt Esperanto, came here, connected with the Esperanto community, got like work and everything and then from there started learning English.
Yeah, because I’ve heard too people use or can use or it’s even suggested to use especially for polyglots that Esperanto is a kind of steppingstone into the world of learning languages, is that something you find a lot of people have done too, where they’ve said okay I’m interested in becoming a polyglot and learning two, three, 100 languages. Do you find that they quite often start with Esperanto because of the grammar and the speed at which you can pick it up and learn to use it up relatively easily?
I found it kind from two directions as kind of too fonts, so one is people like me who come to Esperanto first and then go ”oh wow, that’s amazing” learn the language and then they learn more and become polyglots. Or there’s polyglots already had 10 languages under their belt. They want to look awesome so they put Esperanto down.
They are nine, are they? And they’re just like ”I need to get those double digits!”.
”I need that 10th, I need that 10th, so I’m going to get an easy one so I can fill it out!”. So, I kind of see Esperanto as like a… it’s like the soft drug before you get the hardcore languages and so, you’re like ”I’ll dabble in this one!”. You learned it, you get addicted and the next thing you know you’re learning Chinese and these other languages because once you’ve done it once…
It’s when you’re doing all the drugs already and you’re like ”well, I might as well pick this one up as well”
Yeah, yeah, I’m in the pool, I can’t get out now.
Far out! So, how did you go about learning it, though? What was the process back in 2010, obviously you had the Internet and everything, are there a lot of resources for learning Esperanto compared to other languages you’ve tried learning or is it very sparse and very few and far between?
Even back in 2010, which was kind of early during the Esperanto era on the Internet, one of the biggest language leaning websites in the world was devoted to Esperanto, is learnit.net.
Yeah, I’ve seen it.
And it still exists, and I pretty much learnt the entire language on that website.
Yeah, from beginner to like fluency, like I practiced there, I met people on there, I chatted with them and I went on the forums and then got into grammar discussions, the whole works, all within that one web site before I started meeting people, but nowadays in the last eight years the amount of resources I would say is like quadrupled, massively expanded.
So, you can pretty much learn Esperanto from any language in the world like….
Ah, someone’s created the content in Japanese, in Korean, in English in every language now.
Yeah. So, like in here in Sydney there’s a house it’s kind of like a cultural center for Esperanto. It’s called The Esperanto House, if you go in there you can find like books in pretty much any language to learn Esperanto and translations of pretty much anything in Esperanto is like on one shelf they’ve got like the Holy Koran in Esperanto and the Bible on top of it in Esperanto so, it’s like you can get a translation of anything in it.
But can you get Harry Potter and Game of Thrones? That’s the most important stuff, man.
Interesting one about Harry Potter. It can get it, but it’s not sanctioned.
What you mean it’s not done officially by them? So, you got to download the illegal P.D.F.
Yeah, I’m not promoting that, I’m just saying, you know, it does exist out there. I don’t know the full story behind it, but I heard like the first book was fully translated and then it was, I think it was given to the publisher something happened they rejected it. So somehow it leaked onto the Internet.
Ooops. So, what was that process like, though? Because this is what I think is going to be really important for my listeners, a lot of them are obviously using digital resources, they’re learning at home, they’re learning in their own countries without any native speakers around, you obviously had to go through that process to begin with where it was literally just you and a computer, was it? What was the process like? You just spent half an hour a day or an hour a day, did you get sucked in and started doing, you know, eight hours a day instead of gaming or was it just a steady and slow process?
It was kind of like, at first it was a steady process, I’d do like half an hour a day and because every time I did half an hour I actually made progress, you know, like if you study Latin after half an hour you haven’t made progress, you just you just hurt your brain. So, after the half hour in Esperanto, you can now structure your sentence, you can now ask a question, another half an hour you can make this complex sentence, so you feel like there’s success each time you do a less.
So, you get that a lot sooner, those hits and the rush.
Yeah, you get that kind of that hit. So, for me it was just like ”oh well, this is still easy, I’ll just keep doing it!” you know, and I just kept kind of doing it over and over. And then when I moved to Sydney, somehow like I got sucked into the community here and next thing you know people are signing you up to do different stuff and, you know, you’re speaking here or you’re like, you’re meeting people there, you’re teaching here and the next thing you know it’s kind of your life.
So, what was that moment like when you realized that you were fluent in the language and how quickly that come after you began?
Well, I never really noticed when I became fluent like… It’s hard to say, like I noticed on my first meeting, that was actually really impressive for me because after my first meeting, which was three months in, I met with Dimitri the Russian guy and a bunch of others and although I couldn’t say everything I wanted to say, I understood everything.
And that was three months in and I was like ”what? That’s insane!”. But the moment I realized that I was like 100 percent fluent was when I was having a conversation in Esperanto with a Chinese Esperanto speaker and we were talking about crypto currencies and how it all works and stuff like that. And I was like ”hmmm…”…I didn’t even realize like at first that this guy is like…we don’t share a language type of thing, apart from Esperanto and we’re having these really in-depth conversations about crypto currencies, politics, you know, what’s happening around the world. So, that’s kind of the moment where you’re just realizing it’s like ”oh, ok, I guess I’m fluent now”.
That’s give me goose bumps because I remember that feeling from French. I learned French all through school, sucked at it, I did it for six years at school and then for 10 years I didn’t touch it. And then I picked it up at home and started learning it after meeting a few French people at the gym where I was training and talking to them quite a lot and then eventually I got to that point where I could have conversations with people who were from foreign countries who spoke French but didn’t speak English. And I remember having that penny drop when you’re like ”holy crap, I’m communicating with someone who doesn’t speak English, my native language!” and that gave me that kind of like I don’t know that feeling that this is all worth it. Languages are so important and, you know, that put me on that thirst to want to learn other languages and now I speak Portuguese with my wife every day and it’s just so motivating. So, have you… Did you sort of use Esperanto as a springboard on to other languages as well or did you get really sucked into that community and you’re like ”man, ain’t got time for anything else!”?
Well, I got sucked into that community for a while and like I didn’t have time for anything else, but then I met my wife who is Chinese.
So, then I was like well, I want to speak your language because her parents don’t speak English.
Yeah. Exactly, I’m in the same boat. Although, I think Portuguese is probably going to be an easier mountain for me to climb than Chinese so, respect.
It’s given me a lot more respect for Esperanto and Chinese is like Latin, you do a bunch and you feel like you made no progress, unfortunately it’s got like… you need to learn 8000 signs like individual characters to be able to read a book type of thing.
Just to them, just Skype calls. There’s no writing letters to one another, screw that, we’re just talking, ok?
Well, the annoying thing is my in-laws they speak Mandarin, but they mainly speak their own local dialect. So, yeah, it’s one of the interesting things about the springboard effect is, though, when I’m looking at Chinese I’m like ”oh that’s kind of like Esperanto!”. So, I just kind of superimpose my Esperanto thinking onto Chinese and then it gives me that like jump forward type of thing, but if I came at Chinese like with no other language behind me, I can’t imagine… It would be so hard to succeed. It’s like, you probably do this in school and for international people they probably don’t get this, but we all did the recorder in school before we jumped onto the other instruments. So Esperanto is like the recorder, I chewed mine, but it’s still like the recorder.
It still works.
It works and then you move on to other instruments, you don’t just… I know a lot of people do, but you generally don’t go here’s a trumpet, make it happen.
Unless you really want to traumatise people. But it’s like that so, if you go for Esperanto, yeah, you’re going to be like spending a lot of time learning this language, but it will give you kind of that jump up for the next one.
So, how did learning Esperanto, beforehand and obviously to a very high level, set you up to approach Chinese? Did you have a certain ”ok, I have to learn this incredibly difficult language, but I have a plan now that I’ve done it before” or did you say ”winging it!”?
Well, there’s actually a little bit of both. So, when I came out I learnt from the mistakes I made in Esperanto regarding language learning. So, I learnt straight away that the best way to learn is to use. The more you use the better you go and anyone who thinks that they can sit there and just quietly like mime things all of a typing on their computer, is not the way to learn a language.
Well, it’s one of those things, right? Where it needs to be… if you’re going to do anything like that, it has to be as a sort of supplement, right? You take calcium pills but you can’t live off them, right?
Yeah, yeah exactly. So, that’s good supplement, but you’ve got to go straight. So, I learnt that valuable lesson, and the second thing is that a lot of…it’s due to Esperanto history, it has a really big speaker base in China itself.
Yeah. You got your door in.
So, one, I’ve got a lot of connections there, but also Chinese had an impact on Esperanto grammar as it evolved early in the history.
So, yes so, things like verbs and adjectives in Esperanto can kind of mix together, meld together, which you can’t do in English, but in Chinese verbs and adjectives are basically the same thing. So, it kind of gave me that whole ”oh wow! So, you can do that here” type of thing, which if I didn’t learn that from Esperanto, I’d have to learn that whole new concept. And there’s also the fact that a lot of verbs in Esperanto are similar to their Chinese verb form like in their semantic meaning, not in their like pronunciation, but in English it’s different. So, in Esperanto… I’m trying to think of a good example right now but I can’t…
You don’t have to conjugate them, right? So, like I remember I did Chinese in high school for a few years as well before I packed it in and gave up, but I remember you didn’t have to conjugate and that was like, I was like ”what?!”. There’s no future tense, past tense, present tenses. There is no different pronoun, conjugations. The first thing was like ”yes!”, but the same thing was like ”how the hell do I describe, you know, yesterday I had been thinking about this thing before lunch?”’. I remember that sort of two-edged blade when that happened. So, how do you get around that in languages like Esperanto or Chinese?
So, for instance even with Esperanto, there’s a lot of things you’d say in Esperanto that you just wouldn’t say in English, like give you an example would be: ‘tio mankas al mi’, which means ”that is lacking to me”.
You wouldn’t say that in English, you’d say I don’t have that.
So, what you going to do is you don’t practice individual like say a verb. You practice it in a structure.
Yeah, exactly, so you practice the whole thing as one and then you swap out the noun and you put a different noun in and then you swap that noun and you put…and you have this structure and that’s how you kind of melded into your brain.
So, what do you do with learning Chinese currently? That was the same thing, I had an approach to French where I was totally on my own and I used, well, totally on my own, I used a few people that I would practice with online, but it was pretty much me and you can say I’ve been practising my grammar in Portuguese and doing this sort of writing out, you know, lines on a book, practising the conjugations, speaking at home, but with Portuguese I just try and talk as much as possible and I haven’t really opened a grammar book. I just ask questions, I forget it 10 times and I just have to keep harassing my wife like ”how do I say this again in this tense?” blah blah blah. But I found that even though I think in French I had a much wider range of things I could talk about, I made a lot more mistakes and I couldn’t talk about them in a sophisticated manner as I think I can now with simple things, because everyday we talk about the same things. What do you want for lunch? What are you doing tonight? Did you want to see my sister? Do you want to do this? And it’s become almost a bad thing because now when I meet Brazilians, I sound like I’m a lot better than I am about those things, but as soon as they go away from the sort of central core of the language that I have I’m like ”oh crap! I’m in the deep water and I can’t swim!”, how are you doing that with Chinese? Is that the same sort of process?
It’s exactly the same process and I had the exact same thing so, because my wife’s here, she corrected my accent at the beginning constantly.
So, I sound way better than I actually am. So, I’ll be like in a conversation, I can speak about, you know, stuff around the home, I want to eat this, I want to do this, blah blah blah, no problem, ok? And I’ll speak with like one of her friends and they’re like ”wow!! He’s so fluent! What do you think about the political situation?”, and I’m like you like…. what?
I know, that’s the biggest… you get blindsided, right? We had friends over yesterday that happened to me where we were sitting down, that was good 90 percent of the time I can kind of engage, I make mistakes, but then all of a sudden you have this thing where you’re like ”this is my vocabulary bucket and it’s empty”.
Yeah, I get that all the time like my wife says I have this amazing ability to stretch absolutely every single word I know into a sentence.
You’re going to bring it all back on itself.
What’s it like, talking about accents, does Esperanto have an accent and how did you learn it if it does?
It does have an accent in a way so, you know when someone’s speaking Esperanto accent is when you can’t pick up where they’re from.
So, there’s kind of this neutralized accent and people and try to pinpoint what it sounds like, but it’s its own thing. So, maybe it’s kind of like this Latin type sounding thing, but it may be similar Italian, but also not similar to Italian, maybe it’s similar to like the Latin that comes out of Polish or like Belo Russian. It’s hard to say, but you know when someone’s speaking Esperanto well is when you can’t pick up where they’re from and you understand everything.
So, the only thing I can kind of say is about with the accent is this, in the Esperanto community there’s kind of two ways of pronounce the R. So, some people will tap and some will roll, a you can kind of guess from what country they are from depending on which one they use.
South America, you guys are doing that R. The T flat sounds, gotcha.
They love it. While the rest of the world taps, but even on Esperanto is kind of standardized and even those people that traditionally roll now go to tap because otherwise they sound weird. So, it does kind of have its own neutral accents, I guess.
Well, I mean, finishing up, what was the hardest part about getting to a very fluent level with a constructed language for which there are very few speakers, at least locally for the majority of us, you would imagine until you dive in if you’re living in a big city? What was the most difficult aspect?
Well, one of the most difficult aspects for me was just that lack of filmed material, I’m like a visual learner, so when I learned Esperanto there was videos on YouTube but not that much and I pretty much consumed them all to kind of get the sound of language and the rhythm and everything down, and that’s actually why I started my own YouTube now.
We should get onto that as well. Tell us about your YouTube channel because it’s just crazy when I remember seeing it and I’m like… ’cause I thought there must be Esperanto channels out there, but it will always be polyglots who are just talking in Esperanto or about it for a few minutes and that was it. So, how do you begin that too?
So, I started my YouTube channel like 3…I think about three years ago or, something maybe a bit more. Anyway, when I started I was like I got to aims for this: one, to give you learn something to listen to and two, just to practice it myself, because if I…and I actually had a goal that I’d make one every day for a year and I hit that goal, which is crazy!
That’s a lot of content for someone who makes videos on YouTube maybe once every two weeks, Jesus!
Yeah. And I remember like my abilities just went through the roof because I was constantly in a situation where like I’m making a blog about my life and I’d point at something I’ll be like ”what’s the word for that?” and then I’d have to write it down, go look it up then redo the blog because I didn’t know how to say that one word.
And even now when I’m making vlogs or every now and then I’ll still come across something like the other day I came across… I was talking about a daddy longlegs.
How do I say this in Esperanto? So, I had to go and look it up!
And what is?
And what would that literally translate as? Literally Daddy Longlegs or…?
No, that’s the Latin-based name for it.
That’s the easy way out, guys.
Yeah. What happens a lot with Esperanto names for animals is that if it’s not a common animal, the Latin word gets absorbed into Esperanto for that. So, we are… it’s kind of crazy because when I look at a Latin text I can actually pick up a lot of what’s written there, even though I don’t speak Latin, because I’ve got a lot of it from Esperanto. But yes, so just doing videos every single day and it’s a great way to learn a language, any language.
That’s what I was going to ask, would you suggest people who are learning say English, people listening to this, would you ever suggest for them to create their own content on YouTube or a podcast or even just film themselves talking to try and really motivate them and get them using the language? Because I can imagine that must really help.
Oh, yeah. And one of the things that really helped was when I’d make a video and upload it people would comment on when I made a mistake, not just because I temporarily made a mistake, but because I was actually making a grammar mistake.
And that helped me improve so much, I still get it now. Like every now and then some will point out something I’m like ”oh wow, I didn’t know that” and that helps so much. So, obviously you’re putting yourself out there, that’s kind of the scary thing for a lot of people, but if you do that and you commit to say a period of time where you going to practice say English, you’re going to come across this point where you’re like ‘wow! I’m learning all these new words because previously in the situation I wouldn’t speak English, I don’t know how to speak it the situation”.
Is that whole box that we were talking about earlier where you have your box of goodies that you use because you’re only ever in that situation, but if you force yourself to talk about everyday topics, you’re going to end up talking about the most random things and you don’t have to know those words.
Far out! And so, does your wife speak Esperanto as well? Are you thinking about having kids in the future and teaching them a bunch of these different languages?
She started learning Esperanto this year, not this year, a few days ago.
Is it going to be a race to see who gets to fluency first in each other’s respective languages?
Well, I remember when I met her, this is going back about five years now. I was like ”hey you should come learn Esperanto and hang out, meet my friends because all my friends are Esperanto speakers” and she’s like ”I’ll learn Esperanto when you learn Chinese!”.
And she got the easy end of the stick as well, right?
She got the easy one so, now she is learning Esperanto and she knows enough swearwords and knows enough to know when I’m talking about her.
How were the swear words made in Esperanto too? What was the sort of way in which they were created, from which language? And is it the same as every language, you know, where it’s just genitals, going to the toilet, all of those sorts of words or was it very creative?
There is a lot of different ones and there’s some that are like so wild. I don’t know, if I’m allowed to mention them on this kind of thing.
Go for it, man! Go for it!
Oh, ok. Well, I’m going to have fun then. So, like… let’s look at one which is like a favourite of me and my friends and it’s ‘ido kutsen’. So, ‘ido means it’s a command, go towards, and ‘kutsen’ is the word for penis. It’s a slang word for penis.
And ‘kutsen’ means ‘toward a penis’. So, it’s literally saying ”you go towards the head of a penis”.
That’s crazy, and has that been around since the very beginning or are they sort of… is it evolving and developing even more today?
It’s evolving because Zamenhof was like a real prude, he would not like… he wouldn’t talk about those types of topics. So, back in the 30s, I remember reading about a poet, I forget his name, people are going to drill me for this. He made something called “La Sekretaj Sonetoj”, which is like The Secret Sonnets, and he basically grabbed the whole heap of words from Slavic languages and used them in places like all these rude words and a lot of those now are kind of what’s used for slang words like for the vocabulary and then also others have evolved into the language.
And it it just kind of randomly appears, like one of my favourites, my friend, he kind of made it up on the spot, based on like an English concept and it kind of spread for Esperanto, it was ‘fekante kut cico”, which means ‘shitting dick nipples’. So, it’s like nipples are shitting, and people use in my YouTube channel all the time now, they’re like commenting and stuff, it just spreads.
It’s one of those things, I love swearing. I love swear in other languages, it’s one of those things that just, it’s a good way to have a laugh, I mean, you know, you’re going to pick when you do it and how you do it and with whom you do it, but it’s always something fun and you know it can be a cause a lot of hilarity in your life.
Yeah, that’s crazy! Is there slang as well? The final question, is there slang and how does that develop? Because Australia’s got heaps of slang different from England, America, any country you go to that speaks English, is it the same with slang in Esperanto?
Yeah, there’s a fair bit of slang in Esperanto, a lot of the traditional type of speakers who don’t like that type of stuff, they’ll try and deny its existence, but it definitely exists. Like, I’ll give you an example, the word (??) means cool.
Now, they actually know the history behind that word. If you go back to 2005 those are international made up of young Esperanto speakers and they wanted to have a word similar to the English cool and in Esperanto.
As in, that thing is awesome, not just the temperature is low.
Yeah, they wanted to have something that means that thing is like awesome in that sense.
So, they were saying ‘moderna juna stilo’, which means young youth style, ok. And then they kind of just crammed it together to become ‘mojuca’.
So, just got contracted.
And then it just spread through the Esperanto community. In a lot of languages the word for ‘cool’ is literally ripped from English.
But in Esperanto it was kind of an acronym that evolved into a slang.
And you guys still use ok? Like, every language seems to use.
Not really, we say ‘bone’. So, ‘bone’ literally means good.
Awesome, Richard, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Where can people find out more about you and obviously learn more about Esperanto?
Well, if you want to hear some spoken Esperanto, you can always go to my YouTube channel so it’s Evildea, E V I L D E A, just go to YouTube and I’ll pop up in the top. If you want to learn some Esperanto, you can go to the website learnu.net, L E R N U dot net, I always think in Esperanto, or you could just go to Duolingo like you did and just download the Esperanto course.
And that was the best part, I think, when I heard about Duolingo coming out because I knew the guy, forgotten his name, who was behind that project. I had a friend who is really good friends with him, I knew how much the resources were going behind it and how he was going to make it really, really good quality and it was really, really good quality on Duolingo. Unlike some of the other languages on there where there’s no sound or it’s pretty limited so, yeah definitely, Duolingo is awesome. Anyway, thank you so much, mate! I really appreciate it!
No problem, man.
Awesome, guys, well I hope you enjoyed today’s interview. Don’t forget to sign up to The Aussie English Classroom if you would like to complete all of my courses to improve your English. And if you would like the transcripts for this episode as well and the MP3s go to the Podcast, TheAussieEnglishPodcast.com, and you can sign up there for the price of coffee a month or so in order to get access to all the downloads for the podcast.
Thanks so much for joining me, guys, and I’ll chat to you soon. Peace out.
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