Esperanto: A Child’s Window on the World
by Patricia Egan
When I was a fifth grade student, a new language entered my life. That
language was Esperanto, and, over the past three decades, this language
has made a lasting impact on my education, in the broadest sense. From
fostering a facility with learning foreign languages to opening up parts of
the world where few Americans ever venture, Esperanto has made an indelible
impression in many positive ways.
My elementary school was, by most appearances, quite average for a
nondescript suburban community. For a few years, however,
an innovative principal, Dr. Edwin Feldman, was at our school, and Dr.
Feldman was, among other qualities, an Esperantist. He introduced
elective subjects to our school, and Esperanto was among the choices.
Frankly, it was my third choice; art and French were filled up. The
teacher, Miss Lavina Parsons, was very nice, however, so we were not
Esperanto classes launched our group into exchanging postcards, postage
stamps, and friendly greetings among school children from all over the world
almost from the start. Given the much more complex vocabularies
and grammar structures confronting our friends in the other language
classes, we budding Esperantists quickly acquired considerable facility
in our new language. We sang songs and learned about many different
countries through our Esperanto textbook. We even presented a
self-produced play for our classmates. This initial experience in
language learning boosted our confidence as we subsequently progressed to
more traditional language studies such as French and Spanish later on.
With the unfailing encouragement of Catherine and William Schulze, my
Esperanto “parents”, I continued to participate in Esperanto classes
and related activities as I grew up. In college, I convinced the
University of California at Berkeley to count my credits in
Esperanto, transferred from the summer courses at San Francisco State
University, toward my College of Letters and Science requirements to receive
my degree. Mainly, I enjoyed the wonderful people, from all over the
world, whom I met through Esperanto.
By attending the Esperanto conferences in Sarajevo and Belgrade, I traveled
through Eastern Europe BEFORE the cold war ended. As the tragic civil war in
Bosnia appears on the evening news, I remember how nice the people I met
there were to me and what a lovely town Sarajevo was. I certainly
didn’t speak Serbo-Croatian, and those who tried to practice their English with
me really weren’t very fluent. We became friends through a
mutually agreeable language - Esperanto. I even remember
defending the United States to a Polish college student who,
understandably, had never traveled outside the eastern block. This was
during the Viet Nam War, and the United States wasn’t viewed very favorably
as the BBC broadcast reports of bombings, etc. Yet, my command of
Esperanto was more than sufficient to explain that many Americans,
especially college students, were opposed to the war, and to add that the
United States offered many educational opportunities and freedom of speech to
its citizens, freedoms and opportunities not always available
elsewhere. Our heated discussion was observed by other college-age
people from countries as varied as Japan, Czechoslovakia, Britain, Germany,
and Hungary. I learned to think on my feet in Esperanto!
Many Esperantists are also interested in world peace and cooperation.
Through the educational Esperanto organization, U.E.A., I had the opportunity
to become involved with the New York Office located directly across the
street from the United Nations. There I met many thoughtful
people from different countries brought together by their concern for
Recently I had a discussion about Esperanto with a former boss, a Harvardian
who suggested that we all might do well to communicate using the Queen’s
English. I asked him whether he had ever conversed with a Russian using
the Queen’s English, and he had to admit that he had not. I proudly let
him know that I had conversed with Russians, among other nationals, using
Esperanto. He had to acknowledge that Esperanto “works”.