Thursday, May 28, 2015

Prepare for the Fina Venko — Duolingo Has Esperanto

La strigo parolas esperante!
(Image © Duolingo)
Duolingo, the popular language learning site and app has been promising Esperanto for quite a while (more than a year). It’s probably the language courts that attracted the most attention while still in incubation (although my perception of this may be skewed in that I follow the Esperanto groups where people have been saying “when will Esperanto come to Duolingo?” seemingly forever). If you’ve been waiting to learn Esperanto until Dueling offered it, now’s your chance (unless you’re waiting to do it on iOS, for which there will be a brief wait).

I have to confess that I’ve been delinquent in my own use of Duolingo, despite my initial enthusiasm for the program. I’ve just found that language lessons were getting squeezed out of my schedule these days, despite that I even used Duolingo while traveling. I really need to brush up on my French again.

Since Esperanto has been released, I tried it out. I did okay on the placement test (I think I should have done better). I progressed all the way to level 8 (is that all?) and received a total of 1,260 experience points. Not too shabby. I made few mistakes, a couple times I get to blame the program. For example, for one item I translated malsano as “sickness.” It dinged me for that one, saying that I should have translated it as “illness.” I can learn, so when in the next item, I again encountered malsano, I translated it as “illness,” only to be told that the appropriate word here was “sickness.” They mean the same thing. I should have received both of those questions (no, I’m not grade grubbing).

There was an awful lot of sickness in the examples I had to translate. Lung cancer. Blood disease. Fortunately, one person was said to have strong shoulders, back, and legs. (Unfortunately, I confused lerta “skillful” with sperta “expert”, and didn’t make the point on that one.)

As with other languages, the Duolingo process seems to be pretty good one for language learning. You do have to stick with it though. Still, it makes it fun and easy to learn. The Duolingo twitter feed says that there are more people using their Irish course than there are native speakers of Irish (about 140,000, according to Wikipedia, which also notes that there are about a million who have learned it as a second language).

Sure, there’s a website for learning Esperanto,, but I haven’t found their lessons all that compelling (I tried them as someone who actually speaks Esperanto, but I couldn’t imagine handing them off to someone who didn’t). Lernu also looks dated. I’ve given up waiting for the site update that they announced at the Universala Kongreso in 2013. There are already plenty of ways to learn Esperanto. I think this one will really catch some attention. I’m hoping for a whole lot of new Esperantists who will say, “mi lernis Esperanton per Duolingo.” Maybe will Duolingo’s help, we’ll realize Zamehof’s dream of ten million Esperanto speakers.

The fina venko (for any non-Esperantists reading this) is that “final victory,” when Esperanto becomes the world auxiliary language, when governments stop forcing the majority language on linguistic minorities, when people who want to communicate though they have different native languages speak Esperanto. Sure, it’s a little messianic, but it’d be a great thing.
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