Probably the most famous and successful Esperanto teacher in history was Andreo Cseh (1895-1979). A Hungarian born and raised in Romania, Cseh learned Esperanto as a teenager and quickly became very active in the Esperanto community, among many other things helping found the Romanian Esperanto Center in 1922, the magazine La Praktiko in 1932 (which for many years he edited), and the Universal League in 1942 (best remembered for the monetary unit the stelo). Cseh (pronounced like the preposition ĉe) was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1919, but starting in 1924 he was permitted to devote himself full-time to Esperanto.

The Cseh method was originally the product of necessity. In 1920 a labor organization in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu invited Cseh to teach Esperanto to a group with no single language in common and no access to Esperanto textbooks. Cseh decided to adopt the direct method already becoming popular in Europe, teaching Esperanto in Esperanto by what he called not a course, but a conversation. The result was a remarkable success; soon he was being invited to teach all over Romania and then all across Europe. In 1927 the mayor of Stockholm and Prince Carl jointly invited Cseh to teach Esperanto there, including to the Swedish Parliament. The first book version of his course was published in 1929 by the Swedish Federation of Teachers.

So successful and enjoyable were Cseh’s classes that they often had more students at the end than at the start: enthusiastic students passed on what they had learned to their families and friends, then brought them along. Thanks to Esperanto’s inherent traits and Cseh’s approach to teaching, in just 20 two-hour sessions students would learn a vocabulary of about 700 words and essentially all of the grammar, enough to carry on simple everyday conversations. In the Esperanto press, people began speaking of a renaissance of the language.

There was such a demand for Cseh’s courses that he began training other instructors. In 1930 he moved to the Netherlands and co-founded the International Cseh Institute of Esperanto (later the International Esperanto Institute) with the support of Julia and Johannes Insbrücker, major figures in the Esperanto community in their own right. More than 400 people have been trained in the Cseh-metodo over the years, including such famous names as Lidja Zamenhof, Julio Baghy, and Armin Doneis, one of the co-founders of ELNA (now Esperanto-USA). More than 50 certified Cseh instructors are active today, mostly in Europe (but only one, Arnold Victor of New York, in the U.S.). There’s a list available online.

While becoming a full-fledged Cseh instructor requires formal training and certification, any Esperanto teacher can learn from Cseh’s approach, starting with making the course as interesting and enjoyable as possible. Few of us have Cseh’s natural talents as a comedian, but we can all at least smile and embrace a spirit of fun. (See David K. Jordan’s Being Colloquial in Esperanto for inspiration.)

Another key feature is teaching Esperanto directly in Esperanto. Cseh even considered it an advantage for the teacher not to know the students’ language. A local helper could serve as interpreter during the first class meeting, but after that Cseh would employ physical actions, props, pictures, and the Esperanto the students had already learned. This required a well-though-out course plan, which Cseh perfected over the years.

Anyone learning a spoken language needs to speak it as much as possible, but students are often reluctant to open their mouths for fear of making mistakes. Cseh solved that problem with a very old technique: Ask a lot of questions, mostly easy ones, and let everyone answer at once, in a chorus. In a Cseh class all the students speak almost as much as the teacher.

Cseh taught useful everyday words and phrases rather than the contrived schoolbook expressions (la plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle and the like) then common even in direct method foreign language instruction. And characteristically he told a funny story about that:

Early in his teaching career, he said, he found that young women tended to drop out of his courses. When he asked them why, they complained that he didn’t teach them how to say the things they wanted to say. He started leaving a bilingual Esperanto dictionary on a table so students could look up whatever they liked, and he paid attention to what they looked up. The first word young women wanted to know, he found, was almost always love, so he made a point of introducing amo and ami very early in the course. From then on the young women stopped dropping out, and curiously enough, so did the young men.

There’s far more to Cseh’s method than can be covered in this small space. The best reference is the book Baza Cseh-Kurso, available from the Libroservo. Saluton! Esperanto Aŭtodidakte by Audrey Childs-Mee is a beginning Esperanto textbook entirely in Esperanto that was inspired by the Cseh-metodo and a good example of how to teach Esperanto entirely in Esperanto.

And this is a good time to mention that anyone interested in teaching Esperanto would profit from joining the American Association of Teachers of Esperanto, which automatically makes you a member of the Internacia Ligo de Esperantistaj Instruistoj as well, including subscriptions to the quarterly magazines of both organizations. The cost is $40 per calendar year, or $20 for electronic delivery of both publications. See the AAIE website for more information and a membership application.