Usona Esperantisto № 2019:1 (jan-feb)

Review: Complete Esperanto

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For the first time in three decades, English speakers wishing to learn Esperanto have a new comprehensive textbook. Complete Esperanto is the successor to the classic Teach Yourself Esperanto, which through three editions was the standard for several generations of learners. But this new book is not a revised edition; it’s a completely new textbook, reconceptualized, reimagined, and rewritten from beginning to end. Physically, the book is much larger than the older Teach Yourself Esperanto: 9-¾ ⨯ 7-½ inches / 25 ⨯ 19 cm, and 344 pages. Paper and print quality are great, and the text has an open feel, with lots of variety. But be aware that if you’ve been waiting for a “revised and updated” edition of Teach Yourself Esperanto, this new text has a different structure and presentation.

The book starts out with clear, practical guidance on how to go about learning the language, using what the authors call “the discovery method.” It was striking to me how much the book requires active engagement and thought from the learner in order to discover meanings, relationships between kinds of words, ways of saying things (and possible alternate ways of saying things), and various aspects of grammar. Lots of information is presented directly, but lots of information has to be discovered through analysis. It’s not a learning method for someone who wants to casually or passively read through a traditional Esperanto textbook. There are other materials, like the “mini” Esperanto course from EAB, for that purpose.

There’s a very brief introduction about Esperanto, but information about the language (including history, culture, literature, and interesting facts) is integrated throughout the book, largely at the beginning of each chapter, as well as with boxed “culture tips.”

The book contains 18 chapters. Each chapter starts with the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference, the KER — Komuna Eŭropa Referenckadro — in Esperanto) criteria (A1, A2, B1, and B2) addressed in that chapter. In each chapter there are two conversations, each with a vocabulary list and a list of new expressions. Happily the very first conversation is structured around a new learner who has just logged into an Internet chat group. Computers exist in this book! The Internet exists in this book! Smartphones exist in this book! For those of us who grew up on textbooks in which the happy children played in the meadow with the cows, or Father asked his secretary to type a letter, it’s revolutionary. As the book progresses the characters carry through, meeting in an Esperanto club, meeting informally in town, having different Internet interactions, and attending a Universala Kongreso (World Congress).

From the beginning the book is tightly integrated with sound recordings, which are available online or can be downloaded into an associated smartphone app. In actuality the entire text of the book is recorded, but each segment is clearly identified and referred to for the exercises by number and by an icon. For many exercises the sound recordings are necessary, and I’d say the book can’t be effectively used without access to them. The pronunciation and quality of the recordings are excellent.

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At the end of each chapter is a brief “test yourself” and a “self check.” At the end of each group of six chapters is a comprehensive review for that section, printed on light gray background which nicely divides the book up.

As the book is designed for people to learn on their own, it includes some important tools. There is a brief but useful “Grammar Reference.” There is a full set of answers to the exercises, which was an important part of the older Teach Yourself Esperanto. And there are Esperanto-English and English-Esperanto glossaries, so that it’s not absolutely essential to have a dictionary in hand when using the book. Unfortunately there’s not an index, which complicates the book’s use as a reference. For anyone using the book I’d suggest marking or noting in some way the sections you think you may want to find later.

The book suggests that it’s possible to reach B1/B2 level with the material provided. I think that’s a possibility, but it’s important to recognize that it’s not a promise of the “If you buy this book, you’ll soon speak Esperanto at the B2 level” type. The material and information is in the book, but getting to B1/B2 level is going to require a lot of work and energy, and commitment, from the learner. Any textbook placed on the bookshelf, or the bedside table, or under the pillow, and not actively used is not going to yield good results. And this textbook is more demanding than the usual model.

This book is a British publication, and US English speakers are going to encounter some vocabulary and expressions that are different from US usage. Crisps, mum (instead of “mom”), biscuit (instead of “cookie”), bucketing it down (“pouring down rain”), cockerels, go across the taxi rank (“cross the line of taxis”), and some others. None of these should cause any problem with understanding, but US readers need to be aware there will some differences. In the sound recordings, the spoken English part is also British English, of course.

A couple of things I would have presented differently. Land names are introduced and consistently used with -io instead of -ujo. A discussion of land names and -ujo occurs later in the book, but with a bit of a warning that you’ll sound old-fashioned if you say Britujo or Francujo. I would have preferred to see both forms introduced together, with -ujo presented as the basic ending and -io presented as an alternative which has become somewhat predominant, although by no means exclusive.

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There’s consistent use of forms ending in -ino for professions and occupations. I was surprised to see sciencistino, dentistino, kelnerino, even veganino and Katolikino, in places where I would have used the base form as gender-neutral. I’m from an older generation, and even I don’t use -ino this way. However, it’s not an error, and many Esperanto speakers continue to use gender-differentiated forms even when they’re not necessary. And there are a couple of boxed “language tips” that clarify that many people don’t use the forms with -ino.

There are a few errors in the book, but after a careful reading I honestly did not find many, and none of them affect the language learning goals that a purchaser would have. The book had input from solid language consultants , and excellent proofreading, but no book gets to the press without a few misses. I’m not going to tell you what they are, because it’s more fun for people to see if they can find them. But there are none you should worry about.

There is some legitimate concern about the price of the book. People really hesitate to spend money on print material these days. Depending on where you buy it, this book costs between $30.00 and $40.00. But consider: If you use it daily for six months, 180 days, and even if you pay the full $40.00 price, you’re paying about $0.25 a day for modern, creative learning material.

My recommendation is that anyone who seriously wants to learn Esperanto, or anyone who has learned it but wants to refine their mastery of the grammar and vocabulary, should get this book. I think someone studying through it carefully, focusing on understanding and mastery at each step, could do a chapter every one to two weeks. My sense as I went through the book is that it’s about an average 6-month course. That, of course, is dependent on the learner and how much time they have for it, but my point is that it’s not a book you’re going to “do” in a weekend or during a one-week vacation. But by all means do it, if you want to learn Esperanto.

Owen, Tim, and Meyer, Judith. Complete Esperanto. Hodder and Stoughton/John Murray Learning, 2018. ISBN 9781473669185