"Through the Eyes of a Newbie" by Richard Kinne
This article originally appeared in Esperanto USA, October 2001.
I spent three years in High School learning French. It was, easily, my worst subject in school. My High School had a choice between French and Spanish. The Spanish teacher and I had a "history," so I chose French. At that point in my life, in 1979, I was visiting Canada about once a year. I thought I'd be able to use my French there. Of course, I've managed to visit Canada twice in the 20 years since I've left High School.
I left High School thinking I had no talent for languages, and perhaps I was right. However, I maintained a certain jealousy for people who could speak another language. About 5 years ago I became involved in a Star Trek club in Ithaca, NY. Our captain was a recent Cornell linguist graduate who stayed on in Ithaca to create a computer business. One day a French exchange student walked into one of our meetings. The kid spoke very good English, but our Captain, without blinking an eye, spoke to him in French. The kid was thrilled and we gained a member on the spot. It certainly wasn't that the kid couldn't speak English (because certainly no one else in the club besides the Captain spoke French!) but that this was probably the first time in a long time he could speak to someone in his native language. I never forgot the sight of Captain An¬≠binder switching between French and English as easily as he turned his head. I wished I could do that.
About nine months ago, just after I started Grad School, I discovered Esperanto. I don't quite remember how, but these days it was probably on the Web. I remember thinking, "If I can't learn THIS language I won't be able to learn any of them." And so, starting out with Teach Yourself Esperanto and simultaneously going through Esperanto: Learning and Using the International Language I started my journey. Soon I'd signed up with Ken Caviness (thanks, Ken!) on the Internet for the 10-lesson Internet course.
Due to graduate school, I'm still at my Esperanto studies, probably making slower progress than any Esperantist in history. However, after nine months, several chapters, and 8 lessons with Ken I'm at the point where I can read the Esperanto articles in Esperanto USA with only a bit of difficulty and the occasional dictionary, something that I'd not been able to do after three years of French.
I am driving my friends crazy by speaking to them in Esperanto and its gotten to the point where I fancy my cats can even understand me speaking to them in the language (the two of them are the largest targets of my pronunciation practicing).
However, the beginning of October sees my first big test. Several months ago I made preliminary plans to attend la 8a Internacia Esperantista Semajnfino in Vermont. A couple of months ago I decided NOT to go because I didn't think I was ready. I'm still having a lot of difficulty hearing, and I still tend to stutter when I speak Esperanto. But, several of my linguist friends convinced me that the best thing I could do was immerse myself in that type of environment. Then, over e-mail I met Thomas Alexander, a new member of ELNA's Board of Directors. "Nepre iru al Okemo," he said.
And so, October 5th will see me at my first Esperantist Conference. Frankly, I'm scared to death, thinking that I'll understand about 10% of what is said all weekend, and make a fool of myself every time I open my mouth. But, Tomaso and his friends have convinced me that they'll be understanding and patient and so will everyone else.