Participants in NASK-2018. Photo by Marcus Griep.

On my 65th birthday, I listened to the new Freakonomics podcast at the gym. It was about Esperanto, the Esperanto community, and why people learn the language. The description of the “curiously idealistic and pragmatic” world of Esperanto struck a chord with me since I would apply those descriptors to myself. I had just signed up for Medicare and I was in the middle of a year where I was dealing with three separate joint replacement surgeries. I was feeling the physical limits of my body and pessimistic about the long term prospects in pursuing my favorite dog sports. Like many friends in my age group, I feared the prospect of mental deterioration even more than the physical deterioration my body was experiencing. Learning a foreign language seemed like a great activity for my brain. The Freakonomics podcast released on my 65th birthday was a sign. So I enrolled in the Esperanto course on Duolingo.

I worked my way through the Duolingo tree and continued on with the strengthening exercises, and did some work with books, Lernu, YouTube etc. Duolingo provided a reasonable introduction to Esperanto but I was starting to feel stuck and decided to sign up and go to NASK. When I found out there was a true beginners course, I convinced my husband to come also.

Since my husband was in the beginner group and I wanted Esperanto to become a family activity, choosing the same class felt like the best way to achieve that goal. David was not convinced. Because I had spent a lot of time already struggling with Esperanto, he thought that I would benefit more from the intermediate class. At the social the evening before classes started, I talked to a couple of other students who, like me, had been through the Duolingo tree, and they were in the intermediate class. They were young and bilingual. While I had finished the Duolingo tree, I felt stymied by the listening exercises and was saddened by how much I didn’t know going back through the review and strengthening activities. Listening to the students talk about how long it took them to go through the Duolingo tree and complaining about how repetitive it was, solidified for me the decision to go into the beginner group.

It was a great decision. The class was a mix of people who had done pre-course work and were more facile with Esperanto than I was, and others who were total beginners. My husband and I both felt comfortable in the mix. We grew very fond of our fellow classmates. Our instructor, Tomaso Alexander, was great and did an excellent job switching between Esperanto-only times and English-explanation times. I don’t think my linguistically untrained ear, my need for repetition, and my need to relearn basic grammar concepts in any language would have been a good match for the immersion style of the intermediate group. I made a lot of progress and had a lot of fun by staying in the beginner class.

Students chatting outside the cafeteria after the morning courses. Photo by Marcus Griep.

My biggest breakthrough was mastering the table of correlatives. I had worked on it previously, but the suffixes, the prefixes, and the conceptual map felt elusive. I had a good grasp of a few of the question words before the class, but others kept slipping away. The work in class solidified the rest and then I was able to start confidently combining them with the other prefixes and understanding the other terms. The non-tabular discussion of the correlatives we did in class was very helpful. After waking up in the night to think about it, and more discussion in class the next day, I think I even understand which of the correlatives can be an object or a plural and why others cannot.

The best part of NASK 2018 was meeting other Esperantists and aspiring Esperantists. The community is positive, kind, caring and very diverse. People who think the world can be a better place when people across cultures can communicate on a neutral platform are people I want to know. A major highlight was the talent show. While my Esperanto skills were not good enough to understand the nuances of jokes and poetry, the whole thing was fun and moving. I loved the Esperanto translation handout of some pop songs and the exuberance of the sing along. The harpist brought me to tears. My goal for next year is to understand at least one joke. As a beginner, I spent a lot of time as a krokodilo getting to know people. By the end of the week, however, I could carry on a very limited conversation in Esperanto. Next year I feel hopeful about getting to know people using Esperanto.

I came away from NASK with better Esperanto skills and a strong desire to make this wonderful community a bigger part of my life. David and I have turned our weekly dinner date into an Esperanto conversation dinner. We are setting a weekly theme and learning and reviewing words and phrases during the week related to the theme. Also we are making some of those pesky hard-to-remember conjunctions and prepositions into daily refrigerator words. I am continuing to do online and book work. I am a little slow learning my first second language, but NASK gave me confidence that I will not be stuck as an eterna komencanto, and next year I will sign up for the intermediate group.