I’ve just returned from a trip to Montréal for a joint conference of the United States’ and the Pan-American Esperanto associations. I had a wonderful time, and my only regret was that I had to leave early for travel and work considerations. It was a wonderful experience. In the year since I began seriously studying Esperanto, I still hadn’t met another Esperantist (they’re hard to come by in Norfolk!) and now I was completely immersed in Esperanto, surrounded by hundreds of speakers, mostly fluent, from not only the whole Western hemisphere, but from as far away as Japan.
The whole experience was a blast. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a great desire to travel, and other cultures, languages, and belief systems have always fascinated me. Here I was having “three-language” days, speaking with the other attendees in Esperanto and with the locals in French and English. (I tried to use French as much as possible, and to switch to English only when necessary—it usually was … my French is very limited).
Although some of the presenters were sometimes challenging for me to understand, it was mostly because of their poor public speaking abilities rather than a matter of language itself. In conversations, I could understand everyone almost perfectly for the duration (with one notable exception!) and I only “crocodiled” for a very few, short instances (krokodili is Esperanto slang for speaking your native language with with other Esperantists). Ninety-nine percent of the time I spoke and listened in Esperanto, and I now feel I can truly consider myself a bilingual person.
Esperantists often speak about the “internal idea” (interna ideo) of their language. The entire reason for the existence of the language is for people of all cultures to have common access to an extremely powerful, descriptive, and fairly easily-learned means of communication, that belongs to no one culture or country and so, puts none at a disadvantage. Somewhat ironically, the desire of a planned “universal” language is to protect linguistic and cultural diversity. The conference exemplified the internal idea quite well, as its theme was diversity and sustainability regarding ecosystems, languages, and cultures.
The “internal idea” has other names outside of the context of Esperanto: love, compassion, tolerance. Interestingly, the more we realize universal truths, such as the fact that everyone of us is simply embodied Spirit, just as every other one is, the more we can appreciate the uniqueness of every wonderful soul.