Bookworm

I was recently asked on the “Looking for Answers?” page (where you can ask me things to see if I’ve blogged about them, and if I haven’t, I may do!) about what kinds of Esperanto books I use or courses I use, in order to learn Esperanto!

I decided that this was a particularly good idea, not only because I might highlight learning tools that you didn’t know about, but also because you might know of learning tools that I don’t know about! So don’t hesitate to suggest them, especially if they fit with my style of learning, so I’ll add a little information about how I like to learn too, maybe you’ll find it useful, or have suggestion for me.

So, I use a number of different things, because sometimes I’m only in the mood for certain kinds of learning. I’ve always found vocabulary difficult to build in foreign languages, but grammar to be intensely interesting. So perhaps ill-advisedly, I often spend hours poring over grammatical documents with a contented distant grin. In an effort to counter this obvious bias, I try to frequently look up a Wikipedia article and read the Esperanto version, so that I might continue to expand my vocabulary.

I’ve also begun reading various Esperanto fiction: “La Hobito” and “Gerda Malaperis”. The Esperanto Hobbit is still very taxing on my brain, and I find myself looking up words a lot, but it’s an old favourite, so I’m very much helped by my knowledge of the English version. “Gerda Malaperis” is probably more sensible. It starts off incredibly basic, with only dialogue, like a play. It slowly progresses into more complex prose, and often repeats sentences in slightly different ways to cement the vocab (which is also listed in a separate wordlist). Because this book is rather set out like a learning-to-read book. But I found it interesting, unlike my memories of learning to read English books! I also try to read aloud, and pay attention to pronunciation.

For courses, I follow Kellerman’s Complete Grammar of Esperanto. It suits me perfectly, because every lesson, it gives me my fix of interesting grammatical points (explained very clearly with examples) and a small list of vocabulary (I can absorb lots of grammar but not too much vocab in one go). Then provides exercises for translating to and from Esperanto (I only wish it had the answers too!). They vary in difficulty and don’t leave you thinking you can only handle basic translations (like much of the Spanish exercise books I’ve experienced for example). It’s very long and detailed, but each lesson is very short, so you can always delve in for short periods at a time, and you always feel like you’re progressing.

I’ve also been following the “Ana” courses on Lernu.net. They have a listening exercise component that I’d been missing for a long while. I wouldn’t want to learn grammar from just these lessons (though they provide links to more info), but it’s very useful for vocabulary building and listening skills.

I had never come across Jen Nia Mondo before! But the description sounds very good! I’m going to start with it. I could do with some Esperanto listening exercises that I can do on the go!

No doubt, when my university studies aren’t taking up so much time, I will begin a correspondence course, because I feel like once I reach a certain level, I want someone who’s being dealing in Esperanto for years to help me improve more, and rid me of bad habits.

Also when I’m more confident with listening and speaking, I will no doubt hassle people for Skype conversations, given that my university has stopped doing an Esperanto course only this year! 😦 Lame!

Being Colloquial in Esperanto was great once I’d learnt the basics. It expands on the basics and talks about anything that might catch you out. There’s lots of little interesting bits, and a massive section on troublesome words. It was also a massive help on learning about participles.

Once my reading skills were starting to catch on, I starting reading over the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko. And I was surprised at how detailed it was. It talks about so many little nuances that had never occurred to me, and really opened my eyes about the grammar of Esperanto. Definitely a favourite.

Has anyone read the “Plena Analiza Gramatiko de Esperanto”? Any good? How current is the latest version? How does it compare to PMEG?

I also found this page very helpful with word building in Esperanto. Before I could read PMEG, it introduced me to the idea of roots being of different types (action,object etc.).

For dictionaries, I’m waiting on the online version of the PIV (because I’m poor!), which they say will be in test-form by the end of the year. For now I make use of Lernu.net’s dictionary, and Reta-Vortaro mostly.

When trying to look up how words are used, but can’t find a related bit of grammar, I often turn to Tekstaro, a collection of Esperanto texts that you can search through automatically using patterns of letters. E.g. “bol\VF” will search for all verb forms of the verb “boli”. It will then show the contexts that the results occurred in. Very useful!

And finally, I badger the people on Lernu 😀

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Interesting thoughts

I thought I’d share with everyone, someone’s interesting advice about learning Esperanto. I can’t remember where I got the advice, so it could be from the Lernu.net forums, or one of the books I’ve been reading. At the time I read it, I thought it was pretty interesting, but only as I continue to bear it in mind does it become more and more helpful.

It’s easy to fall into a trap when learning a new language (at least for me it is!), whereby as you learn, you map each new word to a particular word in your native language. Often this can work out okay, like memorising “kato = cat”, but often it doesn’t. Sometimes one word in English will have far more different uses than is sensible with the “equivalent” word in Esperanto, and vice versa.

Coming from English (and certainly other languages) to Esperanto, one of the biggest problems where this style of learning gets you into bother is with verb transitivity. The idea that some verbs describe actions that happen between a subject and object(s), and others describe things that happen to the subject, unrelated to anything else.

  • “She ran”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject and running is the action. “To run” is intransitive here: it is an action that the subject performs, it is not performed on/to an object.
  • “She hit him”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject, and is performing a hitting action on the object “him”. “Hit” is therefore transitive.

But English is a spaghetti mess of a language, and as such, tonnes of its verbs can have entirely different meanings depending on whether or not you give them an object; you can just arbitrarily use the same word as intransitive or transitive.

  • “The water boiled”. Intransitive! The subject is water, and it is hot and bubbling, the boiling is happening to the subject.
  • “She boiled the water”. Transitive! So… what?! If we were to take “boil” to mean the same thing as the first phrase, then “she” (the subject) would be boiling, and how is “the water” then to be interpreted? But that’s not the case, “boil” now means “to cause to boil”!

A problem arises because Esperanto isn’t a mess, it’s really quite neat.

I’ve only come across 7 verbs in Esperanto that can be both transitive and intransitive, and in these cases it made sense to do so, the meaning didn’t shift like in “boil”, the subject was always performing the same action, but it just happened to be possible to do it with or without a recipient of the action (You’ll have to make noises like you’re interested if you want to know which ones, and get me to justify my view here! :D).

So let’s take “boli” = “to boil”

  • La akvo bolis = The water boiled.

Here, the water is bubbling and boiling itself. It didn’t cause anything to boil; the verb “boli” is intransitive, it cannot take an object!

  • *Ŝi bolis la akvon* makes as little sense as the English interpretation above where “she” is bubbling and boiling, and we don’t know what the water is doing. In Esperanto “boli” can only be used about the thing that is bubbling.

In order to get the other meaning we must change the word. Verbs in Esperanto can be made transitive by adding “ig” to the end. It’s like saying “to cause to <root>”, so “boligi” = “to cause to boil”:

  • Mi boligis la akvon = I boiled the water / I caused the water to boil.

So, the problem we often have is remembering what’s intransitive and what’s transitive, so we know how to use a word, for which there is perhaps just a single word in English.

So here comes the simple advice. Do not learn words by their English equivalents, learn them by picturing the concepts, imagining the actions, then you’ll never mistake them.

Which makes complete sense. If you imagine the scene of bubbling and boiling of the subject for “boli”, you’ll never mistakenly put “ŝi” in front of it unless she herself is actually bubbling and boiling! So I’ve been trying not to translate sentences or words, but capture their meaning and what thoughts and feelings they evoke. It certainly feels like it’s allowing me to progress faster!