The Linguist

The Linguist 54,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 35

18 The Linguist FEBRUARY/MARCH FEATURES Could Esperanto be the answer to the issues surrounding primary language education, asks Amanda Barton C reated in Warsaw in 1887 by Dr Lejzer Zamenhof, Esperanto was intended to be an easily accessible language. It has none of the irregularities and complexities of European languages; there are 16 key grammatical rules and only one definite article, and the written form conforms phonetically to the spoken language. There have been sporadic initiatives to teach the language in the UK, but it may come as a surprise to learn that, over the last few years, Esperanto has featured on the curriculum of a handful of UK primary schools. The 'Springboard to Languages' (S2L) project, funded by Esperanto UK, was launched in September 2006. It was a direct response to a recommendation made in the Government's 'Languages Review', 1 which stressed the importance of widening the range of languages that can be offered in primary schools. The objective of the Springboard programme is to improve foreign language learning at Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) and, later, at Key Stage 3 (11-14), by developing language awareness through the teaching of Esperanto. This should result in a net gain in learning time for pupils when they start studying subsequent languages, as the expectation is that it will enhance pupils' ability to learn languages. The programme also aims to enhance global awareness by facilitating links between participating English schools and Esperanto-speaking schools overseas. The programme was designed for non- Esperantist primary teachers with no specific language expertise. Materials were based on a correspondence course, 'Urso Kurso', for parents wanting to teach Esperanto at home. Fostering awareness Language awareness involves having explicit knowledge about the language we use and recognising how we modify language to communicate most effectively. Definitions are invariably linked with the perceived purposes of language awareness. Eric Hawkins, a well- known advocate, believes it includes 'a growing awareness of languages other than English…; commonalities and differences; words that English has borrowed from them'. 2 It has been argued that the relative simplicity of Esperanto recommends it as the first foreign language to be studied by young children. Esperanto has generally been used as a propaedeutic language, i.e. to introduce the key principles of learning languages. One advantage is that it lacks the irregularities of other languages. For instance, all nouns end in -o and all plural forms in -j. This may inspire confidence in early learners and may fulfil the same function as Latin, in allowing English-speaking students to re-examine their native language. A number of research projects have found that learning Esperanto can have a positive effect on students' awareness of their first language. 3 Language awareness experiments using Esperanto have been carried out in countries including Australia, England, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Evaluating the programme Between 2006 and 2011, an evaluation of S2L was conducted by a team of non- Esperanto-speaking academics at the University of Manchester. I was the principal investigator. At the time, four primary schools in England were following the programme, but the study focused mainly on one school in Cambridgeshire. Our researchers visited the school annually and, in the first and fourth years of the project, two further primary schools were involved for purposes of comparison. The evaluation used questionnaires, interviews with pupils and teachers, observation, and foreign language aptitude tests to assess the effectiveness of the programme. We wanted to find out how learning Esperanto influenced pupils' attitudes to language learning generally and whether it helped them to develop language awareness skills, such as identifying patterns in languages, which would enable them to decode languages previously unknown to them. Springboard to success

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 54,1