Transcript

Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.

I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Boy Who Hoped. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hope. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hope. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.

The Esperanto flag

Today’s story is about Esperanto. If you don’t know, Esperanto is a language. But it’s different to other languages. Esperanto isn’t spoke in any one country. Esperanto is actually a constructed language. So it’s made up.

Now, that might sound very strange. You maybe have heard of constructed languages from TV shows like Game of Thrones or from the film Avatar, where there is the Na’vi language, or even from Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein. However, Esperanto is different to these languages because Esperanto was made for international communication. So Esperanto was made to be the world language.

Now of course these days the world language is English, or at least the biggest world language is English. But there are still many Esperanto speakers. In fact, I speak Esperanto fluently myself. Today’s story is about the creation of the language, so, why was it made and how was it made. It is actually a very interesting story.

I’ve spoken Esperanto for about ten years. It is not a huge language but there is a very active, welcoming, international community. I’ve been to Esperanto events in Slovakia, Japan, France, Germany, Poland and so on. There really are Esperantists all over the world. The language is designed to be very easy to learn.

The way you can think of it is, if a German person and a French person meet, they will probably speak English, and that’s OK, because English is not either of their native languages. Neither of them has an advantage in that conversation. But if that French person meets an English person, the English person has a big advantage. English is their native language, so they will probably talk it faster, they will use words that the French person doesn’t know, and it will make communication more unfair and more difficult.

With Esperanto, however, it is nobody’s first language, so it is neutral for everyone. So if a French person and an English person speak Esperanto together, it is just as fair and equal as a French person and a German person speaking Esperanto together. And I think that’s a very strong argument for it to exist.

The goal of Esperanto is not to replace other languages. It is just to be used for communication between different countries and groups of people. The creator of Esperanto wanted everyone to still speak their own language because national cultures and identities are very important, of course.

If you are interested in Esperanto, I am going to read a poem in Esperanto at the end of the episode. So do listen after the end if you want to hear how the language sounds.

OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.

The Polish flag

A Pole is a person from Poland. Poland is a country in Europe.

Yiddish is a language spoken by Jewish people. It is related to German and English but it is a separate language. In the past, many Jewish people spoke Yiddish but in the Second World War, many Yiddish-speaking Jews were killed. There are several Jewish languages like this. For example, there is also Ladino, which is similarly spoken by Jewish people and is related closely to Spanish.

If you want to hear an example of Yiddish, you can go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hope and I will link a video in the transcript where you can hear someone speaking Yiddish:

To get distracted means you want to focus on something but something else is taking your attention. This is a really big problem nowadays with the Internet and mobile telephones. Many people want to work, they want to write, they want to draw, but they get distracted by their phone. There’s always something more interesting to do on YouTube or Twitter or Facebook, but actually it’s not that interesting, it just distracts our brain more easily.

So there are various techniques to stop yourself from getting distracted. Personally, I’ve found the most effective technique is meditation. I meditate every day and I am much better at concentrating without getting distracted now.

Graduate. When you graduate from school, it means you finish school. In most schools you have to pass your exams to graduate. You also graduate from university. So I graduated from the University of Cambridge, for example.

Heartbroken. Heartbroken is when someone or something has broken your heart. So you were in love with a person or an idea and then something happened to ruin this love. So this is very common if people are in a relationship and their partner breaks up with them, they often end up heartbroken.

Traditionally, it’s seen as something that happens in TV shows or novels, but actually there is research now that says that a broken heart can kill you. You can be so sad from something that happened that you die of a broken heart. So being heartbroken is very serious! I hope none of my listeners are heartbroken, or that if you were heartbroken in the past, you have been able to move beyond that and heal.

A dowry. A dowry is something quite traditional. In the past, when a man and a woman got married, the father of the woman would give money to the man. This money is the dowry. The idea is that the new husband and wife need money to start a life together, so the father of the wife supports them with a dowry. Actually, I say it’s “in the past”, but there are still many parts of the world where people pay dowries. I believe it’s still popular in India, but of course it probably depends on your family and your background.

When we say there is a new version of something, it means it’s basically the same but it has been made better. For example, Apple has just released the iPhone 11, which is a new version of the iPhone. You also get new versions of computer programs, of smartphones. Maybe an artist, a music artist, recorded a song a long time ago and they record a new version of it. For example, Nena, the German, who sang 99 Red Balloons, 99 Luftballons, released a new version in 2004 [actually, 2009]. You may not know the song but I LOVE it. If you don’t know the song, I’ll post a link to it in the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hope:

To damage your reputation is a very bad thing. So your reputation is what people think about you. If you are famous, or if you are a doctor or a lawyer, your reputation is very important because your job relies on having a good reputation. If you are famous and then you are caught cheating on your wife, that would definitely damage your reputation and may mean you have less work, or less success, in the future.

Other things people can do to damage their reputation are: release low-quality products, be offensive on television, and so on.

A congress is an international meeting, a conference. It’s a bit of an old word. We usually say “conference” or “convention” for these kind of things, but international Esperanto meetings are still referred to as “congresses”. You may also have a scientific congress, a political congress, and so on.

A movement is a collection of people who are all interested in one political idea. For example, many countries, such as Russia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Cuba, had a communist movement, and in those countries the communist movement was so successful that the government became communist. Of course, it required a lot of fighting and working to get to that point.

Other political movements are hippies, environmental movements… There are also cultural movements such as futurism, afro-futurism, and so on.

If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support us on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5 you get an extra story every month. You can support us at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.

Thank you to our first two patrons, José Pedroso and Denise. I hope I said your names right. Thank you so much for supporting us!

OK, so listen and enjoy!

The Boy Who Hoped

In a town called Białystok, there was a boy called Ludwik Zamenhof. Ludwik was a Jew. There were many Jews in Białystok. There were also Russians, Poles, and Germans. They all lived in different parts of the city, and they did not get on well.

Ludwik grew up speaking many languages. He spoke Yiddish, Polish, and Russian, and learned Latin and Ancient Greek in school. These dead languages gave him a headache, but everyone said they were important.

‘Everything important is written in Latin,’ said his teacher.

Ludwik did not agree with this. Dostoevsky did not write his books in Latin. The Torah was not in Latin. But still, he had to learn Latin.

As Ludwik grew older, he became more interested in languages. His father, a teacher, taught him French, German, and Hebrew, and Ludwik fell in love with them. Suddenly he could see links between the different languages.

‘The French word père is from the Latin pater, and the German vater is also similar. Isn’t that interesting?’

He said these things to his mother and father, and they just laughed. Languages were to be used, not to be played with.

One day, Ludwik was talking in the street with a Jewish friend. They were talking Yiddish, the language of the Jews. Normally he only spoke Yiddish at home, but he was very close with his friend. A man walked past them and heard that they were speaking Yiddish. He shouted something at them in Polish. He shouted and shouted, and did not stop until Ludwik spoke to him in Russian.

‘What do you want?’ he said.

The man kept shouting, so Ludwik tried speaking in Polish. He did not know it well, but he had heard enough in the streets to say some words. ‘What do you want?’ he repeated.

The man said a word that Ludwik did know, a very nasty word, and walked away.

‘What did that man say?’ asked Ludwik’s friend.

Ludwik turned red. ‘I do not want to repeat it.’

Ludwik went home and thought about what happened. Białystok was a broken town. The Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews lived completely separate lives. When they did meet, they often fought. Ludwik began thinking: what if they all spoke one language? If everyone spoke one language, then they wouldn’t shout at you in the street like that. If everyone spoke one language, then a Russian man could talk to a German man, just like an Englishman could talk to a Chinese man.

But what language could it be? It couldn’t be German, because then the Germans would have an unfair advantage. It couldn’t be Russian, or Polish, or Yiddish, for the same reason.

Ludwik had an idea. What if everyone spoke Latin? Latin did not belong to any one country anymore. He imagined travelling around, speaking Latin around the world. The next day, he went and told his friends his idea, and they laughed.

‘Latin is too hard. Aren’t you tired of it? Better that we all just learn French.’

But Ludwik wasn’t happy with this. It was true, though. Latin was too hard. If everyone was going to speak one language, it needed to be easy. That night, Ludwik sat in his room and started writing. He wrote out sentences in French, German, Russian, Hebrew… He compared the grammar, and thought about the rules. Why, in French, were there silent letters? Why, in German, did the verbs have to change according to the person? Why, in Russian, did there have to be a perfect and imperfect form of every verb?

There were too many rules and irregularities. It could be much easier than that, he was sure. Ludwik started writing. He took words from French, sometimes mixing in some German or Hebrew, and made up his own grammar. The rules would be regular. They would be easy to learn. All verbs would have the same endings. And every letter would always be pronounced the same. Yes, that made sense, didn’t it? Ludwik wrote and wrote, changing words, fixing rules, until his father came into the room.

‘Ludwik, can’t you hear? It’s supper time. We’ve been calling for ages.’

Ludwik turned bright red and hid the paper he was writing on. ‘Coming!’

Over the next few years, Ludwik worked on his language in secret. He did not tell anyone, because he was sure they would laugh at him. He wrote a grammar, sentences, and even some exercises. Finally, he couldn’t keep hiding it. One day, he brought it to school and showed his friends.

‘Ludwik, this is amazing!’

His friends loved his language. Every day, during break at school, Ludwik sat under a tree with his friends, teaching them how to speak his language. It was hard, because he still didn’t know it well himself. Also, while he taught them he realised how he could make it better, so he changed some parts of it.

On Ludwik’s eighteenth birthday, his friends sat around his birthday cake, and sang a song in his language.

It was a sad celebration, though, as Ludwik was going off to university, and wouldn’t see his friends again for several years. Ludwik was going to study medicine, but really all he cared about was his language project, which he called “the Universal Language”. By now, he had written so many documents for it that he almost had a book. Before he left for Warsaw, his father spoke to him.

‘Ludwik, I understand you care very much about this little project of yours. But you must understand. Medical school is not easy, and it is important that you get a good job so you can support your wife. I don’t want you to get distracted while you’re studying. I’m going to take your work and keep it here. Don’t worry, it will be safe. When you graduate, I will return it to you.’

Ludwik was heartbroken, but he agreed, because he loved his father. He knew that he didn’t approve of Ludwik’s project, but he also knew that he could convince him of it. Ludwik went and studied, and he did not get distracted by his language. However, he did get distracted by a girl called Klara. Klara was beautiful and clever, and they got on very well. Klara did not laugh at him for his project. In fact, she thought it was a great idea.

When Ludwik returned home from Warsaw, he was excited to pull out his work on the Universal Language. He had had many ideas at university, even though he tried to focus on studying, like his father said.

But when he asked his father where it was, the man replied, ‘Don’t be silly, Ludwik! It’s been years now. I can’t remember where I put it. It doesn’t matter, anyway. You’re going to marry this Klara girl, yes? You’ll be too busy to worry about a made-up language.’

Ludwik asked his mother, and discovered that his father had not kept his documents, but had instead burned them. Ludwik was shocked, and almost gave up on his project. But Klara told him not to.

‘You can start again. You wrote it before. It’s all there, in your head.’

So Ludwik got to work. To his surprise, it was all there in his head. Even after years of studying, he had not forgotten. But now, having been away from it, he could see the problems in his language. So he did not write it out from memory, but rewrote it, making it better in every way. After a few months’ work, he had rewritten all of the documents, but this time he was much happier with the results.

Ludwik and Klara moved back to Warsaw and got married soon after, and Ludwik received a dowry of five thousand rubles from Klara’s father. It was enough to make sure they could start a life together comfortably. But Ludwik had other ideas.

‘Now that I have finished my language,’ he said, ‘I must share it with the world. And I cannot just go out into the streets and tell people about it. I must publish a book.’

It was not a cheap thing to do, but before Ludwik could say another word, Klara said, ‘Use the dowry. We can manage without it.’

Ludwik was amazed at his new wife’s belief. Truly, she was perfect for him. She had already started learning the new version of the Universal Language, and she had already told all her friends about it.

So Ludwik put together a book. It had to be short, because publishing was expensive. He reduced the grammar of the language into sixteen rules, and he was surprised to find that, in fact, sixteen rules were all he needed. In his book he also included some exercises and translations of literature. Finally, at the back he put his address, inviting readers to send him letters in the Universal Language.

Ludwik was worried what people might think of the book. He had talked about his language with many friends, but he did not tell everyone. He was now a well-known eye doctor in Warsaw, and if he published it under his real name, it might damage his reputation. So instead, he put his name as Doktoro Esperanto. Esperanto, in the Universal Language, meant “one who hopes”.

It took all of Klara’s dowry to pay for the publishing. The publisher did not like the idea, and told Ludwik he was wasting his money. But Ludwik didn’t listen to him, and waited.

At first, nothing happened. And then, a few weeks after he published the book, he received a letter. The letter was in Esperanto.

I can’t believe it! After reading this book, I can already read and write in your language. At first, I thought it was a silly idea, but now I truly believe it can change the world.

Ludwik was excited. ‘Klara, Klara!’ he cried, and showed her the letter. ‘I’ve just read the first letter in my own language.’

She was just as happy as him, and they danced around the house. Soon, another letter arrived, and then another, until letters were coming every day. They were all written in the language, but they did not call it “the Universal Language”. Instead, they started calling the language Esperanto, because of the name Ludwik had given himself: Doktoro Esperanto.

‘It makes sense,’ said Ludwik. ‘It is a language of hope. And this success is more than I could hope for.’

So Ludwik got to work on a second book. Then other people started writing in the language. Some wrote magazines, some translated literature, some wrote poetry. Clubs started forming, where people spoke the language.

Finally, in 1905, the first World Congress of Esperanto was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in France. Six hundred and eighty-eight people came, and they all spoke the language together. Ludwik was happier than ever before. At the beginning of the congress, he gave a speech.

‘We must understand the importance of this day. Here, in the walls of Boulogne-sur-Mer, not Frenchmen with Englishmen, not Russians with Poles, but people with people have come together.’

Esperanto continued to grow. It went from an idea to a movement, and more and more clubs formed around the world. Ludwik’s dream had become real. People were using the language to communicate across borders. He continued to work in the language, but he did not see himself as the owner. Rather, he was just a speaker, just like all the other Esperantists.

Ludwik eventually fell into poor health. He died from a heart attack in World War I. His children continued his project, but not everyone loved Ludwik Zamenhof’s message of peace. The Zamenhof family were Jewish, after all, and in World War II Hitler killed most of his family. He called Esperanto a “secret language of Jews”.

After the two wars shook the world, there was little place for hope. But hope never dies out completely. Although it may not be the Universal Language, many still speak Esperanto today. It is nobody’s language and everybody’s language. And it all came from a young Jewish boy with a dream.

THE END

And now, I will read La Vojo, written by Ludwik Zamenhof himself.

Tra densa mallumo briletas la celo,
Al kiu kuraĝe ni iras.
Simile al stelo en nokta ĉielo,
Al ni la direkton ĝi diras.
Kaj nin ne timigas la noktaj fantomoj,
Nek batoj de l'sorto, nek mokoj de l'homoj,
Ĉar klara kaj rekta kaj tre difinita
Ĝi estas, la voj' elektita.

Nur rekte, kuraĝe kaj ne flankiĝante
Ni iru la vojon celitan!
Eĉ guto malgranda, konstante frapante,
Traboros la monton granitan.
L'espero, l'obstino kaj la pacienco —
Jen estas la signoj, per kies potenco
Ni paŝo post paŝo, post longa laboro,
Atingos la celon en gloro.

Ni semas kaj semas, neniam laciĝas,
Pri l'tempoj estontaj pensante.
Cent semoj perdiĝas, mil semoj perdiĝas, —
Ni semas kaj semas konstante.
«Ho, ĉesu!» mokante la homoj admonas, —
«Ne ĉesu, ne ĉesu!» en kor' al ni sonas:
«Obstine antaŭen! La nepoj vin benos,
»Se vi pacience eltenos».

Se longa sekeco aŭ ventoj subitaj
Velkantajn foliojn deŝiras,
Ni dankas la venton, kaj, repurigitaj,
Ni forton pli freŝan akiras.
Ne mortos jam nia bravega anaro,
Ĝin jam ne timigos la vento, nek staro,
Obstine ĝi paŝas, provita, hardita,
Al cel' unu fojon signita!

Nur rekte, kuraĝe kaj ne flankiĝante
Ni iru la vojon celitan!
Eĉ guto malgranda, konstante frapante,
Traboros la monton granitan.
L'espero, l'obstino kaj la pacienco —
Jen estas la signoj, per kies potenco
Ni paŝo post paŝo, post longa laboro,
Atingos la celon en gloro.

If you would like a free trial lesson in Esperanto, email me at Ariel@EasyStoriesInEnglish.com. I would be very happy to show you this amazing language.

If you enjoyed the story, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Go to Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. For just a few dollars a month you can get extra episodes, exercises, and much more. Thank you for listening, and until next week.

2 comments on The Boy Who Hoped

  1. Mehdi says:

    It was a fascinating story.I heard about Esperanto from you (in your podcast)
    and i wanted to read wikipedia page of Esperanto but i forgot.
    fortunately you write this story and i collect some information about this language.
    have a nice day and thank you.

    1. Ariel Goodbody says:

      Thank you, Mehdi! Let me know if you have any questions about Esperanto 🙂

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