Welcome to the third post in our series of Esperantist profiles. This will be our first profile from the Universala Kongreso, with more coming soon. (Note: all quotes translated by us from the Esperanto.)
Today we had the pleasure of meeting with József Eszényi, an Esperanto teacher from the town of Szolnok, in Hungary. This is Jozsef’s third Universala Kongreso, and he will be off to ILEI, an international conference for Esperanto teachers, afterwards.
As an Esperanto instructor in Hungary, József has an unique perspective on both the Esperanto movement and language learning in general. Earlier in our research we noticed that Hungary seemed to have an unusually strong presence in the Esperanto movement. József explained that this is due, in part, to Hungary’s foreign language education requirements. In order to graduate, students must pass an exam in an approved foreign language. Esperanto is on the list of approved choices, an act of official approval that has helped the language’s legitimacy in Hungary and contributed a steady flow of young learners. While many students don’t continue with Esperanto after they pass the exam, a good number still decide to stay involved, a trend to which József credits the strength of the Hungarian clubs and associations. Even with these highly active young students, József said that the ratio of young to old Esperantists is the most difficult challenge. “The Esperanto community is getting old,” he says. In his opinion, the best way to create an active and enthusiastic club is to make sure that young people have an opportunity to participate.
This isn’t to say that József considers himself to be an Esperanto evangelist. On the contrary, he stated that those who push aggressively for the universal adoption of Esperanto are likely doing more harm than good. Similarly, József noted that while he had no hard feelings towards the English language (in fact, he has studied English through Duolingo), he doesn’t appreciate the aggressive way English is promoted around the world. He told us that “Many Esperantists are enemies of the English language, but not me. I’m not upset about English, I’m upset about English being forced on people.” Instead, József proposes an alternative language philosophy, centered on the importance of choice and freedom. “Everyone has the right to learn what they want to learn.” József’s primary hope for the Esperanto movement is that it will continue to grow, and while he doubts that Esperanto will ever become the official international language, he also hopes that it will one day become a viable and acceptable choice, in addition to the current dominant national languages, such as English, Chinese, and French. Official recognition and sponsorship, while obviously beneficial, aren’t the most important goals. For József, the key factor is the language learner’s ability to decide for him or herself, so he hopes that one day Esperanto will be able to hold its own and stand alongside English.
József is a very active Esperantist, who considers Esperanto to be his number one pastime. Hardly a day goes by where he doesn’t find a chance to speak Esperanto with someone, whether with his students, or with an international Esperantist via Skype or one of the many online communities of which he is a member. József thinks that technology is playing a crucial role in the Esperanto movement today (he also holds a tech-focused position on the board of the Hungarian Esperanto Association). While many people initially feared for the language at the advent of the Internet as English emerged as the language of the web, József says that the Internet has helped to revitalize the Esperanto movement, allowing people to organize activities, spread information, and simply meet and converse with Esperantists all over the world. While some Esperantist activity seems to have moved from the physical world to the digital (József attributes some of the decline in conference attendance to the increase in online participation), overall the Internet has allowed a much greater number of people to engage with the global Esperanto community.