The Math Behind the Assertion
It Really Would Make Sense
to make
Esperanto the World's Default Second Language

The assertion that Esperanto is much easier to learn than "ordinary foreign languages' is a commonplace; how much easier is impossible to pin down with precision, as it depends on which "ordinary" foreign language and which first language you use as reference points. But the "four times as easy" (or one-fourth as difficult) figure cited on ELNA's homepage ( will suffice as an average for the purposes of this essay.

The purpose of Esperanto is to level the linguistic "playing field" among speakers of different native languages. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate that adopting Esperanto would result in savings of time and effort in the world's educational systems, where at the moment the status quo places inordinate demands upon the schools of those societies least able to afford them, while leaving Americans, Britons and other native English-speakers in an unfair position of advantage.
Let's say we have a world population of twenty individuals, all of whom are literate in their native languages but have no useful command of any foreign language. Say
two of our twenty speak
five speak
and one speaks each of the following:
and, let's say,
Say our educational system selects Esperanto as the first foreign language, to be taught to all, and that on average, competence can be achieved in one hundred hours of study. The total time put in to bring the world's twenty inhabitants to the point of mutual comprehension is 2000 hours.

Contrast this with an educational system which selects English as the first foreign language--the most common scenario today. The two native English speakers need not take a foreign language at all, will always be the most fluent speakers in the world, and will be the arbiters of the correctness of the other eighteen's expressions. The eighteen non-native-English speakers will require on average 400 hours of study to attain the target level of competence; the total time required will be 7200 student hours (5200 more), and the result will be less egalitarian than the Esperanto option.

Even if we select Chinese, spoken by five of our world's twenty inhabitants
(though one of them speaks a dialect so far removed from the Mandarin norm that anywhere else in the world it would be called a separate language!),
as the first foreign language, the cost of universal mutual communication ability will be 6000 student hours -- three times the cost of the Esperanto plan -- and the inequity will be similar, except that a higher percentage, about 25% instead of 10%, will profit unfairly from native-speaker status.

Now, even if we assume that for the foreseeable future many if not most educated people will need some knowledge of English -- not to talk to their neighbors, but because of the undeniable wealth of information available in English and unavailable (or less readily available) in other languages (including Esperanto and Chinese) -- or of some other language besides their native tongue and Esperanto, there is reason to believe, and some experimental data to support the belief, that if the world's language-learning efforts were to be put into 25% Esperanto (the first 100 hours per pupil) and 75% English (an additional 300 hours per pupil), the 18 non-English-speakers would emerge with, on average, as much or more English competence as if they had spent their whole 400 hours (each) on English. Esperanto as a first foreign language significantly improves acquisition of an additional foreign language. Of course, the English-speakers would be put to the inconvenience of spending 100 hours learning to communicate with their neighbors, but -- who knows -- the "hardship" might do them--and the world--some good ;-) . .
This page is part of La Lilandejo
the website of Leland Bryant Ross.
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