412 Esperanto in my life (1)

Part One: 1958-1964

Cliché alert: Money doesn’t buy you happiness.
But it can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. Here’s an example, which takes us back to 1958.
In July of that year I found I had a little money left over from my birthday, so I took myself off to the most interesting shop in Enfield, the Town Bookshop (it’s a women’s clothes shop now). Among the assortment of books in the “Teach Yourself” series the one inviting people to teach themselves Esperanto caught my eye. I immediately liked the look of it. The brief explanation of what Esperanto was and what it was for seemed quite sensible to me. Also, though I didn’t realise it at the time, that edition of “Teach Yourself Esperanto” was quite a pioneering book. Unlike many others in the series, it used what was then called the Direct Method. This meant that each chapter began with a short cheerful text, with a picture or two, followed by a vocabulary key, then some grammatical explanation in reassuringly plain English; and at the end some fairly simple exercises.
I went home well pleased with my purchase. I showed it to my father, who said I had wasted my money; this only made me more sure that this was something that, for the first time in my short life, I could set about at my own initiative and without outside help.
At odd moments on and off over the next four years I did precisely that. For a couple of years I kept a diary in Esperanto; probably not very good Esperanto, but as I haven’t seen that diary for at least 45 years I can’t be sure. Given that the grammar of Esperanto is reasonably simple, the only thing that demands real work is building up vocabulary, and keeping a diary is certainly a good way of doing that. The other long slog in any language is getting the pronunciation right; and of course you can’t do that on your own.
Meanwhile, of course, I had started learning languages at school; first French, then Spanish, then Latin. Spanish was my favourite and still is; this has as much to do with the culture and literature as the language. More of that elsewhere.
My prior knowledge of Esperanto certainly helped with these languages; I think I may have rather put Esperanto to one side when starting Spanish, to avoid confusion. On the other hand, learning to pronounce proper “a” “e” “i” “o”  “u” vowels in Spanish was a big help with Esperanto pronunciation.
I’m not sure, after all these years, how I got going with active use of the language, but this seems to be the sequence of events. Somehow I got to know that there was a church service in Esperanto held every month in the French Protestant Church which I think is in Soho Square. So along I went and was made very welcome; and among the attendees was one Peter Miles, who it turned out, also lived in Enfield. He told me there was an Esperanto Club in Enfield and I really should try it out
(to be continued)


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