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A multilingualism accelerator for children based on Esperanto

Guidelines for teachers


The pedagogical course Multilingualism Accelerator (MLA) was created both to improve and to speed up foreign language learning. Esperanto is a planned language, which was designed for rapid and easy learnability. It has a regular, transparent grammar and exploits root words and affixes to a maximum in its streamlined word-building system. One school year, comprising 60 classroom hours and electronic homework for self-training by pupils on computers, suffices to learn the basics, to enable pupils to speak independently, and to understand and read texts.

Children learn an analytic language in a playful manner, and this gives them a clear idea of how languages in general are structured. They come to understand grammatical concepts such as plural, two cases of nouns (nominative and accusative), the building of sentences and how to create many new words using root words and affixes that exist in all national languages. Thus the pupils get a clear perception of the universal structure of languages, or metalinguistic knowledge.

After only two classroom hours, the children understand that all nouns end in -O and all verbs in the present tense end in -AS. By knowing this and about 20 words, they can already build sentences by themselves. They thus acquire important metalinguistic knowledge that will help them understand more easily the grammar of their native language and of foreign languages. In the second hour, the children receive four envelopes that contain words representing three parts of speech and for four roles in sentences, written on small coloured cards. By putting randomly chosen words in the same order – red, then yellow and then green – they create sentences, which they then translate to determine whether the resulting sentence has meaning. This works as a game and they quickly learn the role of nouns, verbs and prepositions. They have fun with the sentences they create and learn new words at the same time.

The teaching materials are based on the application of a scientific approach to the frequency of words and grammatical elements.

In 1979, during an international meeting of Esperanto-speaking families in Lucerne, Switzerland, an interesting study was conducted on the number of morphemes used in the daily speech of children who speak Esperanto natively, in addition to their native language. Some 60.000 words were recorded in Lucerne and then divided into morphemes. One of the properties of Esperanto is that all words can be clearly divided into their component morphemes, as in Mandarin Chinese. The morphemes were counted and sorted by frequency on a computer. The results were revolutionary: a mere 1,500 morphemes appeared in the corpus; the most frequently-used 467 covered 95% of the entire corpus, and the 250 most frequently-used morphemes covered about 80% of the corpus. More recently, the words from a corpus of online texts that included 10 million words of online text were computer-analysed. The results were very similar to the 1979 findings. The main difference was that the Lucerne corpus had more morphemes for conversation with children.

On the basis of the most common morphemes, an Esperanto textbook called the Zagreb Method was created. This has been published in some forty languages.

The MLA pedagogical course is based on these studies on the frequency of morphemes in the spoken language. Teaching materials based on about 300 morphemes will allow children to form their own sentences right from the beginning, instead of memorising readymade phrases. The large vocabulary to be memorised is one of the biggest problems in language learning. Thus the goal of MLA is to minimise the amount of morphemes to learn while still allowing children to build many sentences and communicate freely. Morphemes not included in the teaching materials should therefore not be spontaneously added during class, as this tends to slow down learning.

Perhaps the most revolutionary feature of the MLA is that it can be taught by language teachers who have no previous knowledge of Esperanto. One week's training is sufficient. The materials contain the minimal knowledge of Esperanto needed by experienced language teachers, who learn in parallel with the pupils and when preparing lessons.

The use of this approach for two years with five teachers in three primary schools in three EU Member States has shown remarkable success. Questionnaire replies from pupils, teachers and parents showed enthusiasm for the MLA course. The children enjoyed the course very much (2 hours per week) and the teachers found it not only interesting, but also useful. Two tests at the end of the school year evaluated recognition of elementary grammatical notions in the native language and the metalinguistic knowledge of the pupils. The tests were completed by the pupils who learned Esperanto and a control group of equal size who did not. They showed that the MLA children had higher scores than the non-MLA children.

Thus MLA will be a useful introduction to foreign languages, will speed up learning, but will also improve understanding of the structure and the grammar of children's native language. Research conducted on similar courses in the 1990s has shown that learning can be accelerated by 25-30% after two years of subsequent language learning. The difference in foreign language knowledge between MLA and non-MLA students continued to increase, showing that the MLA may provide a longterm advantage.

One of the goals of the MLA is to encourage the active use of language. It would thus be beneficial if the MLA classes could, after the second lesson (twenty hours of study), get in touch with classes in other countries with which they could correspond, electronically or otherwise. We recommend the organisation of an international meeting of the geographically closest groups at the conclusion of the course, but this is not mandatory.

Finally, here are a few examples of the propaedeutic function of this course. First, there is a direct transfer of knowledge of words that are identical or similar in several languages. For instance, if the pupils learn German as a second language, they will find in Esperanto many cognates, such as LERNI, IN, NUR, DANKI, HAVI, etc.; if they chose French, they will have sur, tablo, saluton, nomo,bona, etc.; if English, they will have havi, longa, letero, rapida, ŝi. But more important than direct transfer is hidden transfer, i.e. the understanding of concepts such as tense, mood, direct object, etc. Hidden transfer comes from metalinguistic knowledge, i.e. knowledge about the structure and use of languages in general. The extent of the usefulness of this knowledge depends on the language chosen to introduce language learning. Esperanto has shown itself to be particularly effective in this role, whether for Indo-European languages, agglutinative languages like Japanese or Turkish, or isolating languages like Mandarin Chinese.

What do you need to know in order to implement this course?

What is the MLA (Multilingualism Accelerator) tool?

MLA is a tool which helps you learn foreign languages. It can be used in schools or elsewhere; its use is supported by the website The learning material consists of six lessons, i.e. 60 hours. Additional 4 hours are planned for revision and/or testing.

Why and how does learning Esperanto help us learn other foreign languages?

Learning Esperanto is a relatively easy feat for pupils.
Esperanto is a planned (constructed) language, which means that its author, the Polish doctor Zamenhof, deliberately designed it, much like one deliberately builds a house. In doing so, Zamenhof gave a good deal of thought to the elements that Esperanto should be composed of in order to make it as simple as possible to learn. Taking different Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages as a basis, he imagined Esperanto as a language with nearly no irregular forms or exceptions that otherwise often complicate our experience of learning foreign languages.
In Esperanto, pupils subconsciously recognise elements from their own languages.
Since Esperanto is based on different Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, the pupils learning this language are entering into an area they are somewhat familiar with, be it through the similarity of words (their roots and their endings) or the similarity of grammatical constructions.
Esperanto is an inflectional language.
Most grammatical constructions of Esperanto can therefore be compared to the ones in the languages spoken by pupils. This helps them subconsciously recognise and learn grammatical constructions.
When pupils learn a language, it is easier for them to learn other languages.
We namely transfer the learning methods or strategies from one language to the next. We connect words and grammatical rules between languages (without consciously doing so) and we are already familiar with the learning processes.
This is where the MLA tool represents a bridge between learning a language from the viewpoint of an individual and the current language policy in Europe which follows the expectations of parents.

How is the MLA tool included into the language policy of the European Union and into the expectations of parents?

Due to globalisation and mobility, parents in the countries of the European Union nowadays expect the schools to teach their children how to speak foreign languages pursuant to the language policy of the EU.
Furthermore, parents also support early learning of foreign languages since it is a well-known fact that we must not miss the developmental period of a child when they are learning new languages in a somewhat subconscious manner, by using strategies acquired through the learning of their first language(s); in addition, they also remember words extremely quickly.

Why should the MLA tool be used for pupils around nine years old?

Around the ages of nine or ten, children start learning languages in a different manner: they develop the analytical method of learning languages, which specifically means that they are able to understand the metalinguistic approach towards languages and grammar. And how does the MLA tool help them with that?

During this period or even a little earlier, the MLA helps them transfer to the analytical phase of learning languages through the acquisition of transparent morphemes based on the aforementioned European language, thus forming the basis of metalinguistic knowledge that the children later apply to any next languages. The method we choose to teach them Esperanto in order to build a suitable basis obviously plays an important role in this process.

How can the MLA tool be included into the language policy of the school?

The MLA tool mainly assists teachers in relaying foreign language skills while also helping them to construct the language policy of the school, since they can adapt the MLA tool to the foreign language offer in the school and the sequence in which they are taught.

What are other benefits of the MLA tool for the school?

The use of the MLA tool enables team work at the school since it requires for the MLA tool to be incorporated as appropriate into the school language policy and the curricula taught at the school. This means that we can plan on when to include the MLA tool and also designate the teacher who will act as an MLA agent for the children. This gives the school a new tool for the development of multilingualism, and helps it reach the goal aiming for every child in the EU to learn at least two foreign languages.

How is the MLA tool included into the integration of school within its environment?

The MLA tool also allows for the participation of several schools, as well as for the cooperation of the school with parents and its broader environment. It offers several possibilities of including individual groups such as parents and grandparents, and also enables networking between different schools, thus contributing to the formation of the local language and school policy.

Globally connecting schools across national borders is also a very interesting benefit, since it enables children to meet their peers at the same language level. Through this tool, schools can connect online or even organise a live meeting where children can use the language in real-life situations.

What are the skills required from a teacher using the MLA tool?

The teacher who will relay the use of the MLA tool to children IS NOT required to have developed language proficiency in Esperanto. The MLA tool is designed in a manner allowing the teacher to competently use the MLA tool only with regular preparations for classes. This advantage is made possible by the spiral design of the MLA tool, from simple to more complex features, and due to the fact that Esperanto is based on Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages.

However, it is recommended for the teacher to teach foreign languages or the first language since experts will find it easier to understand the use of the MLA tool. Thus, the MLA tool opens up the possibility of interlinguistic comparisons and behaviour, which will also come in handy for the teacher in the course of their professional development.

Foreign language teachers master learning approaches and methods for foreign languages, understand the way that languages are learnt, and are therefore flexible when it comes to transferring work methods from one foreign language to the next. If a school is able to hire a teacher who is fluent in Esperanto, however, this will simplify the work process since such a teacher will simply need to make less effort during the preparatory phase.

The professional development of teachers we see in joint projects organised with schools show that they are more likely to cope well with new features in the school system if they are not only forced to do so but actually believe in them. This is why teachers must be granted an opportunity to get to know the MLA tool, test it, and talk about it with the school management and others. The management of the school must therefore help in developing a positive attitude towards the MLA tool. Positive experiences from other teachers and schools definitely contribute to it (in the framework of the project, we have tested the materials at the Rudolf Maister Elementary School in Slovenia, at the Retkovec Elementary School in Croatia, and at the Hristo Botev Elementary School in Bulgaria).

Once teachers see that the MLA tool provides concrete, practical help when it comes to promoting foreign language learning in schools, this will incite their curiosity and desire to learn and prepare to use the MLA tool. Therefore, the school leaders and teachers must also understand the MLA tool in the context of the school language policy and in the broader context of language policies in general, which also includes parents and their surroundings.

The methodological approach of the MLA tool

The MLA tool is designed as a spiral construction, starting with the simplest elements which are later upgraded and expanded. It consists of only 300 morphemes, chosen in a way that enables the construction of meaningful sentences from the very beginning. The use of a relatively small number of morphemes is expanded through numerous affixes and endings which can be understood in Esperanto as practical tools which help us to manipulate the meaning of a word. Pupils learn new vocabulary and grammatical elements through different speaking, listening, reading, and writing activities.

The material of this 60-hour course is arranged as follows: Starts from half of the Esperanto textbook according to the so-called Zagreb method, i.e. the first six lessons that are structured according to the frequency of the morphemes. Therefore, in the first lesson, we work with the first 40 most common morphemes, a further 40 morphemes in the second lesson and so on, a total of 300 morphemes, among which there are fewer exceptions, i.e. morphemes that do not belong to the group of the most common ones and are used because of the needs of lesson texts, dialogue texts and exercise texts.

The morphemes contain both lexical and grammatical elements, so grammatical elements are, as far as possible, arranged by frequency of use in spoken Esperanto. This allows the children to clearly use the language already in the first and especially the second lesson: speak and write texts, and read and play roles in dialogues and sketches. That is why it is important to be persistent and repeat these starting materials until the teachers see that the children have learned everything, even though they don't complete all the lessons according to the course plan. It is also very important not to add morphemes that would increase the total range of morphemes.

Although teachers doing the 60-hour course do not have to process all the lessons and blocks as planned, it would be good to learn lesson five, which demonstrates the logic of the linguistic organisation of pronouns. The pronoun system is very complex in all languages and, for example, in Croatian contains at least 3000 to 4000 words, which is very difficult to put together in a logical whole. In Esperanto, this is much more simple and is done by combining elements in a table of 5 x 8, resulting in 40 elements. Although the pronouns are gradually introduced already in the first lesson, their overall structure will only be apparent in lesson five, which will greatly help children in learning other foreign languages.

However, it is not important to complete all the lessons, so if for some reason teachers see that they cannot progress according to the plan, it is better to stop and repeat what has already been learned, until they are certain that the content is understood well. Even if they fail to reach lesson five, most pronouns will be met by pupils early on, and this will make it easier for them to understand foreign languages.

Pupils learn new vocabulary and grammatical elements through different speaking, listening, reading, and writing activities which are set out in detail below.

The material has been designed in a manner that helps teachers seamlessly prepare for their lessons as they go along, even if they have no previous knowledge of Esperanto. Each of the lessons is complemented with a new section on grammatical features. For every lesson, there is also a list of new grammatical elements and a list of new words, set out in a transparent manner. The plan for performing the activity also includes instructions on how and when the teachers are expected to introduce new grammatical content.

The entire course is composed of 6 lessons divided into blocks. The teacher is free to decide whether they want to perform the course following individual blocks (this method is set out in the materials), or if they wish to divide individual blocks into separate school lessons. The choice depends on time options and on the concentration of pupils, while the materials themselves allow for both methods to be used.

Teaching material

The material consists of numerous and various activities, the purpose of which is to develop different types of linguistic competencies while motivating the children to learn. We included texts, sound clips, exercises, games, sketches, songs, and computer exercises. You can find all available materials on the website where you can also print them. On our website, you will also find links to sound clips.

For some of the lessons, using a computer will be necessary, since we prepared special exercises complementing the course. Therefore, we recommend you implement this course in classrooms where computers can be used. If this is not possible, you can complete alternative activities and give out the computer exercises as homework.

Types of materials

Texts and sound recordings
Most of these lessons are based on a source text which introduces new words and grammatical structures. Each of these texts is also available on the website as a sound recording; we recommend you play it for the pupils as you introduce the text.
The materials also consist of a large number of dialogues, the purpose of which is to promote speaking skills. Using dialogues, we can enable the pupils to obtain speaking experience before they are even capable of forming phrases on their own. We recommend pupils read the dialogues in groups of two first, and then read them in front of other pupils. The pairs should always translate the dialogue individually, which promotes collaborative learning.
Exercises and games
On our website, you will find numerous exercises that are mostly intended to promote the reading and writing skills of your pupils. Most of them can be simply printed as worksheets. Some of them must be prepared in advance (cut out, divided into envelopes, etc.), while you will need an accessory (e.g. a ball) to carry out others. Many of the exercises are set out in a manner allowing children to form phrases (and sometimes words) by themselves, since Esperanto makes it possible to freely combine words in phrases without breaking grammatical rules; however, this does not always result in a meaningful sentence. This creative activity is highly motivating for children and brings them a lot of joy.
Translation exercises are definitely among the most demanding activities in the framework of this course. They represent a challenge for pupils and teachers alike, since pupils are often not familiar with and aware of all the processes taking place during translation. Nevertheless, translation exercises are a very useful tool used to promote linguistic awareness, since they provide children with a way of directly thinking about differences and similarities between languages. Such an awareness represents a positive experience for further language learning.
Singing and roleplaying
The materials also include songs and sketches. The content of the songs is consistent with the content of the lessons, which enables children to learn words while having fun. The sketches simulate the use of language in "real-life" situations, thus offering the children a relaxed and fun approach towards language.
Use of computer exercises
We also included the use of computer exercises into the course: these exercises enable pupils to learn in a manner adapted to the needs of each individual child. Each child can choose the quantity of exercises they wish to complete, thus advancing in their learning process at their own pace. In addition, using a computer during school lessons often additionally motivates children and makes learning fun.
Since computer exercises are a part of the course taught in school, it is a good idea to teach the course in a classroom which enables the use of computers. Often, alternative activities are also presented in the materials; you can implement them if you cannot use a computer or if you do not wish to do so. If an alternative is not available, you can add your own individual activity or play a game together (such as a ball game, an envelope game, etc.).
New to the MLA subject is the use of a computer exercise where the computer creates grammatically correct sentences, but about half of those sentences make sense and half do not. Pupils can also play with this exercise at home – the computer will generate as many sentences as they want, and they will need to determine whether they make sense. This exercise is extremely useful for learning the meaning of words. In order to determine whether a sentence make sense or not, they must know the meaning of the word, so if they do not know it, they must look it up in a dictionary or ask their teacher. If they repeat it often, they learn the meaning of words without learning them by heart, as is classically done.
Recreational games
Movement is an extremely meaningful element for children in general, and especially during a learning process, which is why we recommend you spend 5 minutes of every lesson playing a short physical game. The game should not be connected to learning but should instead represent a break for their brains and a challenge for their bodies.
The process of learning every language requires an acquisition of vocabulary connected to a certain number of repetitions of every word. Therefore, it is impossible to successfully learn a language at a pace of one or two hours per week. Homework represents a bridge to continuous learning and educational achievements. This is why homework must be added to each of the blocks. Sometimes, it consists of exercises that must be printed; above all, however, we recommend you motivate pupils to use the exercises available on the website, which will allow them to continue the learning process in an individual manner.
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