This article is from the Esperanto FAQ, by Mike Urban firstname.lastname@example.org and Yves Bellefeuille email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
This is a very common question, but nobody really knows the answer. The
only way to determine accurately the number of people who speak
Esperanto would be to conduct a world-wide census, and of course this
has never been done.
However, Professor Sidney S. Culbert of the University of Washington,
Seattle, USA, has done the most comprehensive survey on language use
ever attempted. He has conducted interviews in dozens of countries
around the world and tested for "professional proficiency", i.e. much
more than just "hello, please, goodbye".
Based on this survey, Prof. Culbert concluded that Esperanto has about
two million speakers worldwide. This puts it on a par with "minority"
languages such as Lithuanian or Hebrew. For more information on this
survey (partly in Esperanto), see
The results are also published in the _World Almanac and Book of Facts_.
[There's a lot of debate over how many people speak Esperanto. Sometimes
there is a tendency to exaggerate the number of Esperanto speakers, or,
on the contrary, to minimize it. I've seen numbers ranging from 100 000
to 8 million. Prof. Culbert's estimate has two advantages over any
other I've seen:
1. The method is sound. Doing a world-wide survey is the only valid way
to estimate the number of Esperanto speakers, but it's so difficult that
Prof. Culbert is the only person who has ever attempted to do so, to my
2. The study attempted to find out how many people speak *all*
languages, not just Esperanto. We can see whether the results obtained
for other languages make sense; if they do, then the result for
Esperanto is probably as valid as any other.
In short, Prof. Culbert's estimate that two million people speak
Esperanto around the world is the most accurate answer we're likely to
get. -- Ed.]
Some parents teach Esperanto (along with the local language) to their
children; it is estimated that perhaps a thousand people speak Esperanto
as a first language.