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.
(I am indebted to Ken Caviness for preparing this material. Quotations
have been edited.)
Isn't English spoken world-wide already?
Interestingly, while English was spoken by about 10 % of the world's
population in 1900, and by about 11 % in 1950, it is today spoken by
about 8.5-9 %. The corollary is that, for better than 90 % of the
world's population, it is *not* the de facto means of international
English is a very difficult language to learn unless you've been
immersed in it since birth. English spelling is said to be more
difficult than any other language except Gaelic. English grammar,
although it may be fairly simple, is riddled with exceptions. Verbs
are very often irregular. Many people just aren't going to devote
several years of effort to learn it!
English has gained its present stature because of the current
economic and political power of English-speaking countries. In the
past, every super-power has briefly seen its native tongue used
internationally: France, Spain, Portugal, the Roman empire. In fact,
one of the main reasons why Esperanto was never adopted by the
League of Nations was that France blocked efforts to adopt it. At
the time, French was "the international language", and France
expected it to stay that way forever. They were proven wrong within
Although many people all over the world study English and often
think they speak it well, the number of people who can participate
in a non-trivial conversation in English is very small outside
English-speaking countries. Knowing English may be sufficient to
survive as a tourist in many places, but not for more.
One Chinese Esperanto speaker described Esperanto as a linguistic
handshake. When two people shake hands they both reach out halfway.
When two people speak Esperanto they have both made the effort to
learn a relatively easy, neutral language instead of one person
making the huge effort to learn the other person's difficult
national language and the other person making no effort at all
except to correct his/her interlocutor's errors.