Exposing Esperanto’s hidden politics in the Zamenhof-era; and drawing lessons for Esperantists in the here and now

I recently spent several days attending to the English version of a biographical website about Ludovik Lejzer Zamenhof (Zamenhof.info). This started out quite simply as proofreading the original English translation, and making a few stylistic changes here and there. But as I worked my way through the site I found myself increasingly referring back to the original Esperanto, trying to make a better translation, and even adding completely new information.


The basics

Zamenhof was born in the town of Białystok in 1859 and moved to the city of Warsaw with his family at the time of his 14th birthday. Both are now cities in Poland, and were then cities in the Congress Poland district of the Russian Empire. The languages used in the family home were Yiddish and Russian, and other languages would have been widely heard in the wider community, especially Polish, but also German, Lithuanian, Romani and Ukrainian.


 So, like many, Zamenhof was a polyglot from a young age, but more uniquely, from a young age he also dreamt of creating an international language. Something in a similar vein to Volapük, but more linguistically sophisticated. He finished his design of his ‘lingvo internacia’ in 1878, and after further refinements released the Esperanto project in 1887.


 The first Universal Congress was held in 1905, and it went on to be an annual affair held in a different city each year. In the early 1900s Zamenhof sought to amalgamate Esperanto with a religious doctrine called Homaranismo/Hilelismo which he had designed, although this ultimately never took off in the Esperanto movement. He died in 1917.



‘A utopian project rooted in its imperial Russian milieau’ (quote from O’Keeffe 2019)

Esperanto, Hilelismo and Homaranismo were each attempts by Zamenhof to remedy sectarianism and to bring people together. But why did he see language and religion as the remedy?


 ‘As someone who was born and educated in the multi-ethnic Russian empire, Zamenhof was unaware of the level of linguistic heterogeneity in Germany, France and other western-European countries. Similarly, he did not fully realise that religion had lost its cardinal role in society. He therefore overly fixated upon language and religion, and overlooked how political, economic, and psychological factors also must be addressed to achieve the type of society which he desired.’ (source: https://zamenhof.info/en/idearo)


 Although Zamenhof was an expert optometrist by trade, it does seem that he might have been somewhat blind to how a political and economical worldview would be required to bring about the post-sectarian paradise he dreamed of.


Trying times: Zamenhof’s Jewish identity

From his birth in 1859, Zamenhof’s life correlated with intensifications of anti-Semitism in the Russian empire. So he was conscious of his Jewish identity from a young age.


 64 years before Zamenhof was born, in 1795, Poland lost its independence simultaneously to the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires. The 1795 partitioning was the third and final wave of the partitions of the Polish state. Prior to then, there had been a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Poland had been an independent state power for around 800 years.



In January 1863, the underground Polish national movement rebelled against the Russian empire. The insurrection continued for a year and half, in alliance with the Garibaldi Legion from Italy. The Jewish denomination to which the Zamenhof family belonged, Litvak Ashkenazi, had strong links with Lithuania, where much of the population had been Polonized, and where the rebellion was centred (Korženkov 2009, chapter 2).


Squadron (attached) is a good film about the January Uprising. Within the first 10 minutes there is a scene extremely relevant to Jews.


However, the Zamenhof family did not take part in the uprising. This uninvolvement was not mere apathy, but rather stemmed from Zamenhof senior’s deliberate adoption of a Russian identity to assimilate and climb the social ladder (O’Keeffe 2019, 3-4). Zamenhof senior was rewarded for his loyalty to the Russian state, achieving work as a schoolteacher for the Russian state (Korženkov 2009, chapter 2). In 1873, the family moved from Bialystok to Warsaw; perhaps a sign of social mobility.


 In 1879, Zamenhof moved back to Moscow to study medicine at the Imperial University there. Part of the reason why Zamenhof senior was so keen for his children to study is that Russian anti-Semitic laws did not apply to those Jews who had university degrees (O’Keeffe 2019, 4).


 In 1880, Zamenhof junior finalised his modernisation project of the Yiddish language, a Germanic language which evolved among Jewish people in Europe (not to be confused with Hebrew, the Semitic language spoken by most Jews in Palestine/Israel). “He proposed the use of Latin characters and a new, rationalized orthography that would free Yiddish from German-influenced spellings. In terms of orthography, Zamenhof was ahead of his time, anticipating by decades both the Soviet reform of Yiddish orthography and the Latin transliteration conventions developed by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in the 1920s” (Treger 2009). Nonetheless, Zamenhof’s proposals were not published until 1982 (Korženkov 2009, 11).


 The anti-Semitic tensions in the Russian empire reached boiling point in 1881 following the March assassination of Tsar Alexander II in Saint Petersburg. This assassination was part of a proto-socialist political campaign which sought an end to the perverse inequality and backwardness of Tsarist Russia.


A film clip of the assassination scene from a historical fiction movie.


The ten assassins were all hung to death by the state. Only one of them was Jewish, and her role was greatly exaggerated in subsequent propaganda. In the aftermath of the assassination, Tsarist loyalists scapegoated the Jewish community. ‘One third will die out, one third will leave the country and one third will be completely dissolved in the surrounding population’  Tsarist minister Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev.



Pogroms started in April 1881, and over three years more than 200 were carried out in the Russian empire. A pogrom is when racist thugs run amok violently attacking Jewish people. From 1891-1914, around 2,500,000 Jewish refugees fled Russia for western Europe and America. Zamenhof moved back to the family home and continued his studies in Warsaw from September 1881. His father could save money this way, and doubtless the family felt more comfortable all being together in a dangerous time. But pogroms also occurred in Warsaw: in December 1881, the Zamenhofs spent three days hiding in their cellar to stay safe (O’Keeffe 2019, 5).


Young Zamenhof emerged from that cellar and channeled his outrage’ (O’Keeffe 2019, 5). In February 1882, he founded the Seerit-Israel activist group to raise money for the cause. In January/February, his series of articles ‘What, Ultimately, is To Be Done?’ were published in the Russian Jewish ‘Razsvat’ journal. It had become clear that the attempts of the Jewish people to self-assimilate had failed. He advocated the establishment of a Jewish homeland in North America, specifically on the virgin earth along the Mississippi river – not in Palestine as was actually done (O’Keeffe, 2019, 5).


 Palestine was sacred to both Christians and Muslims, a place where religious belief ran high, and would place Jews in danger, sapping the resources with which they were to build a state. Palestine belonged to the Turks, who would not willingly surrender it. In short, it was an alien, inhospitable, and primitive place that promised hostility rather than peaceful coexistence’ (Treger 2009). Nonetheless, when his American proposal was met with ridicule, he acquiesced to the Palestinian plan, but only until 1887 when he renounced Zionism altogether.


 The Jewish activists used Biblical codewords in their pamphlets to try and avoid censorship issues. For example, the pogroms were referred to as ‘the Storm in the Negev’, a reference to the Old Testament.


 The situation was getting worse before Zamenhof’s eyes. In May 1882, the Russian state passed a series of new laws which specifically applied to Jewish people, restricting their freedom of movement and right to buy property. Even before these laws, Jews’ freedom of movement was already largely limited to an area called the Pale of Settlement. These were only done away with following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

 In August 1883, Zamenhof co-founded the Warsaw chapter of Hibbat Zion (a forerunner of modern Zionism) and was also elected as the president of the Hibbat Zion national committee. He was tasked with establishing links with the Bilu activist group of Zionist Socialists, established 1882. Their aim was to settle in Palestine and Syria and many of them did just that. He looked forward to the end of 1884, because then he would graduate and could move to Palestine with his comrades.


Early settlers in Israel. From http://www.zionistarchives.org.il/en/datelist/Pages/BenYehuda.aspx#!prettyPhoto


Early settlers in Israel. From  https://israelforever.org/history/aliyah_bet/the_backdrop_of_jewish_settlement_the_early_aliyot/


But actually Zamenhof’s Zionist activism diminished. He did indeed move away from Warsaw early in 1885 after graduating, but only to Viesiejai (in Russian-controlled Lithuania) where he bided with his sister and her husband for a few months whilst working in a medical practice there. He moved a few more times; building his professional experience, and completing a Masters degree in Vienna; but he always lived in central and eastern Europe. He did leave Europe to travel to the Universal Congress in Washington DC in 1910, but he never went to Israel. Zamenhof rejected Zionism in 1887, however he always held onto his Jewish identity. Some of his family remained active Zionists (Korženkov 2009, 48).


 Zamenhof’s public denouncement of Zionism coincided with his marriage and with the publication of the first Esperanto book. This followed years of trying and was sponsored by his father-in-law.


A classic early English edition, translated by Irishman Richard Geohegan, following the first English version which was a botched job.


Although his Esperanto project was in large part a response to anti-Semitism, when Zamenhof published Esperanto, he did not mention Jewish issues. But once Esperanto had gained a following, Zamenhof opened up about his belief that Esperanto could be a solution to anti-Semitism and ethnic hatred (O’Keeffe 2019, 7).


 In fact, through his Hilelismo project, Zamenhof theologised Esperanto. He amalgamated his internationalism with the Jewish cause (not to be confused with the Zionism). The name referenced Hillel the Elder, a wise Jewish philosopher who had lived slightly before the time of Christ.

Portrait of Hilel the Elder by Arthur Szyk


As a translator of Zamenhof.info, I changed Hilel’s words ‘Do not do unto others what is hateful to you’ to Christ’s ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself’. Most Anglophones will probably already know the Christian version, and its more understandable to English ears. But anyway, both versions are essentially just slightly different expressions of ‘the Golden Rule’, which has been expressed in many cultures.


At the time though, Zamenhof’s philosophy did not find much support. It was widely received as ‘just another -ism’. In fact, it was widely criticised for excessive idealism. During Esperanto congresses, Zamenhof was even pressured not to mention Hilelismo in case it provoked any anti-Semitism from Esperantists (Treger 2009; Korženkov 2009, 5; O’Keeffe 2019, 10). Zamenhof complied, and he instead spoke about the sectarian situation in rather veiled terms. Here are some excerpts from a speech he gave at the second Universal Esperanto Congress in 1906:


 I come from a land where many millions of people are fighting with difficulty for their freedom, for the most elementary and human liberty, for the rights of man.

 In the streets of the distressed city where I was born, men armed with axes and iron bars would throw themselves like cruel animals against peaceful citizens whose only fault was speaking another language and having another religion…  they broke the skulls and poked the eyes out of women, frail old people and helpless children. I’ve said enough about the sick butchery that happened in Białystok. Just remember, fellow Esperantists, the walls among peoples are still high and thick, but we fight against those walls.

 Our congress has nothing to do with political affairs.


 Also, from 1912:

 It is not necessary that every Esperantist becomes compelled by the internal idea of Esperanto. Nonetheless, the internal idea fully governs Esperanto congresses, and it must continue to do so. But what is the internal idea? That the fundamental linguistic neutrality of Esperanto can remove the cultural and language barriers between people and make Esperantists gradually recognise the humanity of people from other backgrounds, even the brother and sisterhood of all peoples. This will affect different people in different ways, an almost infinitely diverse variety of ways. An individual’s highly personalised response to the internal idea should not be confused with the internal idea itself.

 [A note from me the translator: for example, somebody who belongs to a prestigious group in society may have a humbling experience, whereas somebody from background which is of lower status may find the experience deeply empowering].


Overly apolitical

In accounts of Zamenhof’s life in Russian-controlled Poland, there is a contrived non-political character. A picture is painted of all nationalities being as bad as each other. Russians, Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, etc., all holding each other in mutual disdain.


 But with the exception of Russia, these were each stateless nations, and the Russian state actively sought to assimilate these minority groups. It is perverse to equate (a) struggles from below to resist assimilation with oppression, with (b) persecution from above. The ordinary working-class Russians were not to blame; only the backwards imperialist tsarist regime.


 In Zamenhof’s own words, from his address to the 1906 Universal Congress: ‘The Russian people are not to be blamed for the beastly massacres. The Russian people have never been cruel nor blood thirsty. Similarly, neither the Tartarians or Armenians can be blamed for the constant butchery which occurs in the Caucasus; both peoples are peaceful and do not wish to force their government upon anybody; the only thing they want is to be left alone to live in peace. Clearly, the blame is on a group of depraved criminals who, by means of different and dishonest maneuvers, widespread lies and artificial denigration, created hate among one people and the other.’


 In short, and although Zamenhof was not quite so explicit, the elite Russian imperialists mercilessly executed a cold-blooded calculated divide and conquer strategy.


Tsar Nicholai II and Tsarina Aleksandra (ruled 1894-1917).

A photograph of the toppled Alexander III statue during the 1918 Russian revolution.


The working-class and socialist movement in Russia overwhelmingly supported the rights of self-determination of small nations, in accordance with the views of the Second International. With respect to the political spectrum, self-determination movements were generally situated left of centre. For example, Józef Piłsudski, the leader of the Polish independence movement, wanted Poland to be a multi-ethnic country where Jews could live comfortably. For more details see my articles (PL 1 + PL 2).


In February 1904, war broke out in the far east over the competing imperial ambitions of Russia and Japan. The Russo-Japanese war, which Russia lost, ended in September 1905 after 19 months. Overlapping with that war, a socialist revolution broke out in Russia in January 1905. It would go on for nearly 2.5 years. The Polish national movement – even those in Austrian and German held Poland – used this opportunity to fight against imperial Russia for independence.

Some of these events are well depicted in Episode 7 of ‘Fall of Eagles’, attached. 

It is recorded that this turmoil strengthened Zamenhof’s resolve to articulate his beliefs and ideas. Indeed, it was in this context that he published the second edition of Hilelismo in 1906, which was rebranded as Homaranismo that same year.


Its a great philosophy, but did it sufficiently grasp the situation in the required scientific sociological manner? As a translator, I found myself adding in terms like imperialismclassnationalism and internationalism to the English version, which had not been in the original Esperanto writings. On one hand, my translation construed Zamenhof’s original message. But my intention was simply to try and bring clarity in the English version, which I do not think was there in the original Esperanto. Possibly because he did not enjoy freedom of the press on which more below.


 At the 1909 Universal Congress in Barcelona, Zamenhof frustrated many locals by accepting a knighthood from the Spanish king and by remaining silent on the dire political situation (Korženkov 2009,32). Spain was conducting an imperial colonial war in Morocco, and forcing ordinary people to fight in the war as conscript soldiers. This was part of the scramble for Africa between competing European empires. An organic working-class uprising occurred, but was brutally crushed by the Spanish state during ‘Tragic Week’. Over 100 civilians were murdered, 1700 were charged as criminals, 59 received life sentences. The brutality which these Catalonian martyrs sought to avoid in Africa was even worse. But Zamenhof steered clear of politics during his time in Barcelona.


Image from: https://www.lookandlearn.com/history-images/M512059/The-Second-Melillan-Campaign-Morocco 


But as mentioned, omissions in Zamenhof’s writings may be partially attributed to a lack of freedom of the press. Each of his works had to be approved by the censorship board, who sometimes did not grant permission. For example, there are historical records that show that in October 1888 the state refused to permit the publication of what would have been the first weekly Esperanto journal. Perhaps Hilelismo was watered down in order to pass the censors. Zamenhof was also silenced over some issues due to peer pressure.


 The usual story is that Zamenhof wrote under a pseudonym to avoid being seen by his clients as a dreamer preoccupied with unprofessional side issues; i.e he worried about his business taking a hit. I do not find this story convincing. His diaries show that he worried about his identity a great deal, and one wonders whether he was really worried about his business, or was perhaps more worried about physical harm coming from the state/racist loyalist thugs.


 Indeed, I do not find the story about him worrying it would hurt his pocket particularly convincing; he deliberately lived a frugal, modest, altruistic lifestyle until his death. He was knighted by the French and Spanish empires, but chose to reside in a working-class part of Warsaw. He was a very highly qualified healthcare professional who ran an eye care clinic, but he kept his prices inexpensive in comparison to his competition. He would turn nobody away, often waiving the fees of clients who were evidently hard up. Due to the value for money which Zamenhof offered, he attracted a large clientele and in turn overworked himself.


 He died in 1917 of a broken heart caused by the war. That # war to end all wars caused him great stress.


Lessons for the Esperanto movement in the here and now

 On the one hand, considering the saint-like character of Zamenhof, it does not feel right to make any critique of him. On the other hand, Zamenhof explicitly and modestly stated that he left the Esperanto project unfinished. The ‘internal idea’ still presides over Esperanto gatherings. But we should remember that the internal idea was a watered-down version of what Zamenhof truly believed in; Hilelismo. And even Hilelismo, he may never have fully articulated due to censorship and peer pressure. But now is the time that the Esperanto movement must integrate Zamenhof’s omissions into the DNA of Esperanto.


The internal idea should become the external idea also. We must be more self-aware. More conscious of the objective circumstances which exist in society, and we must continually audit situations as they change over time. The ‘flower power’ good atmosphere of Esperanto gatherings is great. But it only lasts for the duration of the event. It is a temporary escape from reality, not an attempt to ameliorate society.


 Esperantists should seek to represent Esperanto in a manner which will appeal to as many people as possible. ‘People’ does not refer just to Esperantists, but all people; there is little to be achieved from preaching to the choir. Led by the contemporary zeitgeist, we must make ourselves as accessible as possible. We should not just resign ourselves to accept the situation as we find it, passed down to us from previous generations. The way we represent ourselves now must be a manifestation of the ‘fina venko’ we dream of.


 If the author of Esperanto was not born in Poland, he or she could quite easily have been born in Britain or Ireland, for example in Belfast, Derry or Glasgow. Perhaps as the child of Polish immigrants nowadays; or as a Gael pushed into an industrial city by invisible economic forces during the 1800s; or a Scot who moved to the north of Ireland on the command of the British emperor in the 1600s or 1700s. These retellings of Zamenhof’s life would allow us to explore the minority languages of these islands (Irish, Gaelic, Scots, etc); as well as to explore  sectarian issues which are closer to home than 1800s Poland, rather than trying to use Esperanto as a carpet to sweep them under.

 Of course it depends on the pandemic, but the Universal Esperanto Association plan to hold the Universala Kongreso 2021 in Belfast; a disputed territory. The relevance may be lost on ‘Esperan-touristos’, but Esperanto can have massive relevance to that part of the world. It is fertile soil, and Esperantists from the United Kingdom should try to avoid isolating up to 50% of the locals through a lack of attention to detail. The choice of Kiev as the venue of the 2021 IJK probably raises similar dynamics, but they are beyond my ken.
The Stormont parliament in Belfast collapsed from 2017-2020. According to ‘the Independent’, it achieved the booby prize of the world record for the longest period of a region without government. The political collapse stemmed from disagreements over the Irish Language Act.

Who is going to organise the Esperanto youth movement in Belfast? Junularo Esperantista Brita has been dormant for some years now, and to my knowedge no similar group exists in Ireland. I have helped set up the Movado Junulara Skota (Scottish Esperanto youth movement; MoJoSa also means ‘cool’). It is not evident from our name, but we hope to revivify the Esperanto youth movement throughout Britain and Ireland more generally. So I think it would be a good idea if the Movado Junulara Skota was able to affiliate to some kind of new federally-organised umbrella group, something in the spirit of a ‘sennacia asocio tutbrita-tutirlanda’.


I propose the symbolic name ‘Junulara IONA’. IONA stands for Islands of the North Atlantic, i.e Britain and Ireland. Iona is also a beautiful Scottish island where St. Columba from Ireland commenced his Hiberno-Scottish mission in the year 563. For centuries there was a very international and multilingual Celtic monastery there. Now it is a place of ecumenism. So its quite a fitting name for our ecumenical movement.


Fresh outta volunteer training!

A five day online training course ran by IUVENTA the Slovak National Agency of Erasmus+ has just finished. Twelve foreign volunteers in Slovakia through the European Solidarity Corps took part. Having been a volunteer with E@I for two months now, I was one of them.

Delegates came from all over. Scotland, Brazil/the Netherlands, France, Georgia, Tenerife/Spain, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany and South Africa/Vietnam. All are now based in Slovakia for the duration of their EU-funded volunteering placements. There’s a cluster of volunteers in the north of Slovakia, which is good because when E@I moves there I’ll be closer to them.

Our trainers were also pretty international. It was the first training session of this kind for coach Marija; first of many hopefully as she was great. Originally from Bulgaria, she has previously lived in Asia, and is now based in Bratislava.


Coach Martin is from Košice in the east of Slovakia. He expressed empathy with us, the aliens in a foreign country, by talking openly about his experiences living abroad in Poland. An avid history-buff, he was really good fun. He dressed in traditional Georgian garb, and thanks to Zoom’s filter function, he was able to claim the accolade of First Georgian in Outer Space – who’s the alien now!?



Our trainers made an effort to integrate us into Slovakian society. For example they facilitated workshops about the concepts of culture shock and the cultural iceberg, and passed us web-links to Slovak memes and recipe sites.



We were each tasked with researching distinguished Slovaks and reporting back to the group about our figure. Some are criminally underknown;

  • like my one, Monika Gullerova, an eminent professor of pathology who has her own lab at Oxford University in England;
  • or Peter Lorre, an overlooked Slovak/Magyar Hollywood actor of the early/mid 20th century who was in many classic movies.


I particularly enjoyed hearing about these Slovaks.

  • Yuri Dojc, the Slovak-Canadian artist (still active);
  • Pavol Dobšinský, a collector of indigenous folklore, similar to Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm from Germany; I’d also like to visit the Habakuky theme-park based on his stories;
  • Peter Sagan the cyclist, I love cycling;
  • Milan Rastislav Štefánik, anti-imperialist republican freedom fighter, one of the Czechoslovakia’s founding fathers.


E@I’s sister company Espero has published a biographical comic book about Štefánik available in Slovak, English and Esperanto. I’ve read the Esperanto version, and can wholeheartedly recommend it as an accessible, enjoyable and engaging way to learn some history.

Volunteers each had the chance to present the organizations where they’re based and the kind of voluntary work we do there. There were a real mix; education, Christianity, film, theatre, community/youth work, education, sport, childcare and teaching languages.


Of course I took the opportunity to proselytise about Esperanto ;-). Perhaps more usefully I also distributed Slovake.eu, a website coordinated by E@I and funded by the European Commission which teaches the Slovak language, freely available in 15 different interface languages.



Throughout the training I improved my skills in Zoom and as a Zoom host, and was also exposed to some other good online tools which I might explore further and use in future; in Google, Padlet, Gather town, Menti.


Although we couldn’t meet in person due to the pandemic, lasting friendships have been made. Our next gathering will be in June – hopefully the world will be a healthier place by then!


Polski.info – a new platform for learning the second most widely used Slavic language is here!

„Mówisz po polsku?” If your answer is still „nie” and you are interested in learning this lively Slavic language, there is now a great opportunity for you! Education@Internet, in cooperation with a team of international partners, has created an online educational platform for learning the Polish language at polski.info. Self-taught language learners all around the world will find this to be a fantastic resource. Out of curiosity – did you know that Polish is the second most widely used Slavic language in the world? It has almost 50 million speakers!

Learning aided by the use of the Internet is one of the simplest and most efficient ways of learning, both generally, and with regards to languages. Polski.info, an interactive learning platform helps users to acquire the basics of the Polish language. It is entirely free, online, and effective. The platform is particularly suitable for non-Poles who would like to learn how to speak Polish, and also learn more about the country of Poland – with its rich European history and culture. The platform includes basic information about life in Poland, Polish traditions, and the language used in everyday communication. The materials available on polski.info allow users to learn how to communicate in Polish, to help to understand the Poles and their lives, and it may even boost their chances on the job market.

What does the portal offer and how has it come to existence?

The polski.info portal contains a Polish course at A1 and A2 level (including an introductory pronunciation lesson), a grammar guide as well as a dictionary with an audio recording of correct pronunciation. The platform also includes multimedia materials, interactive exercises, texts or a forum offering users the opportunity to use practical language to communicate with each other. Level A1 consists of 22 lessons, while level A2 contains 20 of them. Each lesson offers users the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the cultural specifications related with the topic as well as to explore specific grammatical phenomenon in a broader context.

Thanks to the Erasmus+ programme, the portal was created as a result of cooperation between the following six international partner organisations:

When will the platform be ready for use?

Most of the platform is ready right now! Only the final parts of the A2 course are still being finished off. These will become available by the end of August, making the platform fully functional. You can sign up and explore the platform by clicking on this link. The FB page of the portal, shares interesting facts about the Polish culture and language, as well as quizzes and even tongue twisters. If you are interested in learning or simply learning about the Polish language then make sure to visit the new portal at www.polski.info!

The NGO Education@Internet started exploring the educational possibilities of the internet as early as 2002 when it released a platform for learning the simplest language in the world – Esperanto. Since then it has also made e-learning platforms available for the Russian, Slovak and German languages.


Peter Baláž



Despite the virus, the world’s language enthusiasts and polyglots are meeting online!

The Polyglot Gathering, an annual international meeting, will take place in just a couple of weeks. What does it mean to be a polyglot though? Loosely defined, anyone who is interested in foreign languages and who actively learns more than one of them in their free time can be called a polyglot.

Last year, the meeting was held for the third consecutive time at the University of Economics in Bratislava, Slovakia and was attended by a total of 653 people from more than 60 countries. This year, however, the polyglots will not meet physically under one roof, but their meeting will be mediated by a virtual conference platform. The Polyglot Gathering Online event will be the premiere online version of the world’s largest event for language enthusiasts and will take place between 29th – 31st of May. Such an online version allows participants to take part from the comfort of their own homes!

How to turn a global pandemic in your favour?

It was originally planned that the Polyglot Gathering would take place in a new venue, the town of Teresin, Poland. Due to the pandemic, we will have to wait another year for that. However, rather than cancelling the 2020 meeting altogether, the decision was made to move the programme of lectures on languages, language tandems and other social activities into the realms of video conferencing calls.

As Peter Baláž, the coordinator of the organising NGO, Education@Internet (E@I) puts it: “As we are an NGO earning an income on the basis of our activities, the situation we’ve been facing hasn’t been easy at all. We tried hard to come up with a way to survive, and to not lose an event of such great potential, nor its track record of annually keeping its astonishing number of polyglot attendees… That’s why we are offering an online version, not only of the gathering, but also of the other social events we organise. It is not going to be the same experience, as the magic of Polyglot Gathering definitely lies within meeting people who are passionate about the same thing in person. Nevertheless, we are striving to recreate an atmosphere as close to the real gathering as possible.

Fortunately, many polyglots are interested in attending the this kind of virtual meeting. It has only been three days since the opening of the registration, and already 360 people from all over the world have registered. Many of the attendees understand our difficult situation and have decided to support us financially – either by buying a ticket to this online version of the event, or even in the form of a gift. Due to their help, we can continue to run the organisation and hold the Polyglot Gathering live next year.”

What will actually be going on at the Polyglot Gathering Online?

All three days of the event will be packed with interesting lectures, language tandems, crash courses and other social activities and games. Moreover, there will be space for contests, a multilingual concert and informal discussions as well. The programme allows attendees to choose what sparks their interest the most. By attending the lectures, you will have a chance to become more knowledgeable in topics associated with languages and language-learning. The virtual event also offers an opportunity to practice foreign languages, and to learn new phrases.

Every year, various linguists, educational app developers, publishers, professors, teachers, translators and interpreters, as well as language enthusiasts to whom learning foreign languages is a hobby meet up and give lectures at the event. As this gathering is a such a large get-together of polyglots, the participants are able to get to know one another, exchange their language-learning “know-how” and seek understanding of other cultures.

Some of the enthusiasts who have already signed up to the Polyglot Gathering Online can speak up to 30 foreign languages! Therefore, attendees can look forward to meeting the greatest experts in this field – such as Richard Simcott, Luca Lampariello, Tetsu Yung, Judith Meyer, and Slovak Lýdia Machová (a former co-organizer of the event in Bratislava, a successful language mentor and one of the most famous polyglots today).

Do I have to speak a certain number of foreign languages to be able to attend the event?

Certainly not. The event is open for everyone and the participants can choose what kind of programme to participate in. Whether you speak one language or twenty, Polyglot Gathering Online will help you broaden your horizons and learn new things about the world’s languages. You will learn about new, interesting methods of learning languages and you will get the necessary motivation to improve your previous knowledge of foreign languages or to start learning the foreign language you’ve always wanted.

So what are the benefits of learning a foreign language?

Not only does the knowledge of a foreign language increase your value on the job market, makes your travels easier and helps you make friends from abroad, it also aids in developing a range of cognitive abilities. However, learning a language requires a certain amount of motivation, as it is more of a marathon than a sprint. After reaching a certain level, one must actively use the language so that it will not be forgotten over time. The way in which individual polyglots constantly motivate themselves to keep on learning is different. Everyone would most probably agree that knowledge of several foreign languages brings a lot of motivating benefits. A few of them are also confirmed by scientists:

  1. It improves the ability to make decisions. Research at the University of Chicago has found that it is easier for multilingual people to make decisions. This finding is connected with the fact that when learning a foreign language we also learn different nuances of words as well as regional expressions and when communicating we are forced to choose from among them.
  2. It enhances cognitive as well as problem-solving skills. Learning a new foreign language requires the acquisition of a new system of rules, structures and vocabulary. Thus, the brain has to deal with complexity as it tries to understand new structures and absorb new information.
  3. It improves social skills. Along with a foreign language we also discover a foreign culture. This allows us to be more flexible and open to other people’s opinions and behaviors. If we speak several foreign languages, we have the advantage of seeing the world from different angles, thus increasing our ability to communicate in today’s global world.
  4. It delays dementia at old age. Several studies on this topic have yielded the same results. Learning a foreign language keeps your brain healthy. In multilingual people, dementia at old age occurs two to three years later.
  5. It improves study results in other academic areas. According to research, the improvement of cognitive abilities results in higher scores in standardized tests in mathematics or reading comprehension. The ability to solve problems is reflected in the learning of any school subject.
  6. It improves memory. The more we use our brains, the better they work. Knowledge of a foreign language requires not only learning a new vocabulary and rules of a new language system, but also recalling them and using them in practice. The brain thus takes learning a new foreign language as training at the gym.
  7. The mind becomes sharper. Research by the Spanish University of Pompeu Fabra has revealed that multilingual people excel at observing their surroundings. It is easier for them to notice something irrelevant or misleading. They are also better at detecting misleading information.

As you can see, finding your way into learning a foreign language pays off. The Polyglot Gathering event is the place to gain that motivation and it doesn’t matter how many languages you speak!

Register and get access to all three days of the event for only € 40!

The program of the event as well as the registration form can be found here.

Polyglots from all over the world are looking forward to meeting you! 🙂


Team of Polyglot Gathering Online




Peter Baláž – head organizer



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