Wouldn’t it be great to have a universal second language that is easy to learn and can be used to communicate with millions of people around the world? One language that is a blend of all the others sounds like a utopian fantasy, but could it be a reality.

Let me introduce to you Ludwig Zammenhof and his nineteenth-century creation, Esperanto. Ludwig was a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist living in Białystok who grew up fascinated with the idea of a world without wars. He believed that the easiest way to achieve that goal would be if people were able to communicate with each other without language barriers. You need to remember that they didn’t have the internet back then and access to books and budget airlines was pretty limited. So Europeans didn’t really know much about each other.

Ludwik Zamenhof on an old Polish coin.

While still in school, Dr. Ludwig developed Esperanto – a new international auxiliary language. It is structured by a set of 16 grammatical rules, no tricky exceptions, and built around a lexicon of word roots coming from primarily Roman languages. Around 75% of all words come from French and another 20% is rooted in the Anglo-germanic languages. Surprisingly, only about 1% of the vocabulary can be traced back to his native Slavic languages. Esperanto includes a very small portion of Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese.

And why do we mention dr. Zamenhof and his Esperanto?

I learned about Esperanto and Dr. Zamenhof during a history class in High School. I was fascinated by the idea of intentionally creating something so complex yet approachable by finding similarities between languages around Europe. I find it impressive that someone’s dream was to stop wars by connecting people with a new language. While Esperanto might not be used as a universal language the way Zamenhof imagined, Esperanto is still used by millions of people. The language has a thriving community of people around the world.

When we were trying to find a name for our language learning project, we toyed with ideas rooted in English, Spanish or my native Polish. I remember sitting at an airport and waiting for my flight to Chicago with Google Translate opened in my browser. I had a list of random words associated with language learning and was trying them out one by one. While clicking around Google’s interface I noticed Esperanto as a language they offer. At that point I didn’t really know which phrase will be the best candidate yet but I knew I want it to be in Esperanto. After a few tries, we ended up with Vorto.


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