Second AMO seminar – Sidney, Canada

A view of the seminar
On 9 and 10 July 2014, thirty or so activists from Canada and the United States, plus visitors from China, Japan and Taiwan, and I from Australia, participated in a two-day seminar for activist development (“AMO-2”) in the coastal town of Sidney (British Columbia, Canada). The seminar addressed the theme “The strategy and practice of Esperanto promotion in North America”, under the guidance of Dr Mark Fettes, president of UEA.

The Mary Winspear Center, Sidney BC, the seminar venue

Within the program were several presentations and discussion sessions, and various workshops on specific topics. At the end of the seminar four working groups were created, on:
– development of technical resources
– the use of social networks
– responses to FAQs, and
– creating a framework for further efforts towards sustainable development.
Each group aims to build upon ideas and discussions from the seminar, to prepare concrete recommendations and information resources over the coming months.

In the opening plenary, Fettes pointed out that information is more effective when it touches the feelings and emotions of people. Although one should not neglect rational arguments for Esperanto, a priority is the communication of core values – for example, that Esperantists are open, inclusive, inquisitive, educated, and with a high sense of personal responsibility. According to him, promotion of Esperanto should clearly show that Esperantists are multilingual and diverse people, who in turn understand and love human diversity.

Dr Mark Fettes presents the opening plenary

In another thought-provoking contribution, “How to talk to language teachers”, Grant Goodall challenged certain favourite myths of our movement. According to him, the irregularity of ethnic languages does not give as big a problem for learning as Esperantists tend to imagine. While American language teachers share some of our criticisms on the dominance of English, many of them see as a big problem in the spread of Spanish as a “second language for all” in American schools. Thus it is necessary, when in contact with language teachers, to stress our conviction that all languages are worthy of being taught and learnt.

A workshop on being interviewed by journalists led to an additional one on how to answer the most “ticklish” questions about Esperanto. In parallel were workshops about social networking and the creation of audiovisual information materials, such as videos.

One of the workshops

Some of the ideas which Fettes explored also evolved into a further working group. In a discussion about core values, the group realised that it would be necessary to rethink the look and content of the basic media and websites of the North American associations, to better communicate these values to the general public. For example, one could collect short personal testimonies and stories, from people of different ages, regions, ethnicities, etc., about the educational and interpersonal value of Esperanto, to graphically illustrate the colourfulness and inclusivity of the movement.

It became clear that we do not know enough about the backgrounds, motives, interests and abilities of those who are interested in Esperanto. Thus was born a project to survey several groups – such as association members, people seeking information about the language, lernu-users and NASK students – and to collect and analyse such information. With the support of the governing bodies of Esperanto-USA and the Canadian Esperanto Association, and specialist advice from Ĵenja Amis (a Master’s student in marketing), a small team will realise this project in the coming months. If it turns out to be useful, it could be a model for other national associations, such as our own (AEA).

Many interesting and useful pieces of advice were discussed. I hope to follow this report with more detailed notes, but in the meantime, amongst the pieces of advice from the seminar were the following (regarding contact with journalists, in interviews, media releases and articles):
– Find a concrete anchor or hook, e.g. an anecdote or quotation about a particular person, event or achievement.
– Avoid too many internal terms, abbreviations and esperantisms (e.g. “congress” and “Esperantist” – better would be a “conference” and “Esperanto speaker”).
– Pay attention to local culture and the ways that certain words and concepts are interpreted, such as “international”, “planned”, “constructed”, “artificial”, “universal” and “neutral”.
– Do not invent ”facts” in an interview. If you don’t know an answer, say so, and say something that you actually do know. Obviously, however, the more you know, the better!

Jonathan Cooper

[I would like to thank Dr Mark Fettes for his permission to use parts of his own report as a basis for my own.]