TED Community » Penelope Vos

About Me

Since 1996, Penny has established highly successful, whole-school Esperanto programmes in primary and secondary schools and is now developing and marketing resources to help other schools learn and use the world’s common language to promote peace and intercultural understanding.
Penny has a degree in environmental science and 20 years of rich and varied experience teaching in very diverse institutions and in an unusual range of subjects specialties.

(Note to the webmaster, I can't record Esperanto in the languages list)

Australia, Candelo
Current organization:
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More About Me

I'm passionate about

Effective languages education, and doing more with less by clear thinking and better design.

An idea worth spreading

All of the issues that matter most are global and can best be solved by inviting the collaboration of all of the world's people.

They could participate in this collaboration in English, if we could provide 1000 hours or so of expensive English instruction to the billions of people who would need it.

Much more practically and fairly, they could participate in Esperanto. 10 hours of actual instruction, a teach-yourself book and a dictionary will get them (and us) bilingual in 100 hours.

Then we can get on with the business of maintaining our own languages and cultures at home and communicating scientifically, politically, economically, theologically, and socially across our boundaries in Esperanto.

If our children learn Esperanto in primary school as a trainer-language, they will be well-prepared to understand their world, and learn more languages if they wish, and the world will be closer to being able to talk about the things that matter to us all.

Talk to me about

Creative commons
Business models
Social entrepreneurship
Grants and funding
Solutions and opportunities
Language politics

People don't know that I'm good at

Thinking broadly, starting at the root of the problem/situation/challenge.
Staying committed.
Finding a way.

My TED Story

I found TED yesterday when a colleague sent a link to Alex Tabarrok's talk to the "reago" (reaction) group who respond to references to Esperanto in the world's media and propose it as a solution where relevant.
I thought Alex's talk was great and and went on to hear Charles Leadbeater's talk on collaborative consumer design and investigate TED in general. I'm excited to have found this community of bright people focussing on what is possible and valuable.
Here's a challenging thought- in future TED could be available in Esperanto so that this treasure is available for full participation anyone with 100 hours to learn it.
TED would have a bigger market and we'd have a better supply of ideas, wouldn't we Alex?

Participating in the next conference is now top of my wish-list! Thank you.


  • TEDCred score: +5.10 TEDCred reflects your contribution to the TED community.

  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Patricia Ryan: Don't insist on English!

    Mar 10 2012: Exactly the right question, Michaelangelo, and there is an answer!
    Esperanto is designed to be a lighter burden on the learner than any other language- a lot lighter.
    Functional mastery takes about 100 hours, compared to 600 hours of an equivalent standard of Italian or 2200 hours of Mandarin. This leaves enough time for everyone to maintain their own languages as well as to participate in global affairs on an equal basis.
    In the words of Anne Frank “Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world" if we want to do... and not just rue, we can!
  • +1

    A comment on Talk: Paul Zak: Trust, morality -- and oxytocin?

    Nov 2 2011: As a teacher, I do believe that hugging builds trust and empathy. I'd like to see a test where primary teachers predict how much hugging, hairbrushing, backrubbing and other oxytocin-releasing contact kids get at home by their demeanor at school. I think it would find that teachers are good at this, the results are that visible.
    Isn't it a shame that teachers are discouraged from hugging, even the ones that really need it?
  • A reply on Talk: Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?

    Aug 11 2011: Steve, you can choose your identity. On a global scale, you are a wealthy and powerful human being since you own a computer and speak English.
    If you concentrate on using your talents to help some of the millions who weren't so lucky, you could feel good about yourself.
    Incidentally, women would see you differently if you concentrated on being a person rather than a gender.
  • +1

    A comment on Conversation: Is our destiny to be one world with one language?

    Aug 10 2011: Hi Debra, it feels that way, by a human life span but languages, like Redwoods, grow slower.
    English is over 1500 years old and it was a dying language for 300 years before Chaucer. Even the Anglo-Saxon chronicles were abandoned because English was sooo yesterday.
    A few decades waxing or waning are nothing much to a language. Hebrew was also in more severe doldrums than Esperanto has ever been, yet it is strong today.
    Esperanto will prevail in the end because it is utilitarian, it benefits people at a competitive rate.
    It will serve more people sooner as English-speakers realize that bilingualism is good for their children's brains and that this is the quickest and most flexible form of bilingualism available.
  • A reply on Conversation: Is our destiny to be one world with one language?

    Aug 9 2011: "A way to communicate with the rest of the world? Yes. And we're already there."

    Only if you are happy to continue ignoring the global majority who will die before they can afford to learn English.

    "However, it would be beneficial to have a universal language that everybody knows"
  • +3

    A reply on Conversation: Is our destiny to be one world with one language?

    Aug 9 2011: A translation robot is really not what we need. People talk in the dark, they talk when their hands are full, they talk with their words and their tone of voice and their expressions altogether.
    We all have 100 hours to learn Esperanto (actually the lessons take about 12 hours- the rest is integrating what you know and practicing, to make it your own). Then we have a comfortable language for everyone who doesn't happen to share our mother tongue.
  • +2

    A reply on Talk: Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

    Aug 8 2011: Chun Zhang, no.
    If you study the history of the English language, you will see that uneven growth is normal for even a "successful" language. English was abandoned for 300 years between "old English" and "middle English". It has taken 1500 years to get to where it is today. In spite of wars, colonization and trade incentives, it is still not the World's language because it is too difficult, and comes with an identity which does not fit everyone.
    Esperanto is making remarkable progress for a language that had just 1 speaker only 123 years ago and has never been imposed on anyone by force.
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

    Aug 8 2011: Nick, you seem to be concerned that the time and effort of those who have built the infrastructure for teaching English should not be wasted.
    What about the time and effort of the learners? Not just this year's batch, but for all time?
    Who should we protect, the rich people who are profiting by the sale of their national language, or the poor people disadvantaged by being born into perfectly good language-cultures which happen to be unfashionable?
    Group 1 can look after themselves. Group 2 need our consideration.
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

    Aug 8 2011: Oh Nora, 'naturally'? Here in Australia, we punished Aboriginal kids for speaking their own language, we made them speak English only. In other places the compulsion is economic rather than physical but it still isn't anything I'd call 'natural'.
    There is no use crying over spilt milk but we can make sure that we don't commit the same crimes again.
    Why should Italian kids spend 600 hours learning English while Aussie kids do not have to spend 600 hours learning anything? Lets all spend 100 hours learning Esperanto, and all have our own languages and one common one.
    Some people will use the Esperanto as a stepping stone to trilingualism, because a third language is easier to master than your second, and this leaves all people in a stronger situation, even those who lack the resources to learn English.
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

    Aug 8 2011: Good thoughts, Susan, Brian and Elizabeth!
    We all agree that all of the World's 6800 languages have some value to their speakers but, if you ruled the world, could you- in good conscience -insist that there is no common language so that some people are fated to speak more powerful languages than others?
    I couldn't and the closet we have to a solution is to make the common language the smallest possible imposition- to leave time to learn the much more complicated mother tongues well. Esperanto is designed to be remarkably efficient in communicating nuance with minimal memes.
    I have a West African friend who speaks Idaatcha every day with his family and friends- it is the language of his people for generations. Although he is an educated man- a teacher- and speaks 4, maybe 5 languages, he can't spell in Idaatcha because French is the language of school there. To get basic French across to children in 6 years of primary school, there is no time for Idaacha. If Esperanto took the place of French, he could not only spell in Idaacha but he could speak Esperanto on equal terms with native French and English speakers.
    I visited a refugee camp in Benin, where 100 Togolese refugees had got hold of a cheap book and formed an Esperanto club. My daughter and I (who don't speak French or Ewe) could understand them perfectly when they explained their stories of persecution and flight.It was quite an experience.
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