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I am a member of Couchsurfing and I really enjoy hosting travellers from around the world (having only been a guest once so far), so I find the idea of Pasporta Servo fantastic. But without much chances for an immersion until now I am feeling hesitant about being exposed to a new language as a primary means of communication.

So this brings several tightly related questions:

  • What level of language proficiency is usually expected of a lodger (to not be labeled a cheapskate)? Of a host (to not be a bore)?
  • Do many beginners participate or is one more likely to meet rather experienced speakers?
  • Can the safety net of a fall back to English be taken for granted (throughout Europe, if not universally)?

Edit: I should explain that by the 3rd point I did not mean just switching to English but perhaps substituting an English word or phrase where I can not think of its translation quickly enough to complete a sentence. But carrying a handy online dictionary as Stela Besenyei suggests would do away with a need for such fallback :-)

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    For your third point, I would guess that it's a yes only in Anglophonic countries. Also, it's probably a faux pas - "krokodili" is a thing. – Clayton Ramsey Nov 10 '16 at 18:28
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    @ClaytonRamsey That's a funny word :-) Based on your comment I reworded my third point to be more geographically specific. – La Vo-o Nov 10 '16 at 18:36
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    @LaVo Yeah, just use a dictionary to quickly look up the word you need, instead of switching to English. But I would strongly recommend an offline dictionary that you can download to your phone or tablet - looking up words will take less time and you won't be dependent on the Internet access, which may sometimes be unavailable, especially when you travel abroad. – miĥaŭ Nov 11 '16 at 10:44
  • I think it would be best to tell them in advance and let them decide. – Lumo5 Nov 15 '16 at 9:52
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My wife and I did our first PS trip after we'd been learning a year. I recall I told our hosts that we were "beginners" and a few were surprised that we were actually able to speak Esperanto. (I recall it was more of a struggle then it was later with more learning under our belts, but still.)

The big thing is to read the host's conditions and be up front with your own level. If you're able to read the various profiles and work out the details in writing all in Esperanto, you're probably at the right level.

As for your other questions:

What level of language proficiency is usually expected of a lodger (to not be labeled a cheapskate)? Of a host (to not be a bore)?

In both cases, if you can agree on times and dates all in Esperanto, that's probably good enough. Be up front about concerns - and list it in your profile that you're a beginner if this is a concern.

Do many beginners participate or is one more likely to meet rather experienced speakers?

My feeling is that hosts (and frequent guests) tend to be more experienced - by definition. It's not beginners that are the problem, it's krokodiloj - see next quesiton.

Can the safety net of a fall back to English be taken for granted (throughout Europe, if not universally)?

The whole point of Pasporta Servo is to use Esperanto. The hosts are all individuals and so will have their own view of this, but the materials from PS are generally pretty clear. The expectation should be that you're going to speak Esperanto.

But that's a good thing, right?

Many Esperantists do speak English, but I would never take that for granted in any circumstance. Some of my first PS hosts didn't speak English nearly as well as I spoke Esperanto.

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I completely agree with the two previous answers. The only reason I am replying, is because I am the one behind the main e-mail account for the service. And I would encourage you to ask more questions if you have any.

Pasporta Servo is in the heart of the Esperanto community, it is something that most Esperanto speakers are aware of. Before the times of couchsurfing it was unique in the form of a booklet with the addresses of available hosts. The idea is to host people, who speak Esperanto. To be honest it narrows down the guests to people who most probably I will have something in common with. I could easily say it is inexplicable what kind of metaconnection you have with someone the moment you know you share the language. Many people only learned Esperanto to be able to use this service and got much more out of it in return.

Therefore you have to want to speak Esperanto and use the service exactly because of that as well. As you wrote: of course you can sleep at someone else's place and that is all, but there is a reason you would want to host or be a guest at someone, who does speak Esperanto. You care about the host too, not just the couch. What a host offers really depends on time and personality. The newest profile gives the options to mention whether you feel like having a drink as well, or show around, otherwise it is written in the profile what to expect (someone's busy). And please don't expect to just show up and be hosted. There is a reason people ask you contact them in advance (it says exactly how much in advance and what preferred communication form there is. As long as both parties respect each other it is a very pleasant way of learning about each other and each other's cultures, experiences and just the world.

It all comes down to wanting to speak Esperanto :-) You'll get more experience, and the hosts (there are newcomers too), but most of them have been hosts for years, and usually leave only if they can't offer lodging anymore, not because they had a bad experince. If your partner does not speak Esperanto, but one of you does it is usually fine (as sometimes the host speaks Eo, but not the rest of the family). But please do ask!

And bring a dictionary with you! Electronic (PReVo is great), whatever, make an effort to use the language, look the words up on the spot, and become better in an instant!

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During IJK in Wroclaw this year, Lars Sözüer presented the new version of Pasporta Servo (the website). He also anwered questions afterwards such as "Is it allowed to bring partners/family-members who aren't Esperanto-speakers." He emphasized that it is all up to what agreements the guest and host make together. I suppose, that if you are a beginner, you can tell the host this in advance. Maybe even ask about how comfortable this person would be speaking English, if you feel the need for a fall-back language. Same goes for a host, I believe. Sözüer talked much about conditions: you do not need a spare room and lots of time to be a host, he said. Just be clear to the guests what you have to offer before you accept them. If your Esperanto-knowledge is limited, you should be able to notify potential guests about that.

All this said, I suppose there must be a line drawn somewhere. The service is not made for people who are able to say "Saluton" and no more than that. Judging by the other questions you have posted here, you are far beyond that level. I think this question is very relevant and I would be interested in seeing what any of the ones responsible for Pasporta Servo has to say in this matter.

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I'd just like to add that the border is very blurry between the "leechers" who just want to be hosted for free, barely speaking Esperanto, and the beginners who often have the Impostor syndrome but actually could hold a conversation… and care about Esperanto.

Because the hosts want to use the Esperanto language, they usually don’t appreciate krokodilantoj, but enjoy meetings passionate beginners.

I would say it is also valid for aligatorantoj. Let's say you want to go to France and you can speak some French. A French host wouldn’t appreciate that much that you try to speak to them in French, but again, rather in Esperanto.

As usual, exceptions are legion.

Btw, I'm the web developer of the new pasportaservo.org website.

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I don't think there is an official requirement. I have heard from a few Esperanto speakers that they end up speaking English because they aren't very good in Esperanto. You can discuss this with them in advance.

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