I have started recently learning esperanto using the Duolingo platform. And I have a reccuring problem at recognizing and differentiating "mi" and "ni". I suppose that in an exchange the context will most often help differentiate between the two. But I think that redundancy is sometimes limited in esperanto (for example, since the verbal forms at a given tense are all the same, they do not help solving the misunderstanding; e.g. "mi lernas", vs "ni lernas") and that might be a cause of misunderstanding. Has anyone experienced that problem, or is it me who start having hearing problems ?

  • Do you have difficulty hearing the difference between /m/ and /n/ in other languages? Or even the specific /mi/ and /ni/ combinations; for instance in English, do you tend to not hear the difference between meal and kneel, or mine and nine? Does your native language differentiate between /m/ and /n/? – Joffysloffy Mar 15 '18 at 18:37
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    It’s hard to imagine a situation where swapping meal for kneel would make a sentence that still makes sense. With mi and ni on the other hand this is very common. – Neil Roberts Mar 15 '18 at 19:36
  • @NeilRoberts That is very true, but I couldn't find another minimal pair in English for /mi/ and /ni/, so it resulted in quite a poor comparison. – Joffysloffy Mar 15 '18 at 21:44
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    Perhaps a similar annoying problem in English is the similarity between “fifteen” and “fifty”. People often have to resort to saying “fifty, five-oh” to make the distinction. – Neil Roberts Mar 16 '18 at 9:58
  • @NeilRoberts Oh yea, that is quite a good comparison. – Joffysloffy Mar 16 '18 at 11:10

I’ve been speaking Esperanto for over 15 years and I still have this problem too. A few times it has caused some really awkward misunderstandings. It’s not always possible to distinguish with context and sometimes this tiny difference in sound is the only thing marking the difference between “and you are invited” and “I’m going on my own”. It’s a real flaw with the language.


Yes, this can be a problem - and it's worse on Duolingo because people often use phones and tablets with little speakers. mi, vi, and ni often end up sounding very similar.

In person, lipreading can help, as can gesture. A good communicator will learn when it is necessary to add additional context. When in doubt, ask. When not in doubt, ask anyway.

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