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A Franco-Hungarian, a Slovak and a Malagassy walk into a bar ...

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That's not a joke, by the way. And it wasn't a drinking bar, either. The people in question were three of the voice actors for Complete Esperanto and the salad bar was a place called Abokado on Baker Street, just round the corner from the studio where they'd spent the morning recording audio for the book. It was an intensive day from start to finish.

The booth was set up waiting for them to arrive, if they survived the morning's downpour:


The sound engineer, Federico Louhau, was a keen fan of Esperanto. He's originally from Argentina and regularly noticed an Esperanto club advertised from a dingy building next to a record shop. Being a teenager at the time, he never made it past the record shop but he had retained an interest in Esperanto, putting it on his to-do list for some undetermined point in time, and so was very excited when he signed up for the project:


He really was excellent throughout the recording. It was uncanny how he would say something like "let's do it again from ĉiom" and nail the pronunciation every time having heard the word only once.

The voice actors really had their work cut out: look at the size of the script they had to read from!


They were joined by Emma, a professional voiceover artist. All five artists soon took their seats in the studio in preparation for a quick start ahead of a long day.


Federico asked them all to read an excerpt from the script to check their levels and I jumped as soon as Emma spoke; I've heard her voice so many times before! It turns out that the Emma who was joining us was famous voice actress Emma Lintern! And just as I jumped when I heard her voice, so did everybody else when they heard Ian Carter's! Here are the two of them in action:

Each of the 18 units of Complete Esperanto contain two conversations. These are preceded by thematic vocabulary and new expressions used in the dialogue. In this except, Ian and Emma are recording some of the new expressions for the first conversation of Unit 9, which is titled Aligatorejo: Where the alligators are – speaking other languages.

The book centres on Sara, a student from London who is new to Esperanto. Her journey mirrors that of other beginners; one of the first things she says is Mi estas komencanto I am a beginner when talking to other Esperanto speakers in a chatroom in the first unit. She is voiced by Stela Besenyei, who is a native speaker of Esperanto. (She has a French father and Hungarian mother. They met at an Esperanto event and had no other common language, so Stela grew up multilingual.)

By the middle of the book, Sara speaks a little more quickly than she did at the beginning. There's still much she doesn't know about Esperanto, just as is the case with other new learners.  In the following video, Sara explains to Roberto that she doesn't think she can arrange a hotel by herself in a country she doesn't know, so will pay a bit more to be allocated one by the organisers and that she's not sure what she's going to do about food:

By the end of the book the dialogues are much lengthier and contain some of the more challenging aspects of Esperanto grammar. In this excerpt from the final unit, Marteno Miniĥ is recording the role of Miro, a Slovak Esperantist who is guiding Roberto and Sara through Bratislava, where the World Esperanto Congress is being held.`

In this unit students are learning about passive participles, which is why the dialogue involves taking a tour: Miro is easily able to flood his presentation with constructions like "was built", "is being renovated", "will be finished", "so-called", "named", "is known".

Perhaps the most memorable part of this section is where Miro presents the UFO Bridge (NiFO-ponto), explaining that the name means "NeIdentigita Fluganta Objekto" (that's a passive participle, the causative suffix -IG- and an active participle neatly brought together) and that the name was given because the café at the top "pensigas onin" about a spaceship. Yes, we even got "onin" neatly into the book!

Notice how fluently the actors have adapted to working from the script. They all wait until the last line on the page has been voiced before moving their papers, whilst sound engineer Federico Louhau, instantly jumps back to something just said to give the actors a jumping-on point. Everything occurs in a flash but is structured: as soon as the last word is spoken, Federico stops recording, the papers are moved, the recorded line is played back, and the recording resumes. It was amazing how they all worked so fluidly.

There was so much to do that we only finished right on 6pm, the allotted finish time. It's unbelievable how much skill is required from all sides to pull this off; the voice actors all had several roles (sometimes even talking to themselves in the same dialogue), the sound technician works so smoothly, the narrator imparts such warmth and friendliness into  her delivery. Three cheers for the team!


(Emma Lintern, Marteno Miniĥ, Sally Phillips, Ian Carter, Tim Owen, Stela Besenyei)

PS: It legitimately was just the Franco-Hungarian (Stela), the Slovak (Marteno) and the Malagassy (Sally, born and raised in Madagascar) who walked into the salad bar ... Ian and Tim found a pub!

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