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To start with, it doesn´t sound like there is anything wrong with your transmission. Most likely your clutch is slipping. This is because the clutch disk has worn out and the preasure plate can not apply enough preasure to it.

Your transmission fluid level will not cause any problems like this on a manual transmission, but if you do want to check it, you need to jack up your car and safely support it. Try to get the car as level as possible. After you have done this, crawl under it. Between the transmission and the firewall you will see a cable running into your tranny. This is your speedometer cable. To check the fluid level you need to unbolt the bracket that holds it into your tranny with a 10mm wrench. Pull it out. The gear on the end of the cable should be cover with oil just to the top. If it is low add an appropiate amount of dextron atf. (escorts use auto tranny fluid in their manual tranny too.) Doing this is a really big hassle, and i wouldn´t worry about it, if you get your clutch changed by a shop, they will have to drain the transmission anyways.

Back to the clutch... If you arn´t very mechanically inclined, take it to a transmssion shop and get an estemate. I would guess it would prob cost somewhere between $300-600 USD. Depending on who you take it to and what clutch you get. (ford vs. aftermarket)
 

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In most any hydrolic system on your car, there is a resevoir, a master cylinder, and a slave cylinder. On Escorts there is one two piece brake master cylinder. (half powers your front left and right rear brakes, and half powers your front right and left rear brakes. The calipers and drums are the slave cylinders. The clutch uses a single piece master cylinder and a single piece slave cylinder. There is one resevior for the whole system located on top of the brake master cylinder. It is devided into three sections on the bottom half to prevent the whole system from loosing fluid if only one sections fail.

The clutch slave cylinder will very rarly if never cause the clutch to slip. If it does fail it can cause the clutch not to disengage, making it hard or impossible to shift.
 
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