I recently met a cool guy.
He was smart. Smooth. Funny.
Young people would say he had swag,
The cool kids would let him sit with them.
He was laid back, oozing confidence.
He spoke without really moving his mouth
And yet always knew just the right thing to say.
A man’s man. A cool guy.
The only trouble was that when we started to converse
I realised that I would never get to really know him
Because, you see, I was not fluent in Zulu
And he was not fluent in English.
So when I stumbled around in Zulu
He wobbled about in English to accommodate me,
But in doing so he also dropped much of the charm and fluidity of his persona.
His thoughts took longer to be translated and conveyed
He hesitated and measured his words.
Suddenly, he was not the cool kid I had anticipated,
But awkward, hesitant and even shy.
He was a shell of who he really was.
This is the lived experience of some when speaking and being in a language
That one is not fluent in.
The barriers are palpable,
Creating not only obstacles to one’s understanding,
But also limiting how much of yourself you can truly be.