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Learning to Speak

For me personally, the major barrier I have to effecting change in the areas of my community where I feel most needs it is the feeling that I sometimes get that because of language and other factors I may be viewed as an outsider. How do I know who needs help from me and what kind of help they want or need? How do I empathise and try to offer this help without coming across as condescending? During the 2010 FIFA World Cup I briefly gave young Xhosa women media training and because they were comfortable with their own language, they often just spoke it naturally to me, forgetting I did not know what they were saying.

My first solution is to learn the languages, to try to learn as much Xhosa and Afrikaans as I can because I feel there is so much more information to be gained not only from putting someone in a space where they are more comfortable talking to you because it is in their own language, but also through appreciating the subtleties that colour and add meaning to different languages that cannot always be explained in English. For me personally there are quite a few words in Shona that I would have no clue how to translate into English, or if able they would lose their original effect.

As I have discussed before in my journal, Pulsewire gives me ready made audience of people who have the similar interests, who will take the time to read and appreciate what I have to say. This gives me motivation to overcome the fears and challenges I face and communicate as effectively with people so that I can be as clear and accurate as possible with people who are interested in the information I can provide.


Mei Li's picture

bilingual friends?

I have encountered this when focusing on immigration issues in my state. I know some Spanish, but am not fluent. When I wanted to work with people who did not speak or understand English, I brought along my friend who speaks, not only Spanish and English, but also French and German. This helped me take action in the moment, instead of telling myself I could only take action when I had mastered the language fluently. I wonder if there are some bilingual resources/translating devices online that can be helpful too. I am sure it's a possibility.

I also surrounded myself with as much Spanish as possible. I picked up poetry that had English and Spanish translations and began to make connections between words. I worked in communities that were predominantly Spanish speaking so I would learn through observation.

I think the people who you work with...if they can sense your passion and patience in trying to understand, they will appreciate you and also seek to connect, hopefully!

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

MudiwaM's picture


I do have bilingual friends who have been a great deal of help to me. The funny thing is they have the same problem i described where it's hard to explain the real social and emotional meanings of certain words and phrases back to me in English.

I think the best thing would be to just keep doing it and getting help and learning what I can. Practice may not make perfect but I can try get as close as I can.

Thanks for the help!

Khushbu's picture

Dear Mudiwa You have

Dear Mudiwa

You have highlighted a pertinent issue...language problems can be tricky. I mean there is not much we can do about it/

I would have loved you to share some solutions over the problems that you face. It would have created a nice discussion here, since you had so much more space left.

I however, appreciate your efforts here


Khushbu Agrawal

Mila's picture

Week 3 Feedback

Hi Mudiwa,

I really enjoyed reading your assignment. I found it well written in a concise, organized and well thought out manner. Being an American who is living in Jordan and learning Arabic I can really relate to your challenge of being an outside because of language. When you learn someone else's language they really respect and appreciate you and your efforts even when you pronounce a word incorrectly. It would be great to include a personal example of using someone else's language has helped you or how not speaking the language hurt your efforts in your writing. By using real personal examples it brings your story to life and has a greater impact on the reader.
Good luck with learning the languages and thank you for all of your hard work.


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