Making friends abroad is actually easier than it may seem. And when you volunteer to teach via WorldTeach you're likely to make more friends than you know how to handle. Imagine you're a small child in a village that doesn't receive many foreigners. The foreigners that bend down to your height, look you in the eye, and teach you how to read will likely be your favorite. Let Catherine Celeste Helm take you on a journey via the local language and local love.
We are all so happy to make new friends. The downside is that, unlike everyone else here, we only speak one language. Most people here speak a minimum of two languages, with working knowledge of a third and fourth. For most of the black population, Xhosa (pronounced Kosa with a hard K and a little click/popping sound) is their first language, followed by English. Many also speak Afrikaans. White people will know English and Afrikaans; maybe a little Xhosa. The children in Masi, who were born here in SA, of course speak Xhosa as their first language. They also speak English – some of them very well. This leads to some embarrassing moments. In Girls’ Group, the first Friday we attended, everyone introduced themselves. There were 5 World Teach volunteers in attendance, and about 8 girls from Masi. At the end of the meeting, we were asked to repeat their names. I think among us we perhaps remembered and pronounced two. The girls nailed all of our names, correctly pronounced first time around.
One afternoon, I was in the front of the library – as you walk through, children just gravitate to you for hugs and any kind of attention. Naturally, the first thing you do is exchange names with someone you’re just meeting for the first time. A little girl came to me and looked up with her precious beaming face and asked my name. I said ‘Celeste’, which she pronounced perfectly. She then told me her name, which I could not understand at all, and seemed to involve a unique “slushing” sound between tongue and teeth. I tried to pronounce it. She announced loudly, “No, that’s not it!” I tried again. “No, you’re not doing it right.” Tried again – no go. Oh look, here are more children coming up for hugs – what a welcome interruption. I don’t understand their names either, but now there’s too much commotion for anyone to care.
So we’re here to promote literacy and speaking in English – and no one would question this worthwhile endeavor. But I wonder how it appears to these little children – that sometimes the teachers cannot readily grasp their names. It’s a good thing that smiles and hugs are universally understood.
Want to read more from Catherine, check out her blog at