I can speak about 130 wpm when talking in English. But when I switch to Ndo, that number drops to around 15 wpm.
I realized this as I was helping Yase, an older friend of mine, fix the roof on the doctor’s house. I was handing him bamboo leaves with a bamboo pole, which he would then weave into bamboo slats on the roof—they use a lot of bamboo. It’s hard work, but it’s free roofing material! At one point, the tropical sun was beating down on us and I wanted to suggest that we take a break. So I started formulating a sentence in my head. Finally, what came out was:
Awane, bomo komiring kinitiniko, umbuka, kutingemo uro sono mopowing neweyato.
Translation: My father, when we run out of bamboo leaves, come down and let’s go to my house and drink cold water.
Yase merely nodded in agreement.
As we sat in the shade drinking water, I thought about what had just transpired. I had spent a serious amount of metal anguish trying to come up with a sentence that Yase could have said without hardly thinking. To him, the sentence sounded so normal. It was less about the words and rules, and it was more about the meaning of them—the promise of some respite and a cool beverage. But for me it’s still all about the grammar and syntax. My thought process looked something like this:
Despite the challenge of such situations, I am thankful to see progress in my ability to communicate. In the situation above, Yase did not correct me or ask me to repeat myself. He simply understood what I was suggesting and agreed. That’s a big deal because such successful communication does not happen often. It’s evidence that we are moving forward with the language and will hopefully be able to communicate more complicated concepts—namely the good new of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation—in the months and years ahead.