Coming out fluent

This isn’t my own story, but the owner – who you might recognise – has kindly let me tell it. Besides the particular details, I think the general problem is one we all share. So in a sense this is a very particular story, and in another sense a very general one.


From one to five, he dwelt in the English language. Beginning at zero, and with zero, he had learnt enough of English to be fluent in his five-year-old world. When it was necessary to, he would leave his beloved world of books – where much of his English words were learnt – and happily communicate. When addressed, he could reply. Sure, there were more words to learn, more books to read, but in English he was pretty comfortable.

Then he and his family took a trip to France, for six months. In this new language, he found himself back at zero again. But this time with the sharp recognition of being at zero. And with the even sharper recognition that others were ahead; others already knew this language as well as he knew his friendly English.

So after a few futile attempts, which only served to publicly reveal his being zero in French, he took up silence.

For those six months, the big people around him looked on hoping he would give French another try, hoping he would find himself a francophone voice, just like his English one. But nope, not a French word passed his lips. French just wasn’t for him, his teacher thought, and any how they would be home soon, the boy would be back in his comfortable English, it wasn’t too long really.

Yet to their surprise, just as their stay was coming to its end, this boy who had been mute all along, started speaking French… In fact, he was almost fluent! While others thought he had given up, in his silent retreat he had really been secretly teaching himself French. A most private pursuit; he had hidden the steps one, two, three, four, and arrived publicly at five: he had wanted to come out fluent.


And are we not all the same? Hiding our learning away and presenting ourselves with an impossible spontaneous fluency? Regardless of our attempts to hide it, we all must start with our own incompetence. Private or shared – we all begin at zero.


Those who do recognise the story, will also recognise that much artistic licence has been taken!





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