"She speaks French, so can you translate it later?”
That was the question posed at Press & Dakotan summer intern Alyssa Sobotka and I on Friday afternoon as we prepared to interview an archer and coach from Benin (a small African country).
A group of archers from 3-4 different countries were on the practice round, getting ready for next week’s World Archery Youth Championships. We saw the two people from Benin, and thought that would make for an interesting interview -- as are any interviews with international archers.
Alyssa and I introduced ourselves to the Benin coach, Paul Zinsou, and asked if we could talk to his archer – and daughter – Merveille Zinsou. He looked at us with this confused expression. Was he thinking no, maybe not right now? Then he said to us, “She speaks French, so can you translate it later?”
That would have been incredibly difficult, so we asked if Paul could just translate her responses to a couple of our questions. And he graciously agreed to. It was a rather short interview, probably four minutes long, and to be honest, the language barrier presented a challenge.
But you know what? Alyssa (and I don’t mean to speak for her) and I didn’t mind one bit. It was something new for us, and I’m sure it was new for Paul and Merveille. If either Alyssa or I spoke fluent French, the interview could have produced much more, but even without it, the whole incident proved to us how unique the World Archery Youth Championships are for Yankton and its residents.
Over the years at all of these international archery tournaments, I’ve learned that for the most part, you can communicate clearly with someone, no matter what country they’re from. Only a couple times in the last 8-9 years have I approached someone and realized there was no way we would be able to communicate. It’s an understandable occurrence, given how many foreign archers our town has welcomed.
I’ve conducted interviews with adult and youth archers from the likes of South Africa, Germany, Estonia, New Zealand, Australia, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Argentina, Brazil and Italy. While I’m hoping to add to that list within the next eight days, it’s already been an educational experience. Every one of those interviews has been with someone who speaks English, albeit in mostly broken English.
I remember one person last summer saying that archery is the universal language. Not everyone may speak English (though typically at least one person in each group does), but they all ‘speak’ archery. It’s the common ground between everyone. And it’s something I’ve loved to experience.