When you meet Erasmus Mathews Lesele, you’d never guess his humble beginnings, that he used to walk 5 km barefoot to get to school, or that he speaks 13 languages.
The second of five children, Erasmus was born in nearby Acornhoek in 1976. He started his working life as a floor assistant at Pep Stores, and then became a window dresser. One day at work, he was playing music from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when Dr Oliver Mutamba stepped into the store. “He was from the DRC and asked if I understood the music,” says Erasmus. “I said no, I didn’t speak French. So he invited me to his home and taught me French on weekends.”
Erasmus then worked for seven years at a construction company and learned Portuguese from Mozambicans working there. In 2010, he joined Kapama River Lodge and learned to cook, but was worried he was in the wrong job. “Actually, it was the beginning of me becoming multilingual,” smiles Erasmus.
“I improved my French and Portuguese by speaking to the guests at River Lodge. I also started learning Italian, Spanish and a bit of Dutch. At first, I was a little afraid to speak to people, but nothing stops you doing what you love.” Erasmus now speaks nine local languages and four international languages.
“My secret is simple: ‘Anyone can make it’. I don’t judge myself and I don’t fail before I begin. Whatever I want to learn, I do with all my passion. The only tiny secret to learning different languages is to not be shy to talk to people from different places. I still want to learn as many more languages as I can. This is just the beginning.”