Once, grammar, syntax and parts of language were not interesting. Now, they intrigue me. – James Toland
I had some great feedback on part one of this project and am looking forward to posting many more insightful answers I have received.
This week I want to introduce you to another wonderful teacher in my life – James Toland. He is a great vocal coach, chorus master, and loves languages as much or even more than I do. I am looking forward to the finals of an exciting vocal competition he established and if you are in SF Bay Area July 19th and 20th – hope you can join me there! In addition to being a tremendous chorus master and definitely a teacher that I look up to, his ability to speak many languages is fascinating! I do not think that we have ever had a rehearsal where less than three languages were spoken – as a language “junkie” I was hooked after the first time. So you understand why I just had to ask him my questions about why he speaks more than one language:
In the summer before my 4th grade year in school, my family moved to Puerto Rico. My stepfather was in the US Army and was stationed in Fort Buchanan near San Juan. I remember on the boat that was taking us there that my sister and I kept speaking this gibberish and pretending we were speaking Spanish. It was so much fun to imagine that it was real. Once there, being exposed to people speaking Spanish and living in a different culture fascinated me. The language was an opening into a completely different life, a different way of thinking. I was mystified and enchanted by it all.
Later, back in the
States, I took my first class in language – Spanish – in the 9th grade. It seemed much less interesting than before and I didn’t have the patience for the academic nature of it. Plus, 9th grade was a miserable experience over all. After beginning 10th grade in the US, my family, following again my stepfather, moved to Germany where he was stationed. Once again, being plopped down in the culture of a foreign speaking land reignited my emotional responses to language and other ways of life. I studied German in high school while living there and had ample opportunity to practice with the Germans who lived all around. I felt connected to a larger world and loved wrestling with words and meanings. I wasn’t ready for the grammatical complexities but managed to mimic what people said, how they said it and in that manner, picked up some of the inflections of those who lived in that area of Germany. While in the high school there, I also took a year of French and a year of Latin.
In college, I was a voice performance major, so multiple languages were all around me in the vocal literature. We were required to take Italian, German and French diction which fed my interest even further. In the years to come, I was able to take up Russian as well as Mandarin with varying degrees of success. I still want to pursue those languages too, however, I keep getting side tracked by languages such as Turkish and Estonian.
Now my interest is not just in speaking languages but, more, trying to understand how language itself works and how it manifests in different languages. Once, grammar, syntax and parts of language were not interesting. Now, they intrigue me.