On Twitter - randomly as is often the case - I noticed the feed of @STPodcastHost, aka Elle Charisse, who created and managed a podcast about language, or rather, the languages of the world.
I finally reached out to propose a podcast, but I was curious about how she got started with languages, especially as she mentioned that she was from New York City and had lived there her entire life. (Granted: New York City is the world in miniature. I have never seen people from as many nationalities as in NYC, where I lived for a couple of decades. Not even in Paris. Paris, France, not Paris, Texas.)
I love languages, too, and what I especially respected about Elle, is that she has no fear of possibly sounding silly trying to pronounce new words. But of course what do I know? I heard her trying out Armenian expressions, and I only know one expression in Armenian!
These are Elle's answers to my questions.
Elle, what is your story?
I was born and raised in NYC, in The Bronx to be exact. My upbringing wasn’t particularly multicultural; living in a predominantly Black neighborhood, coming from an African-American family with Caribbean heritage on my mother’s side. Even though I grew up in this large melting pot of a city, I wasn’t truly exposed to all of the cultures and languages spoken here until I was a teenager. I started making friends of all different backgrounds and I started traveling to other parts of the world with school. Those experiences opened my eyes and my heart to the differences that exist in the world.
Do you think the Caribbean part of the family opened you to more of the cultures of the world? Did the Caribbean family speak another language, such as Creole?
No, my Caribbean family only speaks English. My mother's side of the family has roots in the Bahamas. When my grandmother and great-grandmother were alive, we had more contact with family and friends and more regular visits to Nassau than we do now. I think that traveling once a year to another country from a young age was one of the big things that piqued my interest in the world and its many destinations. I remember being in the airport perusing the Departures/Arrivals board and how it was constantly flipping over the letters. I was very curious about where people went and came from, and I wanted to go there, too.
2. How did you catch the language bug?
In high school, I studied Latin for 4 years and by the last year, I was truly hooked. I saw the connections between Latin and Romance languages and I knew that I wanted to learn more about these connections. I also love to travel internationally and when I was growing up, my maternal grandmother would always talk to me about French being the international language. She would tell me that if I spoke French, I would be able to be understood everywhere. This meant a lot to me as a girl who knew she wanted to see the world and so I always had the ambition to learn the French language. Somewhere along the way and through my travels, I felt that I was “good at languages”. Now, I wouldn’t classify myself as such but I think I’ve always had an ear for new words and sounds and try my best when it comes to learning languages.
But... why Latin?
Latin was my only option! I was accepted into the honors program at my high school. All of us in the program were required to study Latin as freshmen. The other languages offered were French, Spanish and Italian. After the freshman year, we were allowed to pick another language if we chose to. I stayed in Latin because I liked it, but also because I didn't want to start a year later, and be a year behind in language study (taking freshman Spanish as a sophomore, for example). It took me a few years but I really grew to love it.
3. How did you pursue it?
After high school, I wanted to continue learning Latin in college and unfortunately was discouraged from doing so. However, I began studying Italian not knowing what to expect. I happened to really fall in love with the Italian language and studied it in school for two years. I also took one semester of French before I graduated and hoped it would get me closer to my lifelong dream of learning the language. In the many years as it’s been since college, I’ve traveled to French speaking countries and to Italy and studied French and Italian off and on. Recently, since starting my podcast, I have been making the most serious effort ever to learn French and Italian for advanced proficiency.
4. What are your current occupations?
I’m currently creating the Speaking Tongues Podcast, “the podcast in conversation with multilinguals”. Aside from that I am an artist and freelance marketing professional always looking for new ventures!
5. Are there people in your life from different cultural and/or linguistic backgrounds?
So many! Most of my friends are from different backgrounds from all over the world.
About diverse friends - any special person who stuck out?
I don't think that one person stands out more than the others but I can remember that from the first time I started meeting people from different backgrounds from mine, I just wanted to talk to them about what their lives were like. Sometimes this turned into going to a friend's house for dinner, or going to a restaurant for specific dishes. Sometimes it meant a person bringing me a dessert from their culture that they had made, or sharing a recipe with me that had been in their family for a long time. I know these are a lot of food-related things, but often, a great way to experience culture from afar is through food! That helped me to be more food adventurous and definitely exposed me to flavors I'd have never encountered if I'd stayed in my own neighborhood.
6. Have you travelled abroad? If yes, where to, how long?
Yes, absolutely! I love to travel abroad. I’ve been to four continents and 18 countries. I’ve been traveling abroad my whole life. As a child, we spent time in Nassau, Bahamas during the summer. In my adult life I’ve lived in Italy briefly for a combined total of about 4 months.
7. What are your aims for the future, your hopes (on a personal as well as a grand scale)?
My biggest personal goal is to be able to continue to travel the world. There are so many wondrous places I have yet to see and I’ve been keeping a list! On a grand scale, I hope to grow my podcast and my platform into a resource for the globally curious and anyone who loves language and storytelling!
Elle is on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/speakingtonguespod/
Where can you find her podcasts? At https://linktr.ee/SpeakingTonguesPod
By the way, here is a non-exhaustive list of languages that Speaking Tongues has covered: Albanian, Hindi, Jamaican patois, Burmese, Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Icelandic, Maori, Croatian, Mandarin, Russian... and Italian-American Italian!