Music inspired my love of language, and it can for you too

Growing up, I never expected to turn into a translator who is fluent in four languages and learning more.

I never thought English would turn into a lifelong love until I heard the right music.

When I was 11, I hated English. It was my least favorite subject at school after so-called “handicraft,” where boys learned how to handle hammers and screwdrivers, and girls were taught sewing and cooking.

I could not see any difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect tenses. I could not figure out when to use articles and why there were so many irregular verbs that defied all grammar rules. My Mum, who was a doctor and had never been to any English-speaking country, sincerely tried to help by providing me with endless exercises to do at home, but nothing changed. As a last resort, my parents decided to enroll me in an English course, hoping that one day I would go to the UK and impress Londoners with my brilliant linguistic skills.

In the beginning, all of us were quite skeptical about my language-learning abilities. Perhaps, my parents were hoping I would follow their path and become a doctor, all the more so as my favorite book at home was a 3-volume  covering Human anatomy. But good teachers and friendly environments work wonders, so I exceeded their expectations. No tenses gave me shivers any more. No irregular verbs appeared in my nightmares. I am still having issues using articles (since there are none in my native language of Russian), but there is always room for perfection!

Twenty years down the line, I’m working as a translator. I can speak four languages with two more underway.  I am in love with each and every language, and first of all, my own – since it is impossible to be a translator without a proper knowledge of your native language. Grammar rules are not a boring routine for me, but rather a challenge to my intellectual abilities. Each language is like an unexplored land I need to map out. Although I have conquered many peaks, crossed rivers and trodden paths on my map, this land will never be fully explored or discovered, and this is why it is so fascinating.

When I was 14, I developed a passion for Turkish music thanks to a handsome Turkish singer Tarkan, whose songs became popular outside of his country. I was eager to know what his songs were about, which doesn’t seem to be a valid reason for learning any language, but that’s what it was. At that time the only study book I could find in my city of Novosibirsk was a 2-volume edition written by someone who obviously didn’t expect that a teenager would ever read it. Judging by the language he used, it seems like he addressed academicians, but that didn’t intimidate me. Turkish turned out to be a relatively easy language, both in terms of pronunciation and grammar, so after a year I could already keep some conversations. Needless to say that I was diligent enough to finally translate the songs I was so in love with, but I felt like a kid who has just found out that Santa doesn’t exist. Many songs seemed to be a Turkish version of “Oops I did it again”…I guess I expected something more meaningful and wise from the descendants of Ottoman emperors, but it was too late to step back.

My third foreign language was French, which I had to study at the university.  By that time, I had started to see language learning as an adventure…you know, like some people get excited about solving math problems and find pleasure in tackling the difficult parts. Had I not been adventurous enough, weird reading rules (where half of the letters is not pronounced) and complicated grammar would have scared me away. But even that attitude was not enough to take me to another level of language acquisition. I needed something to motivate me, to make me push the boundaries and explore further. And once again, it turned out to be related to music. One year after I started learning French, I came across the Notre-Dame de Paris musical. When the shabbily-dressed poet Gringoire (aka Bruno Pelletier, the Golden Voice of Quebec) opened his mouth and started to sing, my breath was taken away. “With such a voice, one can’t be singing about something banal!” – I thought. Unlike Tarkan, that guy lived up to my expectations. As a result, I enriched my vocabulary, got to know more about Quebec and I still enjoy every written or spoken word of this elegant language same as before.

My linguistic journey is far from being over. I learned some German in school and grew to see a certain unique beauty in its snappy phonetics and even the words that might take you a few minutes to read. I learned to read and to write in Arabic; I wish I could dedicate more time to this complicated yet beautiful language. I want to learn Gaelic – firstly, because it is of Celtic origin and has nothing in common with other languages I know (that’s what you call a challenge!) and secondly because I’ve been to Scotland and left a piece of my heart in this land of heather and misty mountains. Learning gaelic would be like paying tribute to the country where I was so happy. It doesn’t really matter why you want to learn a language, as long as you enjoy the process, because every language makes you a discoverer in a new world where people speak, think and act differently. And only those who’ve been there know what the others are missing out on.