The Hungry Polyglot
An undergraduate who just can’t stop learning languages
Elliott Tardif “cleaned up” at the Festival of Foreign Language in Voronezh, Russia. Earlier this year, the Russian major from Londonderry competed with foreign students from roughly 30 Russian universities for prizes that recognize excellence in Russian language through written tests and creative expression. Tardif won top awards for poetry reading, singing, and acting. He was part of a team that won the competition overall.
A multilingual—and clearly multitalented—senior at UNH, Tardif studied at the Pushkin State Institute of Russia last academic year. Tardif also speaks German and to sharpen those skills he is currently studying in Germany. The lure of a new language, Swedish, will take him to that Scandinavian country for his final term this spring. But wait, there’s more. Tardif entered UNH with a solid handle on both French and Spanish and he’s studied Chinese, too.
Elliot Tardif in Voronezh, Russia, with a Colombian and a Nigerian friend after Tardif's final concert
Tardif clearly has a passion for languages. He traces that affinity back to a time when he first realized just how many languages are spoken all over the world.
“Once I started studying Spanish, I learned that there are millions, and then I later realized billions, of people out there who speak in all these different codes,” says Tardif. “These are people that I couldn't talk to unless I learned their codes for speech, so I got really interested in that idea.”
“Once you start learning two or three languages, you want to learn more, because you know you can,” he reflects.
And he’s very good at it.
“Elliot is the most talented language learner I have taught in my more than 40 years of teaching,” says associate professor of Russian Aleksandra Fleszar. “He is the proverbial ‘language sponge.’ What others take a lifetime to learn, he mastered in two short years.”
Tardif’s goal for his study abroad experiences this year is to immerse himself in foreign languages, the more the better. But despite his focus on the foreign, his destination upon graduation next year is solidly American. He hopes to move to New York City and eventually enter law school.
“The legal profession is just a natural extension of my skills,” notes Tardif. “I work with language, and that’s what lawyers do.” Plus, he admits, he wants a lucrative career.
Tardif seems to take his global adventures and successes in stride. He is calm, confident, measured in speech, and steady in delivery.
Has anything rattled this accomplished young man? Well, he has had at least one scare in his travels: his own cooking.
“When I arrived in Russia, it was the first time I'd ever had to really fend for myself in terms of food, so it was very scary the first couple of weeks. I had to cook and I am not an impressive cook,” says Tardif.
He eventually figured out a few meals he could make successfully and stuck to those: Russian “baloney” and mustard sandwiches, and soups made from prepackaged mixes with canned vegetables and sliced hot dogs thrown in.
“And eggs, eggs, eggs, eggs,” he says. “Almost every day, I ate hard-boiled eggs or hotdogs. Fellow students used to make fun of me because every time I entered the communal kitchen, they would ask: ‘What do you have there?” I would say ‘nothing.’ But it was two hotdogs and three eggs, every time.”
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