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Student Profile: Tony Marsh

By Lieryn Johnson

Photo by Lieryn Johnson

For most Americans, mastering the English language is a major challenge.  We take years of English classes, learning how to speak and write in grammatically correct sentences.  And for what?  We still end up using fragments and beginning sentences with prepositions, even though we (should have) learned better.

But for Tony Marsh, mastering English was just his beginning.  Throughout his 26 years, Marsh, a senior at AU, has lived in eight states due to his father’s career as a pilot.  Currently he lives in Woodridge with his girlfriend of nine years, and their two sons, Jordan, 4, and Lajoie, 2.  So how did this multilingual Spanish major develop a love for languages?

Born in Appleton, Wis., Marsh’s first language is English.  After only taking a year of high school Spanish at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, he credits his fluency to his girlfriend, who is of Mexican and Aztec descent.  He said that when they first met, she spoke almost no English.

Portuguese, for those of you who are not language enthusiasts, is very similar to Spanish.  Marsh said that because of the languages’ similarities, it only took him about two weeks to become fluent.  Of course, it helps if you have the proper environment to practice in.  Marsh did.  After high school, he moved to Brazil (where Portuguese is the official language) to live with his friend, a former foreign exchange student who lived with his family while she was in the U.S.

So what does one do after graduating high school, living abroad and being fluent in three languages?  For Mash, you join the military to learn more.  “I was either 19 or 20 and looking for something to do,” he said.  ‘Something’ was found:  a job as a cryptologic linguist for the U.S. Air Force.  Trained to be fluent in Arabic, after 64 weeks of schooling in Monterey, Calif., Marsh was responsible for “listening to people of interest to get information” and once they got all the necessary facts, the ‘people of interest’ were killed, he explained.

Although not at liberty to talk about what he translated, Marsh admits that his ‘top secret’ job was exciting.  However, four years of deciphering people’s private conversations had taken its toll.  “I had had enough and didn’t want to be in the military anymore.”

Fast forward to present day.  Marsh is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.  And if he wants to show off (as if he’s not already), he can throw in that he speaks a bit of French and Mandarin Chinese.  Marsh said his favorite language to speak is Portuguese because of the syntax and sound.

Marsh teaches Arabic and Spanish about three nights per week at Multilingual Chicago in the Logan Square neighborhood.  His advice to his students:  to think in the target language as opposed to translating every word.

In his free time, when not practicing any of his six languages, Marsh is still learning languages.  His favorite novel is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, in part because the author makes his characters speak a fictional language throughout the book.  Marsh said that on occasion he will reread the book just to brush up on the made up dialect.

And while not in class or teaching or reading, Marsh plays the piano, ukulele and guitar.  He is a self-taught pianist and guitarist (he’s had a few guitar lessons, but swears he’s not classically trained). Marsh talked about being on a spiritual journey, which he compares to St. Augustine, “who received spiritual enlightenment from God” and St. Theresa, “who represents the idea that spiritual pursuits are the most pleasurable.”

Planning to graduate from AU in spring 2012, Marsh will continue to teach Arabic and Spanish.  But long-term, he wants to pursue the connection that he has experienced between language, science and religion.  He said that he wants to document his experiences so they may help other people.  “I want my system of understanding [to be considered by others], and I also need to [continue learning] the languages I do know, and more,” he said.