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Tamara Smith pursues multilingualism

Photo courtesy of Tamara Smith
Tamara Smith poses in front of the Olympics symbol. Smith pursues multilingualism in various forms.

Early years 

World Language and Cultures Teacher Tamara Smith said her teaching profession began in Grade 9, long before she earned her teaching license, where she volunteered at a public school in Hartford, Connecticut that lacked funding for its language program.

After learning French in Grade 6, Smith said she wanted to expand her knowledge of the language by teaching other kids. As she fell in love with the language, Smith said she realized her passion to pursue teaching as a career. 

“Twice a week, I would go into a really fabulous inner city school and do French with elementary school kids,” Smith said. “I realized through that volunteer teaching that it’s something I really wanted to do.”

Smith said she was first interested in languages when she was 3-years-old while watching the 1976 Olympics on TV with her family.

In addition to French, Smith can now speak Spanish, Italian, Russian and some German. She has taught at multiple schools in the U.S. and a school in Moscow, where she lived for eight years.

She said her fluency in these languages has enabled her to communicate with locals and gain a deeper understanding of different countries and their cultures.

Smith says learning and applying a language allows her to “go beyond the superficial,” and helps her “get to know people.”

“So much of visiting a country and learning about a culture relies on communication with local people,” Smith said.

Ice skating 

Smith said her family’s interest in the Olympics encouraged her to take up ice skating. Smith began her skating journey in Grade 9, which she said also deepened her interest in linguistics.

“Through my family’s passion for the Winter Olympics, I got more interested in skating, and I became a skater myself,” Smith said. “My fascination in Russian started really at that point because so many of the incredible figure skaters that I admired growing up were Russian.”

Although they appear to be two completely different hobbies, Smith said ice skating and learning foreign languages are very much connected. 

“Skating was an entry point for seeing how language is actually about culture, international understanding and expression,” Smith said. “It helped me to see from the very start that studying a language wasn’t something that just happened in a classroom – it was something with real-world application that could be really exciting.”

Tamara Smith spoke on the Today Show at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. She was interviewed on the importance of linguistics and her volunteer work as a team assistant for the National Olympic Committee team.

Smith said she developed an eating disorder due to the certain body types that ice skating perpetuates. She said linguistics aided her recovery because being able to speak another language facilitated self-expression, a struggle Smith had been battling.

“I was at a point in my life when I was searching so desperately to figure out how to express myself in my own native language, and being able to little by little express myself in another language was so empowering that it ended up having a real transformative effect,” Smith said. “It made me love languages for how it changed my life.”

Smith continued skating and began competing in high school. However, she injured her kneecap in Grade 9 and now only skates for enjoyment. 

Smith said she has remained connected with the Olympics. In the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, Smith volunteered as a National Olympic Committee team assistant. She has just registered for the same role in the Paris Summer Olympics 2024.


Smith said her Grade 8 teacher also transformed her understanding and view of linguistics.

“If I hadn’t had the teacher that I had in eighth and ninth grade, I believe I would have gone through life thinking that I couldn’t learn languages,” Smith said. “My life would have taken a very, very different path.”

Smith said her relationship with this teacher both helped her overcome her eating disorder and develop a deeper appreciation for French. 

“It was the communication back and forth with her that really helped me to get on a path to getting over my eating disorder,” Smith said. “So, I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever come into the classroom forgetting how, for me, it wasn’t just a language, it also saved my life.

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About the Contributor
Tara Behbehani
Tara Behbehani, Opinions Editor: Online
Tara Behbehani ('25) is the Opinions Editor: Online of The Standard. Behbehani’s passion for reading and writing urged her to take a journalism course. Aside from The Standard, Behbehani is on the debate team and co-leads the Interfaith and Dialogue club.

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