By Lee Noles
The basic hello or goodbye might be the extent for most when it comes to speaking a foreign language, but that isn’t the case for Zach Montana.
The recent Weddington High School graduate has mastered German and Chinese and is fluent enough in French and Spanish that he can speak the languages at a comfortable level.
“A lot of languages have unique features that are exotic to my ears,” Montana said. “A foreign language isn’t just English with the words flip-flopped. You can convey it in a completely different way.”
The passion started in middle school when Montana asked his parents for a Russian dictionary after seeing a James Bond movie that featured a scene where the language was written.
Although he knows the basics in Russian, he fell in love with German after taking a class as a freshman at Weddington. Daniel Sellner taught the class. Montana enjoyed how the curriculum was arranged so everyone grasped the language on a variety of levels. Because the European dialect is divided into masculine, feminine and neutral pronunciations, Sellner helped the class categorize the words by separating a page into three sections.
“He was so well organized, and he liked to use the language in class,” said Montana, who has taken an honors class in German. “I think it was also his approach to grammar. … He was so enthusiastic about it.”
Montana was hooked and Chinese followed. He is now strong enough in the language, he can converse with waiters and staff when he eats at Chinese restaurants.
“One person at a restaurant said to me, ‘Oh, you speak Mandarin Chinese better than my daughter does,” said Montana, who has three years of the language at Weddington.
Montana’s passion for Mandarin had him enrolling in a camp the previous two summers funded by the federal government. The camp’s focus is to increase the number of U.S. citizens who speak and teach a variety of foreign languages. Students who attended the classes were immersed in Mandarin and exclusively spoke the language during the three weeks except during lunch.
Stacey Montana is the first to admit her son didn’t get his passion for foreign language from her as a few French classes during high school was the closest she came to speaking it.
“I just did that because I was required to,” Stacey said.
She thinks part of it came from husband Matthew’s side of the family. Zach’s aunt speaks Greek, Italian, French, Spanish and Farsi-a language spoken in Iran. Montana’s cousins can also speak Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. The family members regularly converse when they get together at summer reunions in New Jersey.
Wesley Kennedy taught German to Montana for the last two years and sees the hard work and talent he possesses for learning a new language.
“He definitely has an aptitude for language,” Kennedy said. “And a lot of it has come on his own. He used to watch a lot of YouTube videos on languages. There were a lot of times I would come in with a lesson and he already knew a lot of what I was teaching. So, it was definitely hard work and aptitude combined.”
The experiences of learning a variety of languages from his teachers influenced Montana to follow in their footsteps as he hopes to become a professor by majoring in German at UNC Charlotte.
“I would love to share it with somebody who wants to learn that stuff,” Montana said. “To do that as a career, I would love it.”