By Duffy Jamieson
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
“Polyglot” is not a word typically used to describe someone. For Ines Eley, the newly hired human resources specialist at Camp Johnson, who has mastered seven languages and dialects, it suits her well. Born in the Republic of Congo, and educated in Senegal and France, Eley has a natural ability for learning languages.
Not surprisingly, her multilingual talents only tell part of her story. Eley was born in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, a city with a population of approximately 1.7 million people. It was the one-time capital of Free France during World War II. When Eley group up there, it was known for its vibrant music scene where nearly every street made room for musicians.
At age 17, Eley went to live with her uncle’s family in another capital city: Dakar, Senegal. She was already speaking three Congolese dialects at the time, but quickly learned Wolof, the most spoken Senegalese dialect, within a few months. Walking through Dakar’s lively markets and hearing its pulsating music, Eley realized she had a passion for languages, culture, and traveling.
It’s no wonder that about a year later she attended an undergraduate program in Paris. Already comfortable with French, she was ready to tackle German. She enrolled in an international exchange program for a year in Austria where she attended the University in Graz. During her time there, she assimilated into the Austrian culture, made friends, and subscribed to as many newspapers as she could. Within a few months she was speaking German.
By the time she returned to France, she was fully bilingual in French and German and still able to speak four African dialects. In France, she worked as an account representative for a local company before deciding that she needed to learn English. From her previous experiences, she knew the fastest way to learn a language would be to live within its people and culture. Before long, she found herself packing again to head to Chicago.
A career in human resources only made sense. After all, Eley had spent a lifetime immersing herself in different cultures, making new friends, and listening patiently to learn from others. She decided to make it her bachelor’s degree minor for these very reasons. Devastated after the events of 9/11, she realized just how much she loved the United States. On July 19, 2012, Eley became a citizen.
If you ask Eley, though, she will tell you that in heart, “home” will always be France. Sadly, her father recently passed in Paris, where her mother, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles still live. She still has the occasional bouts of homesickness, but she balances those feelings with the joys of new discoveries, like moving to Vermont. She looks forward to a post-pandemic time when she can visit her family in France and put her many languages back into use. With a lifetime of adventures, being monolingual just doesn’t make sense.