Language Learning and Old Age
Language Learning and Old Age has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. The original video was published on July 20. 2012
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here again. Today I want to do a video about language learning and old age. I’m doing this because I received a comment on my YouTube channel from a gentleman in, gee, I think it was Peru, but somewhere in Latin America, who said that he was very encouraged by my videos, that he was interested in learning English and that he was 75 years old.
Perhaps, I should also say that I had dinner with a family of recent immigrants from China and their 12-year-old son. They were very keen that the son should not only speak English very well, but that he should learn other languages. They sort of seemed to feel that they were too old to do it and they were probably in their mid 40s. In my own case, since the age of 55 I’ve become very interested in learning more and more languages, so let’s just look at this issue of language learning and age.
First of all, I can say as someone who is going to be 67 in October that I don’t feel any older than I did 30 years ago. I mean yeah, in a way my body. If I go jogging for too long I get stiffer than I did before, but I don’t really feel very different. I know that I look different. I looked much younger 30 years ago, even 20 years ago. That’s fine, but I’m the same person. We can only live our life in the present, that’s the only time we actually live it. We can prepare for things in the future, but we can only really enjoy the moment.
Yeah, we can enjoy anticipation, as well. I guess as you get older you’ve got less things to anticipate in terms of the number of years in front of you, but in terms of living your day-to-day life I don’t feel that it makes much difference. So if I look at the enjoyment I get from learning languages, I mean when I listen to my Russian radio, when I read in Russian and now in Czech, when I’m discovering so much about the lives and the history of people in the Czech Republic or the history of Czechoslovakia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when I talk to my Czech tutors through Skype, when I’m able to listen to these daily interviews, ________, for example, where they’re talking to different people, I’m able to follow exactly what they say. In some instances, I listen and read at the same time and, essentially, I know every word there. Sometimes I don’t understand it, but the enjoyment is tremendous.
When I go to Prague in October, not only will I be able to communicate with people, read the signs, read the newspapers, understand what people are saying, I will have much more knowledge about the history of the country, the history of the city, the different buildings, the national theater, whatever it might be, Charles Bridge, who was Charles the IV, all this kind of stuff. It is so rewarding and it doesn’t matter whether you’re 35, 55, 65, 75 or 85. I have a friend who is 83 and he’s studying Spanish and he loves doing it. He reads Spanish novels or Latin-American novels.
It’s interesting the perspective we have on age. I remember when I was working for a large company here in Vancouver at the age of say 30, whatever I was, mid 30s, we had a vice president, I guess, he was 53 and he used to go kayaking in the ocean and I thought wow, that’s amazing for someone 53. Well, I’m 67 almost, 66, I go kayaking in the ocean. I certainly don’t think that our brain cells…there is, undoubtedly, some deterioration. I’m no expert on the physiology of the body, but I’ve been less than a year on Czech and I understand a lot.
I’m doing great with my Czech. I think I’ve learned it faster than any other language, given the time that I’ve spent on it. Granted, I had the Russian beforehand. But if you say Russian and Czech, I’m into this Slavic world that was never a part of anything I understood before and now I’m able to be conversant with it, understand it and understand some of the issues. When I finish that I’m going to go back to Korean and bring my Korean up to a decent level. It just gives you so much.
It really doesn’t matter, every minute that I’m involved with these languages I’m deriving tremendous enjoyment and when I encounter people, again like last night with these Chinese people, to speak in Chinese for the whole evening is a great sense of enjoyment. Obviously that’s a language that I learned 40 years ago, but if I had an opportunity to spend an evening with some Russian people or Czech people then I’d have that sense of enjoyment and achievement. So, to me, it doesn’t matter what age you are.
Now, because I’m not an expert I can’t really get into the subject of how learning foreign languages is good for the brain and staves off Alzheimer’s and so forth. It’s possibly true, I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s good for the brain to continue to challenge the brain. I also am quite convinced from my reading that when the brain is challenged and then is able to cope with the challenge, overcome the obstacles and achieve certain things, the brain has a sense of satisfaction. That has to be healthy. It has to be healthy in the same sense as exercising is healthy and, of course, I also exercise physically.
So I guess the point of all this is to say that we often think of language learning as something that kids are better at and, in many ways, in terms of quickly assimilating a new accent and new phraseology the kids seem to have less resistance to change and, therefore, they adapt to the new language more quickly. But we can all do it. It’s not something that should be reserved for kids. It’s not something that’s reserved for any particular age. There’s no reason why people of any age, including older people whatever that means. Is 50 older, 60 older, 70, 80? Whatever the age, I think there is tremendous enjoyment that we can achieve from language learning and it’s never too late to start.
So thanks to the gentleman in Peru, I think it was Peru, who commented on one of my Spanish videos. Perhaps I should do the video also in Spanish and send it to him, but good for him at 75. I hope to be with him 10 years from now and he’ll, presumably, be on another language when he’s 85.
So thanks for listening, bye for now.