by Theodora Papapanagiotou
Nikos is one of my most diligent students. He always brings his books, notebooks, well-sharpened pencils and has always studied before our lesson. In fact, he even tells me the synonyms of the words he has as spelling homework. And he always has his questions written in columns and in colour on the last sheet of his notebook.
Every teacher’s dream? Maybe. But Nikos is not an ordinary student. He is 72 years old, retired, though he has such a great appetite for life compared to most people of his age in my country. He has been through a hard time during his youth. He could not study. He has not even graduated from high school. What about foreign languages? “I didn’t need it back then, my girl,” he tells me. “We were just trying to survive.” The years passed, and he was able to support his family, to care for his children. And now? “How many hours can you spent in the kafeneio* (Greek type of café especially for senior citizens)?” , he tells me.
And we began English lessons. Many times I have to explain again and again and most of the time, Nikos doesn’t understand grammar. And this is because he was never taught at school, since he didn’t attend school in his youth.. But the good mood and the smile and the motivation that he has, overcome all difficulties. Many say that everything should be done in a certain lifetime and that we should not even deal with the lessons when we are older. But why should it be so? Why should an age group be excluded from learning, exercising and having fun?
Learning a foreign language may not be as easy as the years go by, but it is beneficial for brain health. Moreover, the plasticity of the brain may decrease over the years and we may not be able to learn as fast as a small child, but an adult certainly possesses more vocabulary, more knowledge and experience and can certainly make better correlations compared to a child and adapt more easily in different situations and actually use the language. I take my dad as an example. He used to be an engineer at big commercial ships, travelling all over the world. My dad taught himself at least 5 different languages as an adult using dictionaries, just because he felt the need to communicate. This proves the theory that older people can actually make it.
Learning a new thing, the foreign language in our case, helps in the practice of memory, in the delay of related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc. Learning a language later in life is more rewarding because it requires more effort, And who says that learning a foreign language is just reading and effort? It is a new occupation, it can be combined with stories, videos, music, games and new acquaintances. Why don’t you dare to do it?
Theodora Papapanagiotou, EFL/ DaF teacher, Speaker, Editor, Blogger
Thanks to Heloisa Duarte for her help with this article.