I learned a new language at the age of 70 – I spend an hour every day practising
‘Guten Morgen!’ I say to my husband after waking up, wishing him good morning before getting up to potter about.
Settling back in bed with a cuppa, I open my phone, as is my routine!
But instead of replying to texts, reading the news or scrolling mindlessly through socials like everyone else seems to, I do something entirely different.
I practise my German, the first foreign language I’ve learned since school – and I’m 70!
I first dived into the language two years ago, when my daughter Locotea was learning it – it was her way of destressing while studying for a PhD.
She was singing the praises of this free app she was using, Duolingo, and suggested I should give it a try. Recently retired from my job as a telephonist in a bank, I found myself bored – wishing for a new hobby, something to help keep my brain active.
But I remember hating learning languages at school – I just couldn’t do it. Trying to figure out the difference between feminine and masculine during French lessons was torture. It all went out of the window when I left school, and I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the right brain to learn a new language.
Now I was coming up to 70, surely I’d struggle even more because of my age? Locotea was an extremely intelligent girl, and a lot younger than me, I just felt… too old.
But I did it, just to see what the fuss was about. I won’t lie, after downloading it back in January 2021, I nearly gave up at the first hurdle. For the first few days, learning about terms for ‘family’, I felt so confused – silly for saying these alien words aloud to myself. It just felt so unnatural to me.
‘I can’t do this,’ I thought, after just a week – but I persevered, with my husband and daughter regularly congratulating me for completing another day, or another level.
After two weeks, it suddenly clicked – and I got it. I started to realise that much of German was said in the opposite way to English. For example, instead of: ‘Do you like to sing?’, it’s: ‘Singst du gern?’
German uses less words than English, too. Instead of: ‘Nice to meet you, I’m Elena,’ it’s as short as: ‘Freit mich ich heibe Elena’.
I discovered that, actually, I was really quite good at it – often achieving 95% on a good week. Since then, I haven’t missed a single day – not even when I’ve been on holiday, or been unwell.
Now, each morning, I get up – do a few stretches, before returning to bed with a brew and I ‘Deutsch sprechen’ between 8am and 9am. It’s part of my routine now, and I couldn’t start my day without it.
I do it for fun, and enjoyment – it makes me feel good, knowing I’ve worked both my body and brain before 9am! Some people want to be top of the leaderboard (I have been in the top three five times!) – but I’m not about that at all.
It seems to be working wonders on my brain, too, as my husband says I’m sharper because of it. I’ve managed to keep a notebook of everything I’ve learned, too – and I’ve found that my memory is so much better now than it was when I was younger.
Since starting, I now know the German words for colours, furniture, restaurants and ordering food – and now I’m getting on to the hard stuff like words for ‘excuse me’ (‘entschuldigung’) , ‘repeat’ (‘wiederholen’) and even ‘headache’ (‘kopftschmerzen’).
I’m not fluent, by any means – I think that’ll take me about four years – but I could hold my own if I was to visit Germany. I can order a drink, pay the bill and ask for directions, for example – what more do you need?!
I’ve even managed to convince my younger sister in America to learn German, too – as well as a friend of mine, Lynne (who’s also in her seventies!), so I have people to chat with. They’re loving it just as much as me.
This Christmas, I’m hoping to visit Munich’s Christmas markets, to practise my newfound skills – ordering a mulled wine, or two! I’m feeling a little nervous about it, but once I’m there, I’m sure I’ll soon get into the swing of things.
Since learning a new language at my age, I feel so much more confident. I’m not bored, or part of the background – I have a new lease of life. I don’t even think of myself as 70 anymore, because of what I’ve achieved these last two years. I’m certainly not what people imagine a stereotypical septuagenarian to be!
Now, I feel unstoppable – I’ve even said to my husband that I want to wingwalk. Anything feels possible to me now!
If you put your mind to it, and keep your brain active, you can do anything – regardless of age.
You can do it! Or as the Germans would say: ‘du schaffst das!’
Age is Just a Number
Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.
Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.
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