The Benefits of Learning a Language in Mid-Life
Learning a New Language Transformed My Life
I grew up in Southern California where Spanish is commonly used. However, I chose to learn French in school because of my French surname. I used French only twice in my life for two six-week trips to Europe, during and after college. After twenty years of teaching middle school and high school, I decided to teach in a Latino elementary school for a completely different experience. Needless to say, my life has been wonderfully transformed.
Learning Spanish was always on my bucket list; but, being a teacher in the Mexican-American part of town, speaking Spanish became an asset. My Mexican students and their families touched me deeply in many ways: Mexican traditions brought me closer to my own family roots; I felt more appreciated as a teacher; and, my Latino students respected me with unconditional love. I find me exploding into myself when I speak Spanish. The rhythm and fluidity of Spanish better reflect the emotions of my exuberant personality.
During my thirteen years of teaching in a Mexican community, I accomplished more than I could have imagined in any other teaching position. I established a schoolwide, yearly folkloric dance celebration as a result of taking folkloric dance lessons from a professional troupe in Sacramento. I started a 501c3 tutoring program enlisting high school Latino boys to tutor our struggling Latino elementary boys. I wrote grants and held fundraisers to award the high school tutors with start-up college scholarships. And, I wrote the children’s book Manuel’s Murals as a love letter to my Latino students and their families. Lastly, I even found deeper evidence of my Hispanic roots on an ancestry site. I was born to be a Latina.
Learning a Second Language Keeps the Middle-Aged Mind Flexible and Fluid
I took Spanish I, II, and III at local community colleges, competing with much younger students. I never dipped below an A in any class because older learners are much more motivated. I attend Spanish schools in Mexico and California regularly. I also have a weekly Spanish tutor. I watch Spanish telenovelas to keep the sound of Spanish in the forefront of my mind. An unexpected bonus is when I am called on to interpret for a Spanish speaker while attending to errands in town. One must practice a second language constantly in his or her daily life in order to transfer this new knowledge into the long-term portion of the mature brain. It’s not always easy to recall Spanish in perfect form, but it definitely challenges my mind.
Being Bilingual Opens Up New Opportunities in Retirement
Since my retirement began four years ago, I have been a paid Spanish tutor and interpreter. This keeps me close to the young people I love and keeps my skills current. There are many, many part-time job opportunities for people who speak more than one language. Doing something you love in retirement actually increases your life span. No one elects to feel bored and useless after a lifetime of working as a productive citizen. There is a great need for bilingual workers in many languages, no matter what your age.
Immersing Oneself in Another Culture Opens Up the World
I can’t imagine not knowing the wonderful people I have met through my Spanish studies and trips to Mexico and Central America. Every year, I attend a Spanish language school with people from all over the world in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sharing cultural experiences keeps me feeling young, vibrant, important and useful. Once I found the Hispanic parts of me (my maternal grandfather’s family immigrated from Spain), I finally felt whole. Before I learned Spanish, I was continually searching for that something that connected me to the world. Now I can truly be an ambassador for Spanish speaking nations.
As an Ambassador to the World, Racial Misunderstandings Diminish
I wish I had the space in this article to share all the glorious ways speaking Spanish broke down stereotypic barriers between me, as an American, and every Mexican I have ever known in Mexico and in the United States. I have made lasting friendships, which gives me a chance to write about the kind people and beautiful traditions of Mexico in blogs, articles, online magazines and writing contests. I even won a fiction writing contest about the hardships of being an immigrant. It pains me to see how so many cultures are degraded from people who run our government because they know so little about the world. I believe we can break those barriers, one American at a time.
Speaking Another Language Boosts One's Gravitas
Plain and simple- being bilingual is fun! When I speak Spanish to people in the community, I always get that double look, as if they are saying, I would have never guessed that this white woman would know Spanish. The many reactions are fun; and, I invariably make a new friend. It makes me feel good to know that I can open up channels of communication that would otherwise be closed to me.
In this divisive time in our nation, it is much too common to pit one political belief against another. We see the deleterious effects of this in our relations with other countries. One way to begin healing is to make a conscious effort to learn as much as possible about other cultures and to share that knowledge with the world.
And so I say to each of my readers, “Gracias por su atencion y tiempo a este articulo.”