Retirement: Time to learn a new language

February 24, 2010

Retirement frequently gives us the time to try new things or to visit anew things we may have tried in the past but found less than fully satisfying.

My pitch here is for the study of another language.

The high school I attended required that I take four years of Latin and three years of another language, in my case, French.  I did not appreciate at the time how valuable these courses, in particular Latin, would be for many aspects of my life including my understanding of English.  My college, which strongly supported a classical education, required further study of a modern language which for me was Russian.  I appreciated Russian even less than I did my high school Latin and French, but I labored on and eventually was able to read short stories by Gogol and Turgenev.  Upon completion of my undergraduate work, I was sure my language studies were behind me.

As my business career developed, oral and written communications played an ever increasing role in helping me achieve the objectives I set for myself.  And I gradually came to an appreciation of the value the language education had provided in preparing me for the workplace: the effective use of communication, understanding of other cultures and ways of thinking, even the discipline of working the different grammars, vocabularies and idioms into my brain.  As Vermont Royster said, “What is involved (in learning a new language) is a process in which the study … gives a person an understanding of the nature of language itself, a sense of structure that is difficult to acquire from studying one’s own familiar language. Any new language forces us to think why…we need to do what we do to express ourselves clearly. “So, a tip of my hat to the Christian Brothers and others who designed my education.

But now my corporate life is behind me and I am enjoying learning a new language: Italian.

Why learn a new language now?  There are many good reasons for doing so, among them:

  • Broadening your cultural and intellectual horizons.
  • Improving your understanding of literature, film and music.
  • Building new friendships.
  • Ordering food and beverages.
  • Stimulating your brain and helping with conceptualization and flexible thinking.
  • Connecting with people and culture when you travel.
  • Reading road signs and maps while traveling in other countries.

For me, it is about all of the above, but people who are concerned about keeping their brains sharp as they grow older, might want to focus on the claims of neuroscientists who see learning a new language as a highly effective way of exercising our neural pathways and building new ones.  Dr. Andrew Weil says: “You don’t have to master it.  Just the attempt to learn a language is like running different software through the brain. You’re exercising more communication channels in the brain.”

If you are interested, how do you get started? You can begin simply with a basic course to see if you like it.  Many towns, schools and colleges offer introductory or conversational courses.  There are also tape, CD and DVD programs as well as web sites (some of them free).  Two free sites you may find helpful are: and

I have taken community-based courses, used DVD programs (including Rosetta Stone, which is excellent in my view, but not inexpensive), CDs, textbooks and dual-language short stories.  I also translate Italian news from newspapers and the web and watch Italian movies.  I also get to practice during occasional visits to Italy.  There are many ways today to keep learning a new language fun and interesting (and so much better than grinding my way through the Russian 101 textbook!).

È ora di imparare una nuova lingua!

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2010 R.K. Price