In September 2007 – at the age of 60 – I enrolled in a 20 week refresher course in Conversational Irish (Ghaeilge Labhartha) at University College Cork. Many of my generation were alienated towards the Irish language, because it was compulsory to learn it in school, where it was often taught in an ineffective and harsh manner. I attended an Irish speaking school, The North Monastery, and thanks to some enlightened teachers, I developed a life long interest in the Irish language. I was a fluent Irish speaker when I completed my secondary education in 1964.
Also, I spent several summer holidays in Irish speaking Gaeltacht areas, where I experienced it as a living language and appreciated Gaeilge as an important part of our cultural identity, as expressed in music, stories and dance. English is the everyday language of Ireland, so I have had very few opportunities to speak Irish since leaving school.
I’m telling you this story for two reasons. First as an example of a retirement hobby, and secondly because of my interest in life long learning.
Participating in this course has brought me in contact with a new “tribe” and learning community. I use the word tribe deliberately to describe a social grouping, which comes together for a common purpose, and who share a common interest. How many tribes do you belong to? I’m a Toastmaster, a golfer, a hillwalker, a Rotarian and an Irish speaker, for example. In each of those roles I may be perceived as having a different identity.
I got the gift of a love of learning from my parents, some teachers and mentors – and it is a gift, because those who love learning are more likely to persevere and receive positive feedback from tutors and peers. I like learning new skills, even though it can be challenging and frustrating to gain mastery. Learning keeps me young at heart, because I associate learning with being young, and it has positive health benefits including delaying cognitive decline.
Is there something you would like to learn? Or refresh? A sport? A language? Dancing? Or music? Maybe you are hesitant to try because you’ve heard that “you can’t teach and old dog new tricks.”
It’s true that learning to do new things is more difficult as you get older, because it’s harder to break habits and let go of the old way of doing things. Prior to my early fifties, all my writing was done with paper and pencil. At work I would write out a memo or letter and give it to a typist. This was a tedious process, especially for the secretary, who had to interpret my script. Tedious but comfortable, it was a long standing habit.
When I first started to use a PC, about ten years ago, I found that it created a barrier that made my creative writing difficult. But I persevered and now I would find it unthinkable to return to the old way. The word processor has added greatly to my efficiency and to my enjoyment of writing. It makes rewriting and reorganising so easy. I’m sure glad I learnt that “new trick”!
We are all born learners and learning is easy under certain conditions. Let me use my conversational Irish course as an example:
I am motivated to learn Irish because I see it as an important part of my heritage. I believe I can learn it, because I have reference experiences of doing similar things. I have an excellent tutor whose teaching style is entertaining and encouraging. Some of my classmates are excellent models of the skill I am developing. And, unlike my schooldays, I have the opportunity to practice without worrying about making mistakes.
If there is something important to you that you would like to learn, or a skill you would like to develop, I suggest you find a suitable coach/tutor, locate a learning environment of supportive peers, believe that you can – and enjoy yourself!