Friday thought #70 Are we ever too old to learn new skills?

It has been said that, ‘Continuing to learn well into adulthood is beneficial to health and happiness.’ But despite the obvious benefits of continued learning, the vast majority of people will never have the opportunity to experience this enhanced health and happiness,  because once you finish your formal education, learning becomes optional rather than compulsory. For most people, learning is what you do at school, and once all that necessity is behind them they are quite happy to potter on through life enjoying what they already have. And of course there is nothing wrong with that, but the positive effects of continued learning are difficult to ignore.

To start with there are clear health benefits, indeed it has been found that adults who keep both body and brain active are far less likely to develop illnesses such as dementia in later life. And anyone who has committed to taking up a new skill as an adult can surely attest to the positive effects on wellbeing and attitude. These could be things as small as taking a cookery class, joining a yoga group, or learning a new language, and it doesn’t have to be just for those who have recently retired! For some, formal education finishes at 16, and there is a great deal of life still ahead to simply sit and stagnate!

Of course learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby requires time, effort, motivation and the determination to succeed, or at least to give it your best shot. It’s too easy to just sit back and carry on with what you already know. After all, how many people need another language? What’s the point of taking a painting class? What is there to be gained from learning how to play the guitar? But it isn’t all about the end result, why does there always need to be a logical reason? Why not just “because I want to”?, or “because you’re never too old to keep learning”?

Having recently moved to Austria with absolutely zero German abilities, I have started learning a new language from scratch. At the same time I decided that after many many years of wishing I could play the piano, I am also now taking lessons, as a complete beginner! At first both were very difficult, and many times I considered giving up. After all, nobody needs to play an instrument, or speak more than one language, and being an adult you have many more pressing things to do than practice piano. But perseverance is the key, and from the simple act of learning, and ultimately improving, comes such a wonderful feeling of achievement and a great sense of wellbeing. It makes you realise that you haven’t really learnt anything for such a long time, and I mean really learnt, from not being able to say a word, to making yourself understood and forming whole sentences. Or from being able to cobble together chopsticks on a keyboard, to reading music, playing chords and putting together proper tunes.

It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am so glad that I finally got round to doing these things. With all the pressures and stresses of life it is so easy to continually put it off. “Maybe next year”, “I don’t have time at the minute”… etc etc. I can speak from personal experience here that we should never stop learning. To plateau is to get bored, and as they say, variety is the spice of life. Don’t just think about it, do it!

Top Reasons to Learn a Language Abroad


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