The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Portrait: The saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, … has been proven wrong.”

Posted on December 5, 2016 by

Hans

New from our series of Babbel Portraits: here, our users introduce themselves and their experiences learning a language. If you would like to share your experiences with us, then please leave a comment below.

 

“My wife died in 2009 after 35 years of marriage. She spoke fluent French and Italian, and I always felt stupid and speechless standing next to her when she was chatting away. On my many trips abroad, I had always been able to communicate very well in English. As I never managed to learn other languages in the time I shared with my wife, I thought that I could best confront feelings of sadness and injured vanity by beginning to learn French and Italian intensively with Babbel. Perhaps it is a little too late to start learning at the age of 67, but the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has been proven wrong.”

The Austrian, Hans Semmelmeyer, has created something positive out of the grief of losing his wife to accomplish something that he had been putting off for years. We all know that feeling: We want to try out new things, set ourselves specific goals, but often something holds us back from doing it, and we try to find excuses and circumstances which have stopped us from doing it until now. No time for that trip to the Amazon? Fear of bungee jumping? Feeling ashamed in a dancing group — no sense of rhythm? Not enough self-confidence to speak a new language? That’s a real shame! Why not try out everything in small steps?

It is never too late to change

Everyone puts something off for whatever reason. In Hans Semmelmeyer’s case, it was learning languages. Although he has been to Paris about 70 to 80 times, he never found the time and had no pressure to learn the language. After the death of his wife, who fluently mastered French and Italian, he finally got down to it and wanted to learn. At first he tried a French course at an adult community center. “That was not systematic and fast enough and was too much like a casual chit-chat for me,” he says. Hans Semmelmeyer then searched the Internet to find a way of learning both languages tailored to his individual requirements. And that is how he stumbled upon Babbel.

Since then, he has developed his own ritual when learning: “Early in the morning I first always read the news and look at the weather before learning one of the languages with Babbel for 15 to 20 minutes. At the beginning, I had to get used to incorporating learning into my morning ritual for the first few times, but now something is missing if I don’t learn,” he says. “It does not take a lot of effort for me learning languages and, in fact, I miss it when I don’t learn.”

Seeing the light on the horizon

When Hans Semmelmeyer finally managed to learn French and Italian intensively, he got a lot more out of it than he initially thought he would. Before his first trip to France, he spent three months learning French. The languages have opened up other worlds for him. Using Babbel, he was able to immerse himself in both languages and use them in practice shortly thereafter.

Hans had his first sense of achievement in France after learning the language. He was hiking there, when a group of ladies approached him: “It was a great feeling to be able to communicate with them in their language; we simply spoke with one another in French.” Hans Semmelmeyer’s favorite word in French is chef-d’œuvre (masterpiece”) and in Italian ventiquattrore (“briefcase”), which literally translates as “24 hours.” At the moment he is learning French every day to refresh his knowledge for his next trip to France. Next year he will learn Italian again because he will be going to Rome. Learning vocabulary is a high priority for him.

“Now at 73, I like travelling frequently to France and Italy and am able to converse quite well in the national languages. And, I admit, I am quite proud of it! Well, when you are happy, you like to share this happiness, and when you are sad, you want to deal with it on your own,” says Hans Semmelmeyer.

 

Comments

This is such a great story Hans. Really inspiring! I studied Spanish for 12 years and now I am living here I am learning Italian with a trip booked to Rome in April! Think its great to learn new languages to communicate with other people!

Well done, Hans!!!
I’m a devoted fan of learning language on my own… And I did it before Internet was even thought off! :-)
Keep up the spirit… and the learning!!!

Well done Hans!
I too stumbled upon Babbel while searching language sites.
Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of French courses at adult community centres, mainly because I ran French Clubs for children, 16 in fact.
But I could speak very little French! I bought a franchise from Le Club Francais which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Now, at 69 I’ve renewed my interest in the French language.
So glad I found Babbel!

Having lost my wife 2 years ago I decided to take up languages with the Open university here in the UK to help me pass the long evenings. I have worked and travelled extensivly in Europe and spoke good German and Passable French. At 67 I dont think it is too old to take in new languages. its a frame of mind. If you tell your self you cant do it then you won`t.Anyway I am using Babel to build my Vocab and finding it very good. I like the audio tests even if my laptop sometimes gets it wrong. Hopefully in a few years time I will have my BA and building the vocab my big helper is babel

My name is Amanda, I’m 16 years old, and I learned 4 languages by myself. I started learning English 1 years ago, Spanish and French 6 months ago and my native language is Portuguese. I would like to share my experience and tips. And a lot of people ask how is possible to learn a language while you’re studying (in a school or college) or when you don’t have time, and I usually guide them on this.

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