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Learning a language at 70

I started trying to learn Italian at the age of 69. My father was Italian but since my mother was Polish, Italian was never spoken when I was growing up. I wish I had an interest in learning Italian while my father was alive, but somehow it didn't occur to me until I was 69. For a few months I faithfully used a free program from the library. I memorized hundreds of phrases but had no idea how to construct a sentence on my own. Then last summer I went to a week of immersion camp (Concordia) in Minnesota. I resorted to speaking English all the time because I really couldn't speak any Italian, but the camp was inspirational and my passion for Italian grew immensely. Then I took a 20 week once-per-week class at the the Italian Cultural Institute at Stony Brook University. Now, I am 70 and I was wondering what I could do while I am off from work for the summer. I discovered duolingo. I have read some of the criticisms, but I think for a person of my age, it's perfect. People have complained about the constant monotonous drilling. At my age, it takes a little longer for information to get transferred to long term memory, so the drilling is relatively painless and I am remembering more than I have been able to using other methods. I'm starting to feel like I speak Italian! I will go back to class again when the school year starts up, because I think it's essential to practice speaking with others. For someone, however, of my age, I think this is the best program.

July 3, 2018



70...you're a baby...I'm 72 and constantly involved with languages, both as a teacher and a student. Keep moving...learning a language is a never-ending puzzle. Eva https://www.evaeaston.com/ https://www.youtube.com/evaeaston


Your youtube videos are fascinating! I have a son who is an ESL teacher and so you can add a star for me! I wrote to an owner of a school in Bologna, expressing an interest in their language immersion program. I told him my age. He said he had just had a 93-year-old woman in one of his classes. So I guess we're both spring chickens!


I've done that...studied at language schools in Mexico, Croatia, Austria, Italy...and will be going to a school in Costa Rica this winter. My age has never been a problem.

It's great fun...you'll fit right in...and Bologna is a lovely city. Go for as long a period of time as you can.



Non è mai troppo tardi!


I'm so happy that I understood that!


Absolutely right!!!!

[deactivated user]

    Hey, im only 12 years behind you, so your not the only person of an older generation doing battle with the Italian language. Good for you, I admire your enthusiasm and determination.


    Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement! When I was in high school, I studied French. The high schools at the time all seemed to offer German, French, Spanish, and Italian. They always said that German was the hardest and Italian the easiest. Now I wonder what they were talking about. I find Italian to be very difficult. My father used to say that they never had spelling tests in Italy because everything is spelled just as it sounds. So why am I always spelling things wrong?


    Maybe because english and italian can be so similar at times! I only got to study French at School, and I was never any good at it. By comparison, I find Italian a breeze - once you know the rules, you can always make a good guess at any new word you come across. In comparison, English is a nightmare!


    I think the fact that there are so many vowels in Italian makes it hard for me to understand when people speak. It seems like the words all run together. French is like that too for me. Spanish doesn't seem as difficult to understand, but maybe it's because here in New York I hear it a lot.

    [deactivated user]

      I disagree there are so many vowels: only two pronunciations of the o and e

      and sorry, I posted some comments in the wrong Blocks or whatever they are called


      It's like anything else. My ear just has to get used to it. I work with someone from Russia. I'll say two words in English with radically different sounding "a" sounds and he tells me that he can't hear any difference.


      Bravissimo, sei un' inspirazione! Mantenere il buon lavoro!


      ciao andrea io sono italiana e ho 60 anni ...anch'io sto cercando di imparare l'inglese da zero


      I can't really respond in Italian comfortably, but I'm so thrilled that I can understand what you're saying! What an incredible learning streak you have! Congratulations!


      Like Civis Romanus said, It is never too late. Keep working at it and eventually it will all click in your head. Italian is a lovely language.


      Thanks for the encouragement. Between high school and college I studied 5 years of French and I only know a few words now. My father died 12 years ago and suddenly last year it felt important to connect with my father's Italian heritage.


      In addition to Duolingo I highly recommend Language Transfer, it will help a lot more with grammar. The combo of Duolingo and Language Transfer has given me a good footing in both Spanish and Italian.


      Tanti auguri a te signor. Il mio cuore se riempi di gioia da ascoltare che un figlio d'un italiano sta imparando la lingua dei suoi antenati. Congratulazione e che Dio te benedica


      Thank you so much for your kind encouragement. I'm actually "una figlia d'un italiano." About 30 years ago my father said he wanted to send my sister and I on a trip to Italy. One of the things he wanted was for us to take a picture of the church where he was baptized. My sister and I both had young children and my sister immediately said she didn't want to go. My father quickly dropped the subject. My father was disabled from a stroke and had not been back to Italy since he was a child. Somehow, a couple of years ago I started to feel a little guilty that we didn't go. I know that my father was from a town called Montiglio, but I know nothing else. Due to my lack of knowledge I wouldn't be able to find the church or anything else for that matter, but I started thinking that maybe I could at least go to Montiglio some day. My father's not with us anymore, but I thought I could still do this for him.


      If you want to do some research it might not be too late to find the church. Many Catholic churches keep records of baptisms, and they keep those records for a long time. Google Maps shows that Montiglio is a small town -- a search turns up only four churches there. So there's a good chance that the record still exists, and that you can find it if you go and visit. That will be a good (ambitious) goal for your Italian studies. :)

      Keep it up!


      I've wondered about that. I've even looked a little into obtaining Italian citizenship through descent, but obligations in my life keep me from doing any serious searches. You already know more than I do about the churches. Thanks for sharing that information with me.


      Mi scusi per aver sbagliato, ma è perché Andrea è un nome utilizato per i maschi in italia.(Anche qua in brasile, dove vivo, Andrea e Andreia sono nomi utilizati per le donne). Sopra la questione del suo padre, è molto triste da ascoltare, ma ho la certezza che se vuoi po andare a questa città che si trova in uno dei posti più belli di tutta l'Italia. Questo è il link da dove si trova la città https://www.google.com/maps/place/14026+Montiglio+Asti,+It%C3%A1lia/@44.9735152,7.6878351,9.13z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x4787c3af2f091ddd:0x405e67d473e7f10!2sMontiglio+Monferrato,+Asti,+It%C3%A1lia!3b1!8m2!3d45.0634!4d8.1057739!3m4!1s0x4787c30a309de08b:0xc31bfecc1df62487!8m2!3d45.0645188!4d8.09834

      Se vuoi puo prendere un aero per Malpensa e dopo un treno a Torino e finalmente uno treno a montiglio. Considerate questa possibilità sono sicuro che sarà una esperienza belissima


      Thanks for all the information and the link. This will all be so useful to me. My grandmother was angry when my parents named me Andrea. She couldn't understand why they would give me a boy's name.


      Oh wow, that's so incredible to hear. That's so great to see a person at your age (no offense haha) still active in learning :)

      And yes!! Speaking with other people is essential!! Try to do it as often as possible


      I have been reading articles about how long it takes before you can become fluent in a language. When I started doing the calculations from the information in one article I said, "This could take 23 years!" I started at 69. 69 +23 = 92. That's not impossible!


      Ciao! This whole conversation is so inspirational! It gives me hope that eventually I will be (somewhat) fluent in Italian. I have had a major wake up call this past month being in Italy. I am realizing how little I know. But the good news is somehow I eventually make myself understood. For me the combination of DL and Pimsleur has been fantastico. It is wonderful to discover all these virtual friends who share the love of learning Italian, isn't it? We're from all over the world, all ages, all at different levels. Bellissimo!


      I started learning Italian about a year and a half ago. I thought I would lose interest but I'm amazed that I get more excited about it all the time. A woman in my Italian class said that I might be surprised when I eventually go to Italy that a lot of people don't speak English. Did you find this to be the case? I haven't been to Italy since 1977.


      Kudos to you! I'm 64, which goes to prove you are never too old to start.


      Well, if Grandma Moses could start painting at 78 then I guess I'm getting an early start on Italian!


      My father is 70 and he is learning Italian and Spanish and thoroughly enjoying it. I DL has helped him a lot in doing this, but now he also uses some language learning resources https://travelsites.com/language-learning/ to improve his conversational ability.


      You're turning into a star. When you decide where in Italy to study, you'll have to let everyone know.



      I'm so impressed! If it is of any comfort, I have found the same process with learning French (I'm 59). I started a couple years ago using different methods. I know I have learned a lot of words, but I'm finding that it is suddenly clicking a lot more than it did before. You have set yourself an admirable task. This is wonderful!

      Italian was one of the languages I wanted to learn. I just started dabbling with it this spring. It is a wonderful, beautiful language.


      You mention Italian being a wonderful, beautiful language. Several events inspired me to get started studying Italian. One of them was a very weird one. My adult son and I were watching a documentary about Amanda Knox. Throughout this movie there were a lot of interviews with Italian detectives. After someone said something in Italian, my son and I had fun trying to repeat what we just heard. I think we would get a couple of the words right. I was surprised about how good it felt to say these words. It had this soothing effect on me. I'm not usually an overly dramatic person, but I can't deny how saying Italian words made me feel.


      Thank you for sharing! I am 10 years behind you, and really appreciate the encouragement!


      You must be doing great. You have an incredible streak of 54 days. I thought I must have the longest streak in the world at 40 days, but people here are unbelievably dedicated. You're lucky. I wish I had started learning 10 years ago. I now am obligated to live until at least 100!


      I am only 11 years behind you. I think the brain, like every other part of the body, needs to be exercised to stay healthy. I am sure that we here on DUO will fare much better as we age then will those who don't read and continue to learn. I know so many people my age that have not picked up a book in years. Say really.


      I've read that learning a new language delays the onset of dementia by an average of four years. Maybe. Maybe I'm just not noticing, but I feel like my mind works the same way it did 30 years ago.


      Well then I hope that learning 3 languages gives me 12 years :-)


      I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps you're onto something!


      Auguri, Andrea! I’ve been working on Italian for a while. At 70, I’m finding that the research on older second language learners is right. It takes us longer to learn vocabulary, but we’re better at pattern recognition. When I studied with college students, I had to work hard all week to get the vocabulary, but a set of pronouns that baffled them immediately made sense to me.


      I agree. I actually like grammar and pronunciation rules. When I went to immersion camp in Minnesota last summer I was pretty much an absolute beginner. The teacher told us how to pronounce "c" and "g." People were having such a hard time with it, but I thought it was interesting. My field is mathematics, so that may explain why I like patterns and rules.


      That's awesome!! I am learning Polish here, to be able to speak Polish with my relatives. I am also learning French and Spanish because I am learning those in school. God Bless !


      That's great to hear you're learning Polish. My mother was Polish and my grandmother (we called her Babci) lived with us on and off during my childhood. Her English wasn't very good and as she got older she would forget that my sister and I didn't speak Polish, and she would speak to us in Polish. I can sing songs in Polish, but nothing else. In those days I think it was common that parents didn't try to teach their children their first languages. That's why I don't know either Polish or Italian though my relatives spoke those languages. It's so great to hear about the current enthusiasm for learning languages.


      Hello all. I'm almost 68. Learning Spanish now because we have a large number of Spanish speaking people where I live and I would like to be able to converse with them in their language. A couple of years ago we went to Italy for 2 weeks so I learned some basic Italian before we went. It came in very handy as I got lost twice! In Venice I couldn't find my hotel one evening (late) and a storekeeper was closing up shop. I asked if he speaks English and he said 'a little.' The funny thing was, I continued the conversation in my broken Italian and he spoke in English! It worked and I felt so good about it. At a grocery store earlier that evening I was able to tell a clerk that her American customer wanted to know if they could heat her sandwich (they couldn't) but both parties were glad to have a translator.


      What a great story, Tom! I studied French in high school and college and also lived in Thailand for a year, so I have experience with those two languages. I was always, however, too embarrassed to speak. I went to Monte Carlo for my honeymoon in the seventies. My husband asked me why I didn't try to speak French, but I couldn't get up my courage. On my 70th birthday we went to our neighborhood pizza restaurant, which has been owned for the past 40 years by two old Italian brothers. When I left, I told one of the brothers that it was my 70th birthday and he understood me! I was so happy all night because I thought that from now on I would swallow my pride and try to use Italian when I had the chance. I loved your story, because I can just imagine how thrilled you must have been.


      As a 77 year old I am really enjoying learning czech although i am finding it very hard. I have two beautiful granddaughters who are Czech and they continually pick me up on my pronunciations. They both speak english and czech very well even though one is only 2 and the other nine. Their father is English and their mother Czech. I do sometimes find duolingo frustrating as their engish sometimes seem peculiar to them and i dont speak American. Despite this i also am learning italian and french. A great hobby for a retired university lecturer.


      Having careers in education may motivate us to constantly learn new things. I am not yet retired but I have taught mathematics full-time on the college level for many years. I look forward to retiring and having more time to pursue my interest in languages and traveling. Right now, I'm not teaching as much because it's the summer semester, but once September comes I hope I can continue to find time to study. I plan to study at Stony Brook University's Italian Cultural Institute, as I did last year, to make sure I continue to make progress. I have a lot in common with you,Brian. I also have two granddaughters and their mother's first language is Romanian. I had a failed attempt a few years back trying to learn Romanian. I only lasted a couple of months, so I praise your efforts to learn Czech!


      Ciao, ora voglio anche vantarmi un po'. Ho iniziato con l'italiano il 22-02-2016. Ora ho 71 anni. Sono molto contento con Duolingo. L'età non significa niente. Sempre devi stare sulla palla e usare la vita. Vi auguro tanto divertimento ad imparare anche se non hai mai perfetto. Ciao! :)


      You have every right to brag!! You write so beautifully. I hope I can write as well as you by the time I finish the duolingo tree.


      Meglio tardi che mai, saluti.


      Don't they say 70 is the new 50?

      [deactivated user]

        Dear Andrea, if you can afford it: take a course at an Italian language school in Italy! You could live with an Italian family and "eat, drink, live and breathe Italian"!


        That's what I'm hoping to do, but right now my job is getting in my way. When I retire, I definitely would love to do that.

        [deactivated user]

          I can probably enlighten you a bit on why you get the spelling wrong. I think you have been using your (English?) spelling. Italian is really known for having an easy spelling. In English, ie, ea, ee, eo ei can represent the same sound (I: in phonetic spelling).

          This could never happen in Italian! You can even hear if you have to write one or two consonants, as there is a sort of pause before a double t like in the word 'latte' There is a slight problem with the 'k'and 'ch'sound, as with 'g' but thr rules are logical.

          If you are familiar with Spanish, things might get complicated, as you can easily mix all kinds of aspects up...


          The double consonants do often cause a problem for me. I agree with you, though. After I spell something wrong, I listen again, and realize I shouldn't have made the mistake.


          I spent $500 on another program 10 years ago with 5 levels to it. I only got through the 1st lesson as I was tied to the computer (discs) with some cd's to use in the car. Even then I listened to Italian pop,contemporary and opera, learned how to pronounce words but only few of the meanings I love to watch the old Italian movies and watch RAI. The owner of a local italian restaurant that my family frequents said my diction is perfect (of course, I'm just singing lyrics I've memorized and have little knowledge of what I'm saying) I'm now nearly 68 and stumbled across Duolingo. I'm having a great time, learning more every day. I decided to go from free member to Plus......such a deal compared to any other program. Don't give it up....I plan to meet friends in Italy in 2 years and I hope to be their translator by then, lol


          I'm an Italian 82 yo, and surely DL is the best program to learn foreign languages; my only regret is that I cannot practice with others. Congratulations Andrea


          I'm 77 and learning Italian. In high school I studied Spanish and have been using it since then. In my first year in college I took an Italian course, which I enjoyed, but never had the opportunity to take the follow-up course. Ten years ago I was transferred to Italy and I found that that during the intervening years I had managed to forget almost everything I had learned in Italian, but could understand (somewhat) because of Spanish, which I continue to use every day in my work and in my life at home. However, I could manage to speak only in the present tense. I didn't have time to dedicate to taking an intensive Italian course. Then two years ago I discovered Duolingo and have been using it ever since. I do three exercises every day, and I find that at my age slow and steady is the only way to complete the marathon that is the Duolingo tree. I find that it takes me a lot longer to memorize anything that is new to me, so the repetition is helpful. It also takes longer for me to process spoken Italian, so while I can read rather well, I often get lost when listening to Italian. While I find that my knowledge of Spanish is helpful in recognizing words and grammatical patterns, I get language interference especially when it comes to prepositions and spelling of words that are similar to Spanish. I am very pleased with Duolingo because I can tell that my Italian is improving a lot.


          I agree, I am 77 years old, I love Duolingo.

          [deactivated user]

            Never too late! Whether it's 7 or 70, anyone can learn a language!


            I posted this statement two years ago and am still going strong at 72! I have taken three years of Italian in an adult program at my local university and hope to go for language immersion in Bologna when it is safe to travel again. I study about two hours a day but sometimes wonder if I have completely stopped making progress. It took me about two years to finish the duolingo tree and now I review 5 topics a day. I still make plenty of mistakes! I still cannot understand Italian movies and wonder if I will ever be able to understand speech. Reading is much easier than understanding and speaking. The best part of this is that it has made me connect more to my Italian heritage and learn to love and have pride in the contributions of my father's country.


            Buon lavoro! Una storia molto stimolante.


            I am 78 and started Italian 10 months ago. Great for the grey matter. Just returned from Ischia where I was complimented on my progress - obviously not fluent but I can say most things that I want to at a modest pace!


            I am also learning Italian (and Dutch and Welsh...) at 72 (going on 73 next November!). It's really fun learning languages... they keep my brain fit! And I have a grandson who is only 3 and he's already speaking Dutch! When he will be 18 I dream of drinking a Dutch beer with him and chatting in Dutch! Prost!


            It seems to me that you are all children! I am 82 and learning Italian. All one needs is a love of languages; the rest follows. I have time on my hands - not to mention the pandemic - and fill my days with DL. I am alway in the top few in the Diamond league. I also speak Russian, French and Mandarin. My biggest problem is trying to study Italian and Spanish at the same time, they are confusingly similar. I find the combination of DL on line and Michel Thomas in the car extremely productive - and amusing. I am convinced that my long term memory has greatly improved with my studies by the way.

            Learn Italian in just 5 minutes a day. For free.