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A lesson a day keeps old age away

October 27, 2022 | 04:52 pm PT
Luu Dinh Long Book author
In October I am finishing a beginner's course in Japanese that has three lessons a week at the HCMC Youth Center.

This is the first course of many I have decided to join to learn some new skills I do not have. Though it is only for two months, I needed to begin organizing my life two years ago to slowly make time for these changes: I dropped a few projects, handed over a few existing tasks and refused new ones.

Learning a new language has always been among my goals, one which would open a new horizon I have never known.

I was determined to do it before old age prevents me from learning anything new ever again.

In fact, this has been a goal ever since I was a child. I grew up in a poor countryside with limited access to education, especially in foreign languages. I only started learning English when I turned 15 and on the brink of high school. After learning for three years, I advanced to university knowing only a handful of English words and a few grammatically broken sentences. I then received English tutoring from a few kind friends, which made me able to communicate with foreigners successfully for the first time in my life.

Nevertheless, after I graduated my job did not entail working with foreign peers or customers, which led to a slow degradation of my English skills.

A decade later I could barely muster a proper English sentence. Seeing this, my friends encouraged me to go back to school to pick up my English again. But the advice did not have much effect on me. I kept on making excuses, but the truth was I was reluctant to be a middle-aged man in a classroom with children half my age.

This situation lasted four years until earlier this year I came to know about a unique language course taught by a Buddhist monk. The learners were the same age as my grandparents: all above 80. They learned with such inspirational eagerness that I could not sit still anymore; I needed to take my first step now.

Studying is a lifelong privilege and mission. We study to become a better version of ourselves, but also to not be obsolete in this ever-changing world.

With technology radically shifting our landscape, studying is a pressing need for everyone.

Pham Thi Nham writes down new words during an English class in Hanoi on September 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Pham Thi Nham writes down new words during an English class in Hanoi on September 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Studying, especially new languages, also has added benefits for seniors: it keeps their brains ticking over and their smiles shining.

Many scientific studies have shown that physically and intellectually active elders live longer and have a significantly higher quality of life than non-active ones.

By being active, elders can also avoid many diseases like dementia through frequent usage and progressive overload of their intellectual capacity. They also become happier through frequent interactions with their peers.

Despite the international consensus on this, Vietnamese society has not paid enough attention to the activity levels of elders.

This leads to alarming figures related to diseases and low life expectancy while seniors are expected to make up almost 20% of the population by 2030.

Admittedly, not every older person can find time to study since, with Vietnam's social setup, many are busy taking care of their grandchildren. But also some just do not find doing such things necessary in their old age. Eventually, it creates a vicious cycle, driving many elders to their deathbeds with growing anguish about things they could have done in life.

For me, it is time for Vietnamese society to change. Many 80-year-old people I have met and who were learning English taught me that sometimes we need to slow down our speeding life and take care of our personal life. This can take all forms, from going on a vacation to taking classes to learn a new skill.

For elders, welfare is not merely having food in their stomach and a roof over their heads. Instead of merely surviving until the end of their days, elders also need to live, learn and be happy. By taking part in new courses, learning new skills and meeting new friends, elders can potentially break away from their monotonous retired life to find some new excitement, which could lead to fewer health problems and a higher quality of life.

A lesson a day keeps old age away. As a society, we should not only encourage the elders in our family to participate in those exciting activities but also join them. After all, old age waits for no one.

*Luu Dinh Long is a journalist and book author.

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