After hemming and hawing for an entire decade (true story!), I finally signed myself up for Spanish classes early last year. I’d officially run out of excuses not to do so: I didn’t have to pay the full amount myself (thank you, SkillsFuture!), I could actually spare the time after work, and I even had a friend who was willing to attend class with me. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to learn the language – because I do – but I reckon I’d always put it off to avoid admitting out loud that I was just plain lazy to commit to it.
For the most part, classes have genuinely been fun and useful. But approximately six months into it, I was suddenly made rudely and keenly aware of how I should probably have started learning the language a lot earlier; I just couldn’t remember things as well I did in my early 20s.
We joke about losing our ability to learn with age, but boy, nothing gives you a reality kick that your cognitive ability’s no longer as nimble quite like forgetting for the umpteenth time the Spanish translation for “to forget” (the irony!). It definitely didn’t help that I’d been adept with languages as a child and even briefly learned Japanese, an objectively difficult language, in my teens. But where I’d been breezed through memorizing the Japanese alphabet and understanding the grammar, I now struggle to string a simple coherent Spanish sentence together – an objectively not difficult language for English speakers – without having to consult Google Translate. It’s distressing to say the least, that it’d be a Monday Spanish class in a tiny classroom, and not a major life event, that’d be the source of a rude awakening of my mortality.
I do believe that we can learn whatever we want, at whatever age we deem is best for us. I’ve been in Pilates classes with women my mother’s age, where they’d outperformed everyone else decades younger than them. We always read about inspiring septuagenarians who still run marathons and break fitness records. “Lifelong learning” is a Singapore government buzzword. However, the reality is that mastering things get exponentially harder as you age, and the reason why we always applaud the ones who are still learning into their twilight years is because more often than not, they’re the exception to the rule.
Of course we should all continue to pursue new knowledge throughout our lives, if only to keep our wits and senses sharp as we get older. But my Spanish learning has been an interesting journey into the realisation that we shouldn’t put off things that we want to learn or are passionate about, lest it gets too mentally or physically taxing to pick up later in life. I’ve only just experienced my first brush with the effects of aging, but already, it’s made me want to run out and sign up for everything that I’d ever had a vague interest in pursuing (CrossFit! Hike across Machu Picchu! Learn how to throw a proper punch!) before my brain and body started protesting.
The problem is, we often put too much stock into wanting to wait for the “perfect” moment before deciding to follow our hearts, and unfortunately that usually means letting precious time slip on by. Perhaps it’s time that we all took a page from the books of the #YOLO-living millennials that society so likes to make fun of, throw a little more caution to the wind, and just go for it.
There’s no rule that says that you have to do it all when you’re still young. But ageing comes with its own metaphorical and literal burdens, and given the right opportunities and circumstances, wouldn’t you much rather take that metaphorical leap into the unknown without all that baggage? I know I do.
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