It's never too late to learn a language
She started English classes at 62 and now at 74 she can go anywhere by herself
Duo Li Wu always carries her English dictionary with her — even on vacation.
Although English is her second language, the 74-year-old managed to book the West Caribbean cruise tickets without the assistance of family or friends.
Onboard, Wu was confident enough to converse in English without a guide or a translator.
“I went traveling with my friend,” she said. “We ordered the meals in English.”
Wu first arrived in Canada in 1999 after emigrating from China where she was a professor of international trade. She first enrolled in English classes at the age of 62, determined to learn the language.
However, the Don Mills Road and Steeles Avenue East resident said there were plenty of skeptics.
“People said you are too old and can’t remember things,” she said. “But I never gave up.”
Wu credits her daughter for encouraging her to try harder and ignore the naysayers.
“My daughter said you can do it,” she said. “She was very happy when I learned something new.”
Wu took learning English very seriously, taking classes five days a week and immersing herself in grammar books in her off-hours.
“I would do homework until midnight,” she said.
Outside of school, Wu said she’d also make small talk with many of her neighbours and allow them to correct her grammar and pronunciation. And she’d practise by reading bedtime stories to her grandchildren. She said they would sometimes laugh at the role reversal when she asked them to rectify her mistakes.
But the language wasn’t easy. Wu said that she used to have difficulty with every day things that native English speakers take for granted, particularly automated telephone systems, she said.
“Those I didn’t understand at all,” she said.
Two years after starting her studies, Wu’s hard work paid off.
“I was able to make an appointment and see the doctor by myself,” she said.
And it’s the value she places on her freedom and independence that helped drive her to learn English.
“I have to be able to enjoy my life,” she said. “To go anywhere by myself and do it independently.”
Despite her already good fluency in English, Wu doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Currently, she is completing her final level in ESL.
“I’m crazy about learning English,” she said.
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