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School for seniors tackles language-learning myths

Ruby Pratka, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

ruby@qctonline.com

Lucie Plamondon has dedicated her professional life to disproving the old saw, “You can’t teach an old dog (or human) new tricks!”

In 2018, Plamondon, a translator who also holds a university certificate in gerontology, decided to open a language school for retirees. “The idea came from my experience while I was studying gerontology,” she recalled. “I was 40 years old at the time, and even then I noticed that there was a big difference between me and the younger students – we didn’t learn at the same rhythm, we weren’t interested in the same subjects and we were just at different places in life. If I felt that out of place at 40, I can imagine that someone who’s 60 or 70 might not even want to be in the same room.”

École de langues Évoluciole welcomed its first students in fall of that year, a cohort of francophone retirees who wanted to improve their English.

“At the beginning, we only offered English courses, but now we also teach Spanish and French,” Plamondon said. The school in L’Ancienne-Lorette offers in-person and online courses for groups of no more than five people, as well as private lessons, couples lessons and extracurricular activities such as trilingual hikes and get-togethers at local cafés. The most popular courses, according to Plamondon, are English for travel and basic conversational Spanish. “We get a lot of [students] who want to travel more, and who realize that if they don’t speak English or Spanish, that’s a barrier to travel outside Quebec,” said Plamondon. “There are also people learning a new language to speak with family members, for example if they have a child who has moved to the United States and their grandchildren only speak English, or if their child has married a Cuban. We want to break down those barriers.”

Évoluciole recently launched French courses and language-learning activities for English-speaking adults. “We haven’t marketed it very much yet, but we do offer courses in Quebec French, [including] online courses for people who want to move to Quebec and want to get used to the language before they arrive,” said Plamondon. Unlike many university language courses, Évoluciole doesn’t rely on total immersion for beginners, instead using students’ first language to explain some concepts and draw parallels between what students are learning and what they already know.

Plamondon, 45, is a Quebec City native who fell in love with language learning as a teen- ager after her family moved to Ontario for a few years; along with the inevitable English immersion, she took up Spanish and Italian. She said classroom settings can be stressful for older learners. “People need to learn at their own pace, and that’s different from one person to another,” she said. “People also have a lot of anxiety around learning. Our society is set up for people to learn a lot at a young age, then work and then retire. You don’t usually learn after the age of 50 or 60, but it’s still possible!” The idea that people can’t pick up new knowledge, skills or languages after a certain age “is a popular belief that we are fighting every day,” Plamondon said.

“We have a student who is 89 who is learning English because she has family in the United States; it’s not easy, but she’s making great progress,” she added. “We have another student who started taking English in 2019 as a beginner and made such progress and enjoyed it so much that she started taking Spanish.” She encouraged future language learners to “let go of the myths and start learning at your own pace with good support from a group.”

For more information about Évoluciole’s course offerings and activities, visit evoluciole.com or call 418-476-0269.

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