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Chinese elderly hooked on English language at local library

It has become a routine for Su Min, 63, to take a 20-minute walk to a local library and attend an English club each week.

In a room of Anhui Provincial Library in Hefei City, capital of east China’s Anhui Province, Su and dozens of elderly people sit in a circle, talking freely in English.

“We have promised to speak English instead of Chinese during this hour and a half,” said Su, adding that though they don’t have standard pronunciation and fluent expression, they feel relaxed and confident at this English club.

Just like Su, most of the members here are retirees from all walks of life. With an average age of over 60, they gather here due to their passion for English.

“I have been working at the library for nearly 40 years and have affection for English. After seeing the English club for the youth and the middle-aged in the library, I wondered why not get one for the elderly?” said Zhou Qingping, 69, founder of the club.

This idea was swiftly turned into practice after she talked with her friends and workers at the library.

“A worker at the library majoring in English volunteered to be our teacher, and we held the first session one early morning in 2018,” recalled Zhou.

The first step is always difficult.

“The topic of the first session was greetings. Though it seemed simple, for older beginners like us, it remained difficult. It took us a long time to remember the words and speak correctly,” said Zhou, adding that persistence and working hard are key to learning a new language.

Besides this offline club, they also set up an online group where they could share their learning experiences and their teacher would offer help at any time.

The increasing number of volunteer teachers including middle school teachers and foreigners also provide strong support to the club.

Li Dazhong, 74, an English teacher with nearly 50 years’ teaching experience, has been offering help to the silver-haired students.

“I mainly teach them phonetic symbols and grammar. They are quite passionate about learning English. Personally speaking, to teach is to learn,” said Li.

Mei Xinhui, 38, a librarian and a volunteer teacher, was impressed by their passion to learn. “I never expected their persistence and diligence. Through learning English, they have more colourful lives after retirement, and they can learn about the world from different perspectives,” said Mei.

Over the past years, the group has grown from a dozen members to nearly 120, and they have gradually learned how to talk about various topics including shopping, going to the hospital and travelling confidently. Thanks to the club, many can use English in their daily lives.

“Previously, I felt worried when traveling abroad because I couldn’t understand English, let alone speak it. Now, I am much more confident as I can easily go through customs, go shopping alone, and talk at ease with people my age abroad,” said Su.

Zhou said that learning English not only helps them to improve their oral English, but also offers them an opportunity to learn different cultures and acquire wisdom.

“The Western mindset differs from ours a lot. By learning this new language, we can open our minds and know the world better,” said Zhou. – Xinhua/Asia News Network



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