Never too old to learn something new

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I have a story that may be of interest. It concerns two elderly gentlemen, and the heart of the story is that a 75-year-old student is being prepared by an 82-year- old teacher to take an ‘A’ Level French exam in June this year.

The student is me, Norman Leaver, 76 this year.

Having lived and worked in a number of countries, including Italy and Germany, I have ‘street level’ ability in Italian, German, and French. And from working on multi-cultural construction sites around the world I also have a grasp of impolite Greek and Polish, (but nothing that can be used in polite society).

I went backpacking to Marrakech a couple of years back and found that my French was totally inadequate for anything above shopping, looking for a toilet, and buying a beer.

And so I decided that it was time to develop at least one language to a level where I could communicate with people at a conversational level at least.

With Dieppe just a few hours away I chose French.

I had tried evening classes in the past but couldn’t get on with them as I found the pace far too slow, so I searched for a language teacher for one-to-one lessons.

This led me to Mr Luis Nieto Nadal who is the proprietor of The Language Centre, possibly the smallest language school in the BN area, if not the whole wide world.

He teaches French and Spanish to English speakers, and English to speakers of other languages.

Luis was born in Algeria of Spanish parents. At an early age, he moved with his family to Tangier in Morocco and lived there for many years.

Having Spanish parents, and living in French speaking countries, Luis was fluent in both French and Spanish. He has since learned to speak Italian as well!He was taught Arabic at school but couldn’t be bothered with it, much to his regret now.

Later, he met his wife Joy, who is English but is also a fluent French speaker.

As Luis had no English at that time (he is now fluent). They spoke French together and continue to do so to this day.

In addition to teaching, Luis also has a creative streak. He’s just finished his first novel and is currently working on a ‘Parallel text’ book of short stories.

A few years ago he won a BBC competition and had his work broadcast on BBC4.

Luis is not your typical octogenarian. He regularly plays tennis at Falmer, walks like a demon, and seems to be always building something at home.

As a teacher I find him inspirational.

My primary aim was simply to be able to communicate more efficiently on my visits to France, but as time went by Luis manoeuvred me into unknown territory. Grammar, which had always frightened me off.

However under his guidance I’ve come to enjoy it and developed a desire to learn more.

And now.. I’m looking forward to my very first ‘A’ level. In fact, my very first anything! Having left school to start work at the age of 14, academic qualifications did not feature at all in my life.

But right now... bring it on! Maybe in a couple of years I will be able to become a university student – at last.

Norman Leaver

Newhaven