It’s Never Too Late to Learn a New Language

And Have Fun Along the Way. The True Story of My C1 Level English Student “Val” 

This post was written by Susan S.

Many of you have probably already heard of “Val”, a student of English who started attending my classes over 10 years ago. I repeatedly tell this true story of a great student and now also friend, because from the very start of his English classes, he was, and continues to be, a source of inspiration for me. Hopefully, he will be a source of motivation to others too, others who might think they are too old to learn a language.

Val was over 40 years old when he joined my A1 class. He had never studied English before, since he had been working for an important French car dealer for a long time and had moved up the ladder thanks to his B2 level French, his know-how, expertise and good performance in the car sale industry.

Nevertheless, Val´s company had given him an ultimatum. They had merged with a Dutch company in the automobile sector and from that moment on…. If he wanted to keep his job, Val would have to speak English on the phone, write emails in English, and even attend conferences where English was the spoken language. Yet Val didn´t even have an A1 level of English when the merger took place.

The company would help pay for some of his English lessons on the condition that he use English as fluently as possible from day 1. One week after his first English class, Val had to attend a conference in Amsterdam. Needless to say, it was entirely in English. So it was a bit of a nightmare for him.

Val speaks of those early days as filled with embarrassing misunderstandings, mistakes, feelings of inferiority and times in which he thought the only way out was giving up and leaving the company. But he didn’t like that attitude.

Make it a game

So, he decided to take it as a game. Indeed, we played a lot of games in class and role play activities and he participated actively in all of them. Despite the considerable difference in age with the rest of his classmates, he would often laugh and joke about it, as well as his own mistakes. #welovemistakes

Meanwhile, he read English articles at home, watched TED talks, sang songs, wrote practice emails, created slide presentations about the automobile industry, which he shared in class and the rest of the students benefitted from his knowledge and asked him all kinds of questions. Everyone admired his great sense of humor, his commitment and enjoyed sharing and learning with him. He dedicated every spare moment to using his English in what he calls, “funny, enjoyable activities”.

No excuses… but lots of laughter. 


Val is a C1 English speaker now. He has been for years. He keeps saying that he still thinks of himself as a B1 pupil. Maybe that is what keeps him learning. He still attends classes because he doesn’t want his English to get rusty and because he has fun. Val hasn’t aged a bit in these years. In fact, I’d say….the more he learns, the younger he looks and feels.

Common European Framework

Council of Europe/Association of Language Testers in Europe  CAMBRIDGE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT 
“I am fluent and precise in my speaking and understanding of the language.”  These language users’ proficiency in the language is illustrated by precision, appropriateness and fluency of expression.  
These users are capable of using the language for academic and advanced-level purposes, such as English Teaching. 
C2  CPE 
Certificate of Proficiency in English 
“Although I speak and understand the language very well, I still have some problems with unfamiliar situations and vocabulary.” These language users at this level are independent. They can express themselves fluently and spontaneously. They have a large vocabulary and can choose the appropriate expression to introduce their comments. They can produce clear, well-structured discourse without hesitation which shows controlled use of structures.   C1 CAE 
Certificate of Advanced English 
“I can communicate reasonably effectively but do not always understand what people say.”  
These language users have a degree of independence that allows them to construct arguments to defend their opinion, explain their viewpoint and negotiate. At this point the users have a degree of fluency and spontaneity in regular interactions and are capable of correcting their own mistakes.  
First Certificate in English 
“I can speak and understand what people say in familiar situations but I have problems with complex grammar and vocabulary.” 
At this level, Language users can understand and maintain a discussion and give their opinion in well-known situations, at normal speed. They can comprehend lectures on familiar topics with some difficulty. 
English Test 
“I can communicate simply when I am in familiar, everyday situations.” This level recognizes the linguistic competency of basic users. These users can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring the most common polite phrases and exchanges of information.  A2 KET 
Key English Test 
“I can talk a little and understand people if they speak slowly and clearly.” 
This level recognizes basic knowledge. At this stage, learners can interact in a simple way: they can speak about themselves and their immediate environment. 
A1 N/A 
Common European Framework  


You're never too old to learn a new language

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