Pat Hall can trace her passion for international travel and her lifelong hunger for learning foreign languages to this:
In 1960, as a timid young undergraduate college student from a small town in Ontario, Canada, who’d never really been anywhere, she applied for and won a full, one-year scholarship to the Sorbonne in Paris. That year abroad, learning fluent French, determined the trajectory of her life.
As she states in her 2020 memoir, Speak to Me: Travels and Exploits of a Language Lover, “My trip to Paris was a life-changing experience, and I have to thank my father for encouraging me to live a little on the wild side, as he had done all his life. When my year was up, I didn’t want to leave. … After Paris, I was ready to challenge the rest of the world.”
This week I sat with Pat, now 83, in the sala of her home here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she and her husband Merv have lived full-time for the past five years, to learn more from her about her accomplishments, her travels and exploits, and her views on life in what people in Spanish-speaking countries refer to as la tercera edad (the third age, or stage, of life).
I learned that, true to her word, Pat did take on the world – and many of its languages – after leaving Paris. She lived in England for a time and traveled throughout Europe at every opportunity. She lived in Puebla, Mexico, in the ‘70s, where she worked in the library of the University of the Americas and learned Spanish. She lived and taught library science in Quito, Equador. And once back in Canada, Pat taught French, Spanish, German, Latin, and English as a Second Language.
She’s proud to say she speaks eight languages – English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Mandarin, and (most recently) Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. She also studied Latin and Classical Greek “for years and years,” she told me, confessing, “I’m a language nut. Languages have always motivated me.”
When asked which is her favorite language, Pat says, “Spanish. Hands down. It’s the most logical, concise, uncomplicated language that I’ve ever encountered. Scholars agree that Spanish is the easiest language in the world to learn, especially for English speakers.”
Although Pat has published articles in academic journals and magazines over the years, her travel/language memoir Speak to Me, which came out last year when she was 82, is her first published book.
“I never would have written this book if I hadn’t come to San Miguel to retire,” she told me. “I’d been walking around with this book in my head for decades, but here in San Miguel I joined a wonderful writers group which met once a week and gave excellent advice. Every week we were expected to read something that we’d written the week before, so after seventeen meetings I had seventeen chapters of my book!”
When I tried to steer our conversation into my favorite lane – aging – and I asked her about the challenges she’s encountered in this, la tercera edad, she responded quickly, “I really don’t see any more challenges now than when I was young.” And then, after pausing, she continued with a smile: “Well, maybe health-wise. I probably wouldn’t have this sore back if I was five.
“Oh, and I’d like to travel more – to Brazil, for example, to learn to speak Portuguese, and to Ireland, home of my grandparents — but physically I don’t feel I can. I hate that part about getting old. But I still do most of the things I always did. And I still think all of life is a challenge; this stage is just another one.”
And what would Pat Hall say to a class of women college graduates?
“I’d just say, ‘Seize the opportunity and don’t be afraid. In fact, it’s even better if you do something that you’re afraid of. Just believe that you can do anything.’”
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For more information about Pat’s memoir, visit her Amazon Author’s Page:
or for other questions, contact Pat directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.