Setsuko Takamizawa is set to prove that it is never too late to learn. At the age of 91, the great-grandmother is learning English with the help of her family. She hopes to use the language at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Takamizawa was one of the more than 200,000 people who requested to volunteer for Tokyo’s 2020 Games. English is not required for service, but it is a helpful skill for volunteers to have. But Takamizawa had not been able to learn the language when she was young.

Takamizawa told Reuters that she was in high school when World War Two started. She said, “In my second year there, English was banned because it was the enemy language.”

Takamizawa said that her grandchildren helped persuade her she was not too old to learn.

“When I talked to my grandchildren about my wish, they said, ‘it’s not too late. We will teach you one word a day. It’s going to be a good challenge for you’.” Natsuko is Takamizawa’s granddaughter and main English teacher.

The EF English Proficiency Index is a measure of the level of English spoken in a country. Japan ranks 49th among countries where English is not the first language. This situation is slowly changing as younger generations welcome English. Japanese students often learn English at a much younger age than they did in the past.

However, Takamizawa believes real change will not happen unless Japanese people become more open to the rest of the world. She says that people in Japan should act not only as Japanese citizens, but also as “global members” of the Earth.

With around 500 days to go until the Games begin, the whole Takamizawa family is ready to welcome the world to Tokyo.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

great-grandmother (n.) -  the mother of one's grandmother or grandfather.

  • I know my great-grandmother on my mother's side was a Canadian.

challenge (n.) /ˈtʃalɪn(d)ʒ/ - a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

  • Teaching children can be quite a challenge.

global (adj.) /ˈɡləʊb(ə)l/ -  involving the entire world

  • English is becoming a global language.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. How old is Setsuko Takamizawa?

2. Why couldn't Setsuko Takamizawa learn English at school?

3. Who is Setsuko's main teacher?

4. What is English Proficiency Index?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

great-grandmother, challenge, global


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions. 

1. What do you think about what Setsuko's is doing?

2. Why do you think it's important to learn foreign languages?

3. Is there something you would like to learn, but haven't had a chance so far?

4. If you could volunteer at the Tokyo Olympics, would you apply?




This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.