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Bethanie

Meet Joan Browning, the 80-year-old who speaks four different languages.

Let us introduce you to Joan – a truly remarkable woman who, at 80-years of age, keeps her mind agile by speaking four different languages.

Her love of language stemmed from an exciting multicultural life enabled by her parents.

Joan was born in Paris in April 1940. Her mother was Dutch, and her father was Polish – both of whom studied teaching in Paris at the time. In 1942, the family moved to Morocco, where Joan received education at the French Lycee.

At age nine her parents were sponsored to come to Perth and teach at the Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) in Peppermint Grove, after they had become friends with the headmistress whilst studying in Paris.

On her first day of school in Australia, Joan said she “felt like a monkey in a zoo” amongst all the other little girls in neat uniforms. She could not speak a word of English, and school uniforms were a foreign concept as they did not exist in French schools.

In 1959, Joan moved to Rome where she learnt to speak Italian. She later returned to Perth and worked for the Fremantle Port Authority, until her heart took her back to Europe where she married her fiancée of German and Mexican decent and called Hamburg home for 25 years.

During this time, she added a fourth language, German, to her repertoire.

Joan’s beloved husband died in 1986 when her two children were just teenagers.

She had maintained close connection with her friends in Perth, and through them, she met a widowed Englishman living in Hong Kong. In 1992, Joan married Joe in Scotland. The newlyweds lived in Hong Kong for 5 years where Joan picked up her fifth and sixth languages, Cantonese and Mandarin.

I did pick up a smattering of Cantonese but was much keener to study Mandarin which is a beautiful soft singing language,” Joan said.

At the time, her daughter was spending a year in China as part of her university degree in foreign language business studies, the languages being Mandarin and English, so she had someone to converse and learn with.

When Joe retired, the couple made a new home in Perth. Sadly, Joe died in 2003.

Before COVID-19 hit, Joan attended Trinity School for Seniors in the city, and attended German and French conversation classes. For many years she even dabbled in Latin and Greek studies at the school to broaden her skill set.

She frequently watches the SBS news in Italian and French when at home, and the later news in German and Spanish.

Each year, Joan travels to Hamburg to visit her two children who still live there. This year was going to be a special trip, as it coincided with her 80th birthday. Unfortunately, COVID-19 got in the way of those plans.

Instead, Joan was very fortunate to have spent her birthday among friends at the Bethanie Gwelup Village with a couple of glasses of champagne.

As a master of four different languages, and a student of five more, Joan has a wonderful sense of adventure and great confidence when it comes to facilitating her favourite hobby, travelling.

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