It’s Never Too Late to Learn Another Language

Chinese Calligraphy

大家好!!…which means: “Hi Everybody” in Mandarin Chinese – the language I’m studying at SOAS.

I like learning languages, but while studying my last four languages: Japanese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian, I tried to get by on natural ability (this severely disappointed me) and an effort-minimisation approach (which just didn’t work!). As a result, my Japanese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian are all rather patchy. Truthfully: they are mostly patches!

Intense and focused study has helped me

So to try and improve, I thought, why not break the mould and study Chinese INTENSELY and THOROUGHLY?

That’s what I’ve been able to do thanks to the wonderful SOAS teachers – with a very special “谢谢 “ to Aileen, our year two and year three leader, and also to my amazing language partner Fengyong (凤永) in Beijing.  

As a result, my Chinese is…still patchy. I am a slow learner! But what exciting patches of language! And I even entertain the hope of joining them together to make a whole language if I keep doing the homework!

Here’s my number one tip

Don’t try to survive without getting to know how to recognise a reasonable number of characters. But do find some fun ways of learning them!

I could see a flashcard a thousand times and still not remember the character. But if I imagined something in the character that reminded me of an object that I could associate with it, I can use that as a hook on which to hang my memory and bring it into long-term (eventually!!!)

For me, Pleco’s Optical Character Recognition is an absolute MUST. I can’t do homework without using this software to give me the immediate meaning of all the characters absent from my visual memory.

Why I started learning Chinese

I recommend learning Chinese as an early warning for Alzheimer’s Disease. (我76岁[=I’m 76]) I hope it’s also a way of avoiding it! (I’ll report back to you in ten years’ time if I remember).

Learning Chinese is a wonderful complement to my work as a freelance science and medical journalist, podcaster and YouTuber. It keeps my arts/science balance just about right.

I started Chinese indirectly because of my interest in music. I’m a semi-professional jazz musician and started studying Chinese after one of my friends (a professional jazz singer in Shanghai) suggested I could visit her in Shanghai and play the trumpet and sing in a different club there every night. That was in 2019, and I held back from going immediately because I wanted to be able to speak Chinese first. As it happened, the pandemic has extended my study period, so I’ve set my sights on fluency. It might take me a while, though!

Peter M Goodwin is currently studying Chinese (Mandarin) at SOAS. He is a medical journalist, produces a podcast and a YouTube channel for the American physiotherapy journal: Pediatric Physical Therapy, and writes for the USA-based newspaper for cancer doctors: Oncology Times—also contributing podcast interviews for their OncTmesTalk, a bi-weekly podcast for cancer professionals.

If you’re interested in learning Chinese, the SOAS Language Centre has a range of short courses available. Find out more

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