When redundancy hit Jonathan, he took the opportunity to make some lifestyle changes, changing career and following his passions of travel and learning. Now an OU Modern Languages student, we spoke to Jonathan about his experiences:
I travelled through China with a friend, way out into the desert and along the Silk Road. Before the trip I’d tried an online language learning tool and learned a few phrases, but I was learning it like a parrot - I didn’t really understand how everything fitted together. We thought we’d get by, but in the regions we travelled to they didn’t understand a word we were saying!
We planned to travel back there so I thought, “I’ll learn Chinese properly”. My sister had studied with the OU before, so I knew it was possible to fit a higher education course around your day job. When I got home, I looked on the OU website, found they had a beginner’s Mandarin Chinese course and thought I’d go for it. Rather than learning parrot fashion, the OU course left me with a very good understanding of the Chinese mind, and I think that languages are the key to understanding a culture. The intention was to go back to China in 2020 but I started another OU course in Spanish instead.
I had booked to travel on a cargo ship to Australia but Covid has delayed that; right in the middle of my Spanish course, and right over a period when I have to submit a spoken assignment! I’m going to be somewhere in the middle of the southern oceans but, with satellite communications, it should be possible- and I’ll have a massive number of hours to devote to studying. It will mean that the OU is truly an ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ university, where you can get a very high standard of education even from a ship in the middle of the ocean!
The quality of tuition at the OU is at least as high as it was in the degrees I studied at traditional brick universities, if not better. Because of this, you need to approach your studies with the same commitment- you need to set aside time to study. Although I had to give up some of my free time to studying, I didn’t lose out on my earnings time, so studying with the OU was less expensive for me than studying at a brick university.The amount you learn in the Level 1 OU courses is enormous; they’re absolutely fantastic, and the marking and feedback I got from my tutor was excellent.
I recently won an award from the Faculty of WELS, nominated by my tutor, in part for my use of the module forums. I would ask my questions via the forums (rather than directly to my tutor) so that everyone in my tutor group could benefit from reading the explanations. This helped to reassure other learners that it’s normal to have questions and misunderstandings during your language learning. There were times when I looked at Chinese and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous’ but you can say to everyone, ‘Look, I don’t understand this,’ or, ‘This has got me foxed!’. I’ve recently queried a Spanish grammar problem and my tutor was there to sort it out, as she has been with many other things. My advice to any future OU students is don’t be afraid to ask questions on the dedicated module forums; you don’t need to be image conscious and your tutor or a fellow student will be there to help you.
I hope studying at the OU has made me more open and more receptive, challenging my knowledge and assumptions. My aim is to continue with the OU for as long as I’m able and keep adding to my portfolio of skills and I’m looking forward to finally putting my languages into practice!