Note to Self — Episode 11

Learning. To let go…

Aarish Shah


I’m very opinionated about education, though as the late Sir Ken Robinson said, maybe we all are, it seems to be one thing that we all have some kind of point to raise or method to promote.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today, so sorry for that slight head fake.

I did want to talk about a few of the things I am currently learning (or at least learning intentionally), as well as the why and the how.

First off the bat there’s Mandarin Chinese.

I’ve been obsessed with East Asian culture for a long time, I love the philosophy, the classical and rural music and as far as China goes, the rich history and more recently the incredible cinematography — especially the kung fu and wuxia genres.

So it was only natural, having been a linguist all my life, to think about learning the language to get closer to the culture.

But here’s the thing.

Chinese is fucking hard to learn — especially when you’re 40 and especially when you haven’t really got a way to interactively practice it.

When I was growing up, I learned French, Spanish and Italian. They are, as we all know, related via Latin and hence it was not so difficult to move from one to the other to another. And nowadays, being married to an incredible Italian means I keep up fluency in at least one (I still speak Spanish pretty well but my French is down the drain for the most part).

I travelled to these countries, I spoke to people, I had classmates that were learning with me that I could speak to, I participated in (and won) competitions. It was easy.

But Chinese is a whole different ball game. Not only did I not have a common linguistic root to draw from, but I also had to contend with:

  1. The fact that you have Mandarin (spoken throughout mainland China) and Cantonese (spoken predominantly in Hong Kong).
  2. The fact that there are multiple tones which, if you are not practiced, are hard to replicate.
  3. The fact that the characters are not immediately intuitive and require a certain ordering to even write them properly.
  4. The fact that I didn’t…



Aarish Shah

Generalist | Thinker | Life Long Learner | Writer | Photographer