New year, new you: Upgrade your life with a short course

What will it be – an ancient form of combat or knitting for beginners? Caitlin Davies provides inspiration for learning new talents in 2009

For 40 years, Sandra Walton worked as a primary-school headteacher. "My life was dominated by learning," she says. "I knew everything about assessments, curriculum and management, but it wasn't learning the way I'm learning now – this is like a reawakening for me." Walton has just signed up for a 10-week course in the Chinese martial art t'ai chi.

She's a student at Birmingham's Botanical Gardens, where she previously studied watercolour painting and a course entitled "De-stress Your Life and Let the Sunshine In". There are 15 other students on her new t'ai chi course, ranging in age from 45 to 80. "The teacher treats us all with great respect," she says, "regardless if you have to hold on to the wall to do the movements."

Walton is one of thousands of adult learners looking for ways to refresh both body and mind. She wants to develop herself as a person, one of the most common reasons for taking a short course, according to the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). Its most recent learning survey found that while adult learners are keen to improve their employment opportunities, they are just as driven by a desire for self-fulfilment.

The Botanical Gardens runs weekend workshops and daytime and evening courses in its purpose-built study centre. Fees vary from £20 for knitting for beginners to £90 for practical photography with digital cameras. The day and evening courses usually last 10 weeks, and normally cost £45.

T'ai chi and reiki, the Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation, are proving particularly popular. Such is the demand that extra courses have been introduced for the New Year.

"People seem to like doing something active," says the gardens' education officer, Deborah Knott, "and this is a very peaceful setting, with a calm-ing building and lovely views of the 15-acre grounds."

Horticulture courses are not as popular as they were, but the Royal Horticultural Society has a range of qualifications. The Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture is ideal for amateurs.

Business-management and IT courses are useful. Most adult learners are keen to take a course that will help them in their job, or they want a recognised qualification: learndirect has a wide range of online courses starting from £19.99, and many of the IT and management courses lead to qualifications.

Another option is to learn a new language. The Open University runs distance-learning courses in French, German and Spanish, and beginner's courses in Italian and Welsh. Many courses start in February, but they tend to be on the intermediate level.

"Be clear about what you want to do and why," says Teresa Tinsley, the director of communications at Cilt, the National Centre for Languages. "You have to practise the skills you learn, especially listening and speaking." So if you're taking a written course in Spanish, you'll need to practise your conversational skills too.

Tinsley says that short courses can be especially useful because they tend to be intensive. There are also more blended courses available now, with a mixture of online and face-to-face learning, such as those offered by the Instituto Cervantes in London. It runs a 15-week part-time Spanish course for £150.

Language websites can help you find conversational partners, while podcasts (online audio or video recordings) are becoming the latest way to learn. Coffee Break Spanish, part of the Radio Lingua Network, uses podcasts as integral learning tools. A six-month subscription starts from £27.

"Learning a new language such as French is more than just wanting to know how to buy a baguette," says Alastair Clark, senior development officer at NIACE. "It's the way people change their view of themselves by learning another language."

Meanwhile, Sandra Walton is looking forward to doing t'ai chi out on the lawn of Birmingham's Botanical Gardens once spring arrives. "I have a sense of achievement, and I'm learning something new. I'd have a go at anything now!"



Birmingham Botanical Gardens www.birminghambotanicalgardens.org.uk; Directgov www.direct.gov.uk/en/Education AndLearning/AdultLearning; RHS www.rhs.org.uk; Cilt www.cilt.org.uk; learndirect www.learndirect.co.uk; Open University www.open.ac.uk; Instituto Cervantes www.londres.cervantes.es; Radio Lingua www.radiolingua.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living