In April, 2020, my wife and I decided to start a new project to help me learn her native language, Macedonian. To do that, I stuck to a modified version of the No English Rule, I had previously used with Vat in The Year Without English.
Here’s a brief introduction to the project:
And here’s an update video with my progress after one month (more below):
Side note: Subtitling like this can be misleading. I chose to translate to the nearest correct English, rather than literally translating mistakes. While the former approach tends to make your speaking level look slightly better than it is, the latter tends to make it look much worse as spoken language is more forgiving than text for minor errors. Still, I want to make it clear that my speaking above is not free of mistakes!
Why Learn Macedonian?
We decided to start the project for two reasons:
- First, our first child was born just a few months prior to starting the project. Because I couldn’t speak Macedonian, we spoke exclusively English at home. If I’m able to speak Macedonian, it will be easier to speak more at home, so he’ll have a better chance of picking up some of it as he gets older.
- Second, we started this project in the middle of the calls for social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. Since we were sequestered at home, it was a bit easier to maintain immersion during this time.
Above all, however, I had wanted to learn Macedonian even when we started dating, but I never got to a conversational level. While I had picked up a little here and there, and we had even stayed in North Macedonia for two weeks during our honeymoon, my level remained stuck at just knowing a few random words and sentences.
Taking the leap into a No English project is often a scary one. But the result is that you end up reaching a conversational level far more quickly than with any other approach I’ve seen.
How Did I Study?
In addition to the No English Rule at home, I did a few other things that helped:
- Tutoring. Near daily iTalki.com lessons.
- Flashcards. My Anki deck at the end of the month had around ~1000 words. [Download my flashcards here. (ZIP to ANKI)]
- Textbook. I worked on Македонски Јазик, completing 11/16 lessons. [Download my lesson document here. (PDF)]
My total time investment in studying (ignoring the daily life conversations with my wife) is difficult to know exactly, as I didn’t study with fixed hours as I have with other projects. Instead, I studied in gaps of time as they appeared in my schedule. Still, I would estimate I spent:
- Roughly 30 minutes per day on textbook practice. Perhaps, 15-20 hours total.
- I know from iTalki.com that I did 20 one-hour lessons.
- Anki tells me I spent 17 hours on flashcards, but this doesn’t include the time to make flashcards. Conservatively, I think ~25 hours would be an over-estimate.
With these estimates, I can say that my overall studying time this month was no more than 65 hours, or ~2 hours per day. Certainly a large time investment if you’re working full-time and have a baby at home, but not anything unattainable for someone suitably dedicated.
Modifications to the No English Rule
From the outset, we decided to modify the No English Rule to be only our personal conversations. That meant calls outside of the house for work, interacting with people outside or group conversations were fine in English. We also had allowed for emergency exceptions, as we have a child so communication comes first if the matter was important.
It should also be clear that the No English Rule only applies to speaking (even with the aforementioned caveats). I made no efforts to convert all of my media consumption, writing, reading or listening into Macedonian. While such additional steps can be helpful, they’re not a mandatory part of the strategy I’ve used.
I upheld the rule fairly well during the one-month period. We did have one evening during the second week where we took a pause to relieve some pressure for a couple hours, but otherwise there were no major gaps (aside from the exceptions already outlined above).
My wife did not observe the rule as strictly, mixing English with Macedonian as needed. Allowing greater flexibility on behalf of others who already know the language is helpful not only for offering translations, but also for making relationships easier during the early phases where comprehension is low.
Here is an example of a lesson I recorded with my Tutor, Jovan, at the one-month mark. This gives a sense of how my lessons typically progress at this point:
All of my public updates to the project can be seen here: