The combination of words “parental” and “leave” has always sounded absurd to me. When you’re on leave, you are essentially absent from work. However, anyone who has kids or has ever done any babysitting knows that it’s like working three full-time jobs. Being on call 24/7, with very little time left for yourself…
Erika is a 36-year-old mom of four from Slovakia, who is managing to learn foreign languages even while on maternity leave and taking care of her small squad! In fact, she’s been on maternity leave non-stop for almost 10 years. And before she moved to the countryside, she used to live in a big city, where she studied teaching and law. Her kids are 2, 5, 9 and 10, and they enjoy watching their mom study her foreign language – English – by taking small, but systematic steps.
Like most other people in Slovakia, I started learning foreign languages in primary school. My first foreign language was English and in middle school, I also started learning German. Although my grades were always perfect, we never focused much on communication skills, which is why my overall language abilities were quite poor. When I finished high school, I didn’t feel confident in my languages at all, which is why I avoided them at all cost during my university studies.
After finishing my second degree, I decided to start a family. Eight years later, I started learning English again at my own relaxed pace. I have to say that in the past six months, it’s actually been pretty intensive, which is great because I’m having a lot of fun!
First of all, I felt like I needed to learn it. English is the lingua franca of the modern age, after all. My maternity leave will soon be over and I have to get ready for the labor market, which means that I need to think about the skills I can offer to my future employer.
Apart from that, I had also experienced many situations in which I met a foreigner and I just wanted to run away and hide. I just couldn’t communicate with them properly. It always made me feel terrible and I wanted to ditch that feeling once and for all. You can have all the education in the world. But if you can’t open your mouth once you cross the border, what’s the point?
So, the decision came from within. But it soon looked like I was going to fail again, although I was trying. For about one year, I had one-on-one lessons with a private tutor (but with no system of learning at home) and that’s when I discovered Lýdia’s videos, which opened my eyes and showed me an entirely new perspective on learning as well as some fantastic methods that have clearly moved me forward. I could never have done it without them and I could never have discovered them without Lýdia.
Last year, I completed the Language Master video course, which I found very motivational. I immediately started learning vocabulary with Goldlist and Anki, both of which are based on SRS (Spaced Repetition System), and I also downloaded Duolingo, started reading bilingual books, and listening to podcasts. I gradually incorporated English into our family life. And it exceeded my expectations in every possible way. Later, I discovered the then brand new Language Key video course, which came out a few months after I started learning and I quickly realized it could help me on my journey even more.
People often think that if they learned a foreign language in school for several years, they must be able to speak it. But that’s not always true. And I only realized this when I started treating English as a new language. But this time, I did it right.
I started learning with methods from both video courses and I created a system that can be easily replicated. In December, I started using the back-translation method, which is extremely useful. I’ve also completed the recommended textbook for autodidacts, chapter by chapter (it really helped me understand grammar a lot better and I also learned lots of new vocabulary).
If I struggle with words and phrases, I put them into Anki, an app which helps me by ensuring I come across them regularly. I also put all of my vocabulary from paper flashcards into this app, because it’s much easier and effortless – you always know which cards you should be reviewing on any given day 🙂
I’ve also gone back to using the Goldlist method, because even though I occasionally got lost in it after skipping a few days, I found out that you just need to continue, even if it’s a few days later. Going back to the vocabulary you’ve previously learned is definitely very effective!
What I can recommend to everyone who wants to learn at home is to do it gradually and slowly. Even during my busy days with the kids, I can find a few short breaks when I can learn English. For example, in the morning, between sending my older kids to school and waking up the younger ones, I do Duolingo (I’ve managed to keep it up for three months without a break!) 🙂
My attempts at waking up before everyone else and learning have failed. I wasn’t able to do complicated translations in the morning. Duolingo is a form of relaxation for me. But I also find many interesting phrases there, which I put into my Anki. Then I review them while I’m walking in the park with the stroller.
When my youngest son goes to sleep at lunchtime, I learn from my textbook for autodidacts, doing lots of back-translation, or even writing new vocabulary into my Goldlist. Sometimes, I take a test or two at www.50languages.com or read a few pages of my bilingual book. In the evening, I listen to English podcasts while putting my son to sleep.
Since my days follow a routine at the moment, I can do this every day. Conversations in English are a bonus to my learning, but also time spent in good company. I love the fact that I’m finally able to answer somebody’s questions in English and understand what they’re saying. I never experienced it when I was in school.
“This is my system, which took three months to develop. It gradually became a routine which doesn’t get in the way of my busy life. Quite the contrary – it’s become part of it. It’s a great system which I can sustain for a long time and which will hopefully keep moving me forward.”
I am surrounded by patient and supportive people. I’ve introduced my children to some of the methods I use and they’ve incorporated them into their own learning. They like Anki, which is great because they can see that mobile phones are good for more than just playing games 🙂 They also understand that it’s important to keep learning throughout one’s life since everything around us is constantly evolving and that even short breaks can be used in a meaningful way.
Use the time you have for educating yourself because that’s what moves you forward. You don’t need a lot of time – short but frequent learning is actually better! After all, it’s not a sprint, but a marathon. It will make you feel great because you’ll see that you can manage a lot more than you thought even on parental leave. And the time management skills you acquire will definitely come in handy, too! Essentially, it’s an experience that will move you forward in more than just one way!
Erika is a truly inspiring person whose system can serve as an example of good practice to many. Taking care of four young children and still managing to find time and energy for learning a foreign language is nothing less but admirable. I want to point out three things about her learning that are definitely noteworthy:
Parents with small children are usually time management gurus and Erika is a living proof of that! We hope her story will be an inspiration for all moms and dads whose full-time job is to take care of their little ones, but who also want to work on themselves while at it. When learning a language on parental leave, you’re also setting a good example for your children by showing them that we need to keep learning and working on our personal development throughout our lives.
Thank you for the interview, Erika. Good luck with both your personal and professional life! 🙂
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