“Здраво. Може макијиато со цимет? фала.”
We’ve lived in Skopje, North Macedonia for a year now and my favorite part of being here is the cafe down the street where I come almost every morning to sip a coffee while I either read my book or work on my laptop. The entire front of the cafe folds back with big glass accordion style windows and tables spill out onto the sidewalk when it’s warm. The name of the place is Chillin Bar, and the vibe matches. I just completed my daily Anki reviews on my phone and now I’ve cracked open my laptop.
A couple quick stats for my fellow data nerds: Today is the day that I hit 30,000 flashcard reviews for Macedonian on Anki! I discovered Anki 11 months ago (332 days) and I am currently on a 220-day review streak.
One year. It was the middle of last winter and I was sitting at my cubicle in a factory in Marietta, Pennsylvania, daydreaming about how I could escape my job. I had been working in engineering & operations for the past five years and while I loved the work, I hated the monotony of my life. I wanted more freedom and flexibility. My wife and I had recently started an online marketing business so I was preparing to quit my day job in just a few short months. With our business being online, we were no longer going to be tied to a geographical location. I have family who have lived in Skopje, Macedonia for nearly 30 years. So it hit me: why not move to Macedonia and learn the language? It would be a challenging adventure but it would also allow me to experience a different part of the world with my wife who had not traveled much. A few months later, I quit my job, moved to Macedonia and started learning Macedonian. Now I can have a conversation with just about anyone I meet. In this blog post, I’ll share with you how I did it – along with some tips for learning a foreign language!
Taking the plunge and moving to Macedonia! Instant immersion
It was April of 2021 and I had just quit my job in Pennsylvania. I was feeling excited about a new chapter of our lives and uncertain about where we wanted to spend our time, thanks to our newfound location freedom. So when I talked to my family, who had been living in North Macedonia for decades, and they invited us to come visit them, we seized the opportunity.
I had only a small idea of what to expect from Macedonia. I had visited a handful of times growing up when we would visit our cousins, but I knew next to nothing about the country or its language. My wife, Maddie, had never been to Europe before and had absolutely no idea what to expect. But we were excited for the adventure.
So the next month, on May 19th, 2021, we packed our bags, brought our dog in a travel crate, and boarded a plane bound for Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. As soon as we arrived, it was clear that things were going to be different. Maddie and I had to figure out how to get around a city where we didn’t speak the language and couldn’t even read the Cyrillic alphabet.
But we were excited for the challenge and started to learn Macedonian right away. We would walk around town and try to piece together words from what we heard people say. We would look up words on Google Translate and use them as often as possible.
In the beginning, it was difficult. We would get lost trying to find our way around town. And we would sometimes order food only to be disappointed when it arrived because we had misunderstood what we ordered. But with each day that passed, we got a little better.
We set simple goals for ourselves. The first morning we woke up in our new apartment, we set a goal to find an ATM and withdraw cash. The next goal was to find a grocery store and buy food.
A year later, I can now say that I am conversationally fluent in Macedonian. We can have conversations with locals and understand what they’re saying. We can order food without any trouble and even ask for recommendations on where to go and what to see. I can talk about our lives and what’s happening around us. Not to say that everything that comes out of my mouth is perfect, but I can communicate what I want to say and understand what people are saying to me.
But most importantly, we feel like a part of the community here. And that’s something we could have never achieved if we hadn’t taken the plunge and decided to learn Macedonian.
As far as language goes though, in the beginning, we weren’t sure where exactly we should start. We were certainly learning bits and pieces through pure immersion but we were floundering a bit without any structure. So we considered taking some classes at one of the local language schools.
Language classes with a tutor
Through my aunt and uncle, we met a lady from their church named Suzana who runs a language school in Skopje. Suzana offered to give us private Macedonian lessons two times a week.
We decided to take her up on her offer and started taking Macedonian lessons about three weeks after we arrived. Suzana was an excellent teacher and really helped us to learn the Macedonian alphabet, basic vocabulary, and grammar. She also taught us a lot about Macedonian culture which we appreciated. We also followed a Macedonian course book which was created by native speakers.
We would usually meet Suzana downtown at a cafe across the street from the Ministry of Finance. They have excellent coffee and some of the best fresh-squeezed juice I’ve ever had. Maddie and I would get there a few minutes early and order coffee before Suzana arrived. The three of us would then sit down and get started with our lesson.
Suzana would start by going over the alphabet with us. We would learn a few new words each lesson and practice writing in Cyrillic. This was brand new to both Maddie and I, but we enjoyed the challenge and appreciated learning a new alphabet. So I tried my best and studied hard.
The Macedonian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic alphabet which can look daunting to Westerners at first if you’re not familiar with it. But Suzana was patient with us and helped us to learn the alphabet quickly.
One of the things I really appreciated about Suzana’s teaching style was that she would always start with vocabulary. She would write down a list of words for us to learn and we would go over them before moving on to grammar. This helped us to build up our Macedonian vocabulary quickly.
In addition to teaching us the language, Suzana also taught us a lot about Macedonian culture. She would often tell us stories about her family and her childhood. She also told us about Macedonian holidays and traditions. This was really helpful in giving us a better understanding of the culture here.
Maddie and I have different learning styles, so we decided to do individual lessons after a while for a more tailored approach.
After a few weeks of classes with Suzana, Maddie and I could both follow basic conversation patterns like calling a taxi, ordering food, and greeting people. We were still learning new words and grammar rules but we were starting to feel more confident using the Macedonian language.
Although we enjoyed our classes with Suzana, after a while we decreased the frequency down to one lesson a week, and then eventually, after a few months, we decided to stop when other learning methods began to fit our Macedonian language journey more closely.
After each class, our homework was to write each of the new Macedonian words we had learned that day 5 times in our notebooks. This was really helpful in solidifying the new Macedonian-English vocabulary in our minds.
However, there is a MUCH better way – and I learned about it in July.
Discovering the best way to learn vocabulary – Anki
In July, I was introduced to the program Anki by my friend Riley. He told me that it was the best way to learn vocabulary and that he had used it to learn German. I was eager to try it out and see if it could help me learn Macedonian vocabulary more effectively.
Anki is a free program that you can download on your computer or phone. It’s very user-friendly and you can create your own flashcards or use ones that others have already made.
There are tons of resources to learn about Anki and how to use it for languages, so I won’t go too deep. But the most powerful feature of Anki, in my opinion, is that it uses a spaced repetition system.
This means that the program will show you each flashcard at intervals that are based on how well you remember the information. So if you remember a word easily, you’ll see it less often. But if you forget a word, it will show up more frequently. This is really effective in helping you learn and remember new vocabulary.
I started using Anki every day to learn new Macedonian words and it made a HUGE difference in my vocabulary retention. I would add about 20-30 new words to my deck each day, and then review the words that I had already learned in my free time.
I started by adding the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and phrases from my homework from Suzana’s Macedonian lessons. At first I did this in addition to writing the words 5 times, but it became evident almost immediately that using Anki was far superior to spending the time to write hundreds of lines of text. After a couple lessons, I decided to do only Anki instead of the rote homework.
This was the beginning of making my language journey my own, rather than following a rote curriculum.
Within a few weeks, I had a deck of over 1000 Macedonian words, and I was able to learn them much more quickly and effectively than with any other method.
I highly recommend using Anki (or a similar program) for learning Macedonian vocabulary (or any foreign language) quickly and effectively. It’s been a game-changer for me in my Macedonian language learning journey.
If you want to learn more about Anki, check out this website: [website name or URL].
Armed with my new language method, I began to record as many vocab words as I could from my daily life. Whenever I could pick out new words, I would type them into a Google Sheets document on my phone and then translate them later to figure out the proper pronunciation and load them into Anki.
Within a few months, I would add several thousand words to my Anki deck and my Macedonian vocabulary would expand rapidly.
This was an incredibly effective way to learn new vocabulary, and it helped me to learn words that I would actually use in the context of my daily life.
With Anki, I now had a method to remember words and phrases – but I needed a better understanding of how to string them together into sentences that I would use in daily life and achieve conversational fluency.
It was that this point in time that I learned of another resource from the same friend that told me about Anki.
It was also at this point in mid July that we left Macedonia to go back to Pennsylvania for a while.
Language Lords – back to the States for 2 months
If you want to learn Macedonian or other languages and want to make fast progress: watch this video. He will teach you how to speak the language that you are going to need for your own life.
This method, which I’m calling the Language Lords method, since that is the name of his channel, makes a ton of sense.
Practice telling stories about your everyday life. Think of stories that you would tend to use as fodder for small talk in English (or your native language) – anything that you would naturally talk about if the conversation were in your native tongue. Then tell those stories out loud, by yourself, in front of your webcam while you record yourself talking.
Watch the recording back, and for every word or phrase that you don’t know in Macedonian, say it in English (or your native language) and make a list.
Then look up the translations of those words and phrases and load them into Anki.
This is an incredibly effective way to learn new vocabulary because you are learning the words and phrases that you actually need for daily conversation, rather than memorizing lists of random vocabulary words.
It’s also a great way to learn proper pronunciation, since you can listen to yourself saying the words and phrases out loud.
It’s also much more fun than doing traditional homework assignments, and it helps you to learn to speak the language in a more natural way.
I’ve been using this method for about two months now, and my Macedonian has improved by leaps and bounds.
Every day, tell the same story and record yourself speaking until you can tell the whole story relatively with relative fluidity, hopefully after a week or a couple of days.
Then move on to a new story.
Keep track of all your new words in Anki, and review them regularly.
In order to accomplish this, I would open up a private live stream on my YouTube channel and set a goal to speak Macedonian for at least 5 minutes. Then when I was done I had an easily organizable recording of myself that I could re-watch for myself AND I could also easily send to a language partner that I could ask to critique me every once in a while.
Riley and I both had goals to improve our language skills – he was working on German, so we held each other accountable to post our YouTube practice videos regularly for a couple weeks while I was in the states.
I’ve found that this method is much more effective than any other language learning method that I’ve tried, and I’m making much faster progress than I ever thought possible. I can’t recommend this method enough – it’s been an absolute game-changer for me in my Macedonian language learning journey.
Albania & mental overload
At about this time we found out that the lawyer we were working with was not very good and had let our residency application sit on her desk for far too long. Our 90 day tourist visa for Macedonia was about to run out so we had to leave the country at the beginning of October.
So we decided to leave the country for a few weeks and go to Albania, since it was close by and we had heard that it was a beautiful country.
We ended up leaving Macedonia for 6 weeks, and we packed a lot into that time.
We saw a lot of new things and had some great experiences, but it was also a really tough time for us.
We were living out of our suitcases, constantly moving from place to place, and we were running our business remotely, which was challenging.
On top of all that, we were also trying to learn Macedonian, which ended up taking a bit of a backseat to everything else that was going on.
The first month we were in Albania we spent decompressing from our time in Macedonia and getting used to our new surroundings and making new friends. We spent a lot of time with our new friend Marko, who lived in the same building as the apartment we rented and was studying for his master’s degree in the capital Tirana.
We also spent a lot of time working on our business, since we had neglected it somewhat while we were in Macedonia.
After a month in Albania we decided to take a break from all the work and travel to Rome for a week.
Rome was an amazing city and it was great to see some of the historical sights that we had only read about before. I had been there before but everything was new for Maddie.
We also got to eat some incredible food and drink some delicious wine, including learning how to make homemade pasta from a real Italian chef!
After our week in Rome we headed to Athens for a five day trip.
My cousin Sam and uncle Philip were both running the Athens marathon. So we got to watch their race. Running the original marathon is an incredible feat, and it was really inspiring to see them both accomplish their goals.
We also got to explore the city and see some of the amazing ruins. The Acropolis is an incredible sight and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Athens.
We also got to eat some more delicious food and drink some more delicious wine. 😉
All in all, our time in Albania, Italy, and Greece was a great experience, even though it was tough at times.
We learned a lot and we got to see some amazing places.
And even though we didn’t get to spend as much time learning Macedonian as we would have liked, we still made some progress and were looking forward to getting back to it when we returned to Macedonia.
Pre-made decks & my system for rapid acquisition
In mid-November our residency had finally been approved, so we were able to return to Macedonia and start our new life there.
When I came back to Macedonia, I started using some pre-made Anki decks to help me learn Macedonian more quickly.
I had been using the spaced repetition software Anki for a while to learn vocabulary, but I had only made my own decks up until that point.
But now that we were preparing to spend an extended duration of time in the country, I decided it would be helpful to use some pre-made decks to get me up to speed more quickly.
There are a lot of different decks available online, so I took some time to browse through them and find the ones that best suited my needs.
I ended up picking a few different Macedonian-English decks, including one for basic phrases, one for common words, and one for verb conjugations.
Once I had chosen the decks that I wanted to use, I needed to come up with a system for using them effectively.
I ended up doing a deep dive on my Anki settings and learning how to configure my various decks to optimize for acquisition.
By doing this, I was able to review all of the decks regularly and learn new vocabulary from each one while also reinforcing what I had already learned.
What worked & what didn’t
Overall, this system worked pretty well for me and helped me learn Macedonian quite quickly.
Within a few months I was already feeling pretty confident in my ability to speak the language.
One thing that I found helpful was making sure to review the decks regularly.
If I went too long without reviewing a deck, I would start to forget some of the vocabulary.
But as long as I kept up with my reviews, I was able to maintain what I had learned and even continue making progress.
Another thing that worked well for me was using multiple decks at the same time.
This allowed me to learn new vocabulary from each deck while also reinforcing what I had already learned from the other decks.
I found that this helped me learn more quickly and effectively than if I had just been using one deck at a time.
I’ve written another article about the system I used for rapidly acquring new language vocab through Anki practice, and it’s applicable for all new languages, not just for Macedonian learners.
Grammar deep dive
One of the things that I found I needed to be able to understand better about the Macedonian language was the grammar.
But I knew that if I wanted to be able to speak the language fluently (or even anywhere close to native speakers), I needed to learn all of the grammar.
So I started doing some research on how to learn Macedonian grammar effectively.
I read a lot of different articles and blog posts, and I also checked out some of the free Macedonian lessons that are available online.
The Peace Corp’s Curriculum
The Peace Corps has a freely available curriculum to learn Macedonian that can be found online. The curriculum is designed for people who are already familiar with the basics of grammar, and it covers all of the grammar rules that you need to know in order to speak the language fluently.
The curriculum includes a textbook, exercises, and answer keys, as well as audio recordings and flashcards.
I found this curriculum to be extremely helpful, and it was a great resource for me as I was learning the language.
The textbook is very thorough, and it covers all of the grammar rules that you need to know.
The exercises are also helpful, and they allow you to practice what you have learned in the textbook.
And the answer keys are great for checking your work and making sure that you are understanding the material correctly.
In addition to the Peace Corps curriculum, I also used a textbook that I got from Suzana.
The textbook is called “Ајде да учиме Македонски”, and it is designed for people who are just starting to learn the language.
The book covers all of the basics of grammar, and it includes exercises and answer keys.
After reading all of this material, I created my own study plan and started drilling myself on all of the different grammar rules.
I also started practicing using the grammar in actual conversations.
This was definitely a challenging process, but by doing this I was able to learn a ton of the grammar rules and start using them in my conversations.
The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became with using the grammar in real-world situations.
Macedonian verbal prefixes are a part of the language that can be a little tricky to learn at first.
But with a little practice, you will be able to understand how they work and how they modify verbs.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
The prefix “за-” is used to indicate that the verb has just begun to be true, or has just begun to take place.
For example, “пишува” means “to write”, however “запишува” means “to write down” or “to enroll”.
The prefix “до-” is used to indicate that the verb is in the process of happening.
For example, “патуваме” means “we travel”, however “допатуваме” means “we travelled up to”
As you can see, the Macedonian verbal prefixes can be a little bit confusing at first, but learning the rules that govern them is essential for being able to understand new words when you hear them spoken for the first time.
I also began reading academic papers on the development of the Macedonian language, especially as it emerged historically as distinct from the Bulgarian language.
The history was interesting, but it was also helpful in understanding some of the more complex grammar rules.
One of the things that I found most challenging about learning to speak Macedonian grammar was the verbal prefixes.
These are used to modify and perfectivize verbs, and they can be quite confusing for learners.
But by doing a lot of practice and drilling, I was eventually able to get a handle on them and start using them correctly in my conversations.
Bulgarian and Macedonian are both Slavic languages, but they have a few dialectical differences that can make learning them both a bit tricky.
The biggest difference is in the way that verbal prefixes are used.
In Macedonian, verbal prefixes are used to modify and perfectivize verbs, but in Bulgarian they are used for other purposes.
This means that when you learn a verb in one language, the conjugation will be different in the other language.
Another difference is that Macedonian has more dialectical variation than Bulgarian.
S.A.D. – Mental Fatigue (January 2nd)
I hit a wall when it came to learning Macedonian in January. My brain was just exhausted, and I wasn’t making any progress.
I took some time off from hardcore language learning to rest my brain. I did the bare minimum on Anki to maintain my progress, but I didn’t do a lot of new cards.
This allowed me to take a step back and reevaluate my approach. I realized that I needed to focus more on drilling myself on the grammar rules, and I needed to practice using the grammar in actual conversations.
The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became with using the grammar in real-world situations. And by doing this, I was able to learn a ton of the grammar rules and start using them in my conversations.
So if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be discouraged. Just take a step back and reevaluate your approach. You might just find that you need to change your focus in order to make progress.
I don’t have much advice from my time, but from my experience sometimes it’s actually healthy to pump the brakes on studying and allow your brain some time relax. It can be hard to do, but it’ll pay off in the long run.
Reviewing in Earnest – hitting 3,000 -> 4,000 -> 5,000 words
By the end of January, I was feeling much better about my progress as I continued to learn Macedonian.
I had a solid understanding of the grammar rules, and I was able to use them correctly in conversations.
In February, I decided to focus on having conversations in Macedonian.
I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and practice using the language as much as possible.
So I began running with my friend Mihajlo, who is a native speaker, as we trained for the first of two trail runs. The first was the Vodno-Matka trail and the second was the Galicica Ultra Marathon.
Our training runs lasted for hours at a time, and we would practice Macedonian the entire time. Derek, another friend of mine, was also trying to learn Macedonian and we would ask Mihajlo all of our language questions while we ran through the mountains near Skopje. We would do our best to speak Macedonian and Mihajlo was patient with us to correct us and teach us more natural ways to express our thoughts.
This was an incredible way to learn the language. Not only was I getting tons of listening practice, but I was also able to learn new vocabulary and grammar rules by hearing them used in context.
After a few months of training, we ran the Vodno-Matka 27km trail. It was an amazing experience, and I’m proud to say that I finished in under four hours.
But more importantly, I was able to have conversations with native speakers throughout the race. This was a huge confidence boost, and it showed me that my hard work had paid off.
The Galicica Ultra Marathon was an even bigger challenge. The race is 66km, and it takes place in the mountains of Macedonia.
I was nervous about the race, but I was determined to finish.
And once again, I was able to have conversations with native speakers throughout the race. This time, however, I wasn’t just having conversations about the weather or what we were doing that day.
I was having deep, meaningful conversations about life, meaning, and faith. It was an amazing experience, and it showed me how far my Macedonian had come in such a short period of time.
Another avenue for learning during this time was a book club I joined in order to improve my Macedonian speaking skills.
My uncle Clay runs a nonprofit in Macedonia focused on helping local business owners grow and expand their businesses and he was sponsoring a book club for local entrepreneurs to read through the book “Faith-Driven Entrepreneur”.
The club met every two weeks, and we would discuss a few chapters from the book.
This was a great opportunity to practice my conversation skills, as well as learn more about other entrepreneur’s experiences in Macedonia.
I had read the book a few months earlier, so I was familiar with the main ideas. But discussing the book in Macedonian with other members of the club was a different experience.
It was challenging to express my thoughts in Macedonian, but it was also a great way to learn more about the language and culture.
As time went by, I was able to participate more in the discussion and express my thoughts more clearly.
During every meeting I would jot down words that were unfamiliar to me and later I would translate them and add them to my Anki decks.
I was faithful with my Anki reviews throughout this time , and I was able to increase the mature count of my decks from 3000 cards to 4000 cards to (just recently) 5000 cards that have reached the mature phase in Anki.
Using and understanding a monolingual dictionary
You don’t have to have attempted learning a foreign language to understand that when it comes to your own native language, a dictionary is the best resource for understanding new words.
Along those lines, it feels like a level up when you can use a Macedonian-only dictionary (or in my case website: drmj.eu.mk) to understand new words, instead of relying on a Macedonian-English translation resource.
It’s a level up because:
– you’re using the Macedonian language to learn more about the Macedonian language
– you don’t have to think about the English translation of a word, which can often be difficult or impossible to understand without context
– you learn new words in the context of other Macedonian words, which helps with understanding and retention
One year ago, I would never have thought that I would be able to use a Macedonian dictionary as a reference tool.
But after months of studying, listening, and practicing my conversation skills, I’m proud to say that I can now use it as a resource to help me learn to speak Macedonian.
Learning to speak Macedonian is definitely a challenge, but it’s one that I’m enjoying. And I’m confident that with a little bit of hard work, anyone can learn this beautiful language.
I hope that by sharing my story, I can encourage others who are learning Macedonian or want to learn Macedonian (or any other foreign language) to keep going.
It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it when you see the progress you’ve made.
Keep studying, practicing, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn in just one year.
Thanks for reading! Благодарам! (Thank you!)
Please reach out if you have any questions or would like help with learning to speak Macedonian. I’d be happy to chat! 🙂