«First, I needed to dust off my language skills.»

«Something new happened to me in the spring of 2014. I lost my job of 14 years.  At first I tried to make the most out of the new situation, enjoyed the newly-found free time and my fresh grandma-status, spent time in my country home and thought about what more I’d like to do with my career.

While browsing job offers it was more than clear. First, I needed to dust off my language skills. Basically every offer relating  even slightly to my specialty, had on the second (some times even the first) a requirement of English language proficiency to a good or very good standard. My last language lesson was in university more than three decades ago and because I love to travel, I somehow everywhere – from Iceland to China – got by. However, ‘getting by’ wasn’t the requirement that was in the job offers. So by the Autumn, I had decided, that from the courses offered through Töötukassa (Labour Board) partners, I would like to get re-acquainted with the english language.

Thanks to my very great Töötukassa consultant Anu Kippar, who encouraged me in every way, I started to look for a language school. By the way, that is quite separate work: there are many schools, locations and prices are different. So, what to choose? Since I had a rather large sum to use for my English courses, I googled and looked into the schools, teachers and feedback from their students. By the end of August I had narrowed it down to two or three, but still I had reached a dead end: a distinguished language school hadn’t answered my inquiry in three weeks, the second one had a very bad location for me and the third had lessons rarely and too late in the evening.

With ILS it all settled down: I took a language test online and immediately got an e-mail, where I was asked to come to an interview where I would be appointed to a group, with whom I could start my studies in September. Although my conversation with the headmaster Phil could hardly be called as an interview (because only few phrases came out of my mouth  and the rest I tried to pass on with body language and facial expressions). In addition to my twice-a-week evening B1 group lessons (from September till Christmas — 60 hours) I got 40 private lessons where we focused on the topics and terms of my specialty (media).

If you walk to Roosikrantsi street four times a week and have at least one and a half hour classes, you have to speak, hear and think in English and little-by-little, it started to stick. Even more, that it is a real school, which means homework and all. I noticed that I started trying watching English television series without reading the subtitles, listened to the CD that came with my textbook for pronunciation excercises and tried really hard to learn new words.

The group (five people) was great, fortunately there were others that were my age and our level of English was about the same as well. The teacher Dan was a lively and curious young american, whoplayed different language learning games with us and encouraged us in every way. We tried to develop conversations on everyday topics, from food to sports to the recession and politics. Since between the two group lessons I had private lessons with another two teachers, the australian sports fan Robert and the head of the school Phil – I soon got the courage to talk to people in English. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong, the main thing is, that I’m trying to express myself. In grammar I was the weakest in my group, despite the teachers’ efforts. I could only focus on the content of the story, but the moment I started to think about whether the activity was happening now or in the past, I tended to freeze.

What I loved about ILS was the fact that the teachers native language is English, so they can’t help you if you don’t know some word – they just calmly say, that try to say it differently. And you try… It feels good to move the grey matter of your brain when you’re older than 50, this experience was new to me and I tried to make the most of it in every way. I learned for myself, not for the teacher.

In the meantime I had spotted a job offer, that a Latvian publishing house was looking for new workers for a new magazine. I applied and I was invited in the end of october to Riga for a job interview. The third job interview in my life and it had to be in English! Help, I can’t do it! I complained about my concern in the private lesson and immediately Phil and Rob came to my aid. For two weeks we played through interviews and possible answers for different questions. Even on the bus I repeated through the phrases to prove my suitability for the position.

And I got the job! I’m editing the new magazine “Mida Arstid Sulle Ei Räägi”, which is a translated version of the English licenced magazine “What Doctors Don’t Tell You”. The same magazine is published in Latvia and Lithuania. I communicate with my new colleagues in English and Russian – fortunately for me, English is a foreign language for Latvians as well. Every-day e-mails in English keep me in shape, plus I asked for every magazine’s original English texts to check the questions that may come up in the translation. Once a month when I go to Riga, I can speak to the publishing house’s main editor about the content in English.

Half a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed, that I could take such a step. Thanks to ILS teachers’ tremendous optimism toward an older learner and a very supportive atmosphere, my language studies went to the right place at the right time. Thank you!»

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Helle Raidla