Attention: Have a look at CoolJugator for Greek verb conjugation. Moreover, if you want to learn or improve your Greek while having fun, please try my Interlinear Greek bilingual book. This book is a Greek book by Roubina Gouyoumtzian translated in the innovative Interlinear format, where the translation is provided below each word. Such format lets you read and improve your Greek easily regardless of your level.
Well, I had a Greek 6 month challenge under my belt: I intended to study three months at home, and then three months in Greece. I also intended to achieve level B2, which would mean I could understand the main ideas of complex texts, interact quite fluently with native speakers and express myself fluently after these six months which seemed quite reasonable at that time. Time’s up and I give you some of my recollections of how this whole challenge went and what I have achieved. I will also outline some of the lessons I have learned and give you a summary in the end. ## Six Months… Yeah, Right. More Like Three
Alright then, the first months and I started to learn. The problem was, I only too lazy to do so. I had other, seemingly more important things to do as well. I got myself some books to read and some audio to go through but… well, you know how it happens. All in all, I did not study much for the first three months before my stay in Greece. Let’s look at what I did, though, with my three months: – I learned the Greek alphabet – you know, books, sources online, and the mere fact that I made a Greek alphabet course… I could read it (although not perfectly comfortably, admittedly) when I came there
– I did go through the 30 lessons of the Pimsleur Greek course – just because I could get my hands on it and that was the least I could do for myself; I would still say Pimsleur is terribly inefficient and they use English most of the time anyway
– Went through the dialogues in two Teach Yourself Greek books – I did not even bother doing the exercises, I just skimmed through the dialogues and listened to the audio, and I hadn’t even finished before I went to Greece.
Let’s be honest there: that’s not quite what you would expect from a month of studying. I figure I could have done all of that in a week of honest and intensive studying (well, make it two weeks perhaps). Yet, it took me three months and a lot of slandering myself for not learning enough which I didn’t anyway. ### Motivation Matters (i.e. the matters relating motivation)!
Here’s one of the first lessons I could have learned: motivation does matter. If you read any of the other language (or motivational… these two tend to blend together quite often these days) blogs out there you are probably sick and tired of hearing this phrase so there is no need to agree with me there. To give you a short flash forward, though, almost everything that I would do in Greece to learn Greek, I could have just as well done outside of Greece, and motivation is the only thing lacking. This is what being in the country was really for: providing the motivation to study the language but not really helping me to learn it otherwise (well, sure, I had more practice opportunities too but one can create those artificially using the Internets). ## In Greece… the harsh first month
So I arrived in Greece. I don’t need to go too much into details here to tell you that I ended up being in an environment where English was used around me all the time (remember, I did an internship there) and Greek was not so necessary. Even apart from that, on streets, most people spoke just enough English to get by and they seemed to be very willing to use English too (what can you do). My Greek wasn’t all that good either. Once I arrived, I could read but not understand most of the airport signs, and then I tried to have a conversation in Greek and found out that my spoken Greek wasn’t without fault either: I missed the word for read and had trouble explaining even simple ideas… the studies I had done weren’t clearly enough (I read is diavázo by the way). Well, I just immersed myself into the non-Greek-speaking world and, albeit trying to use the opportunities I could get to practice Greek, I passed the first few weeks or so without much progress at all. ### Flashcards worked!
Then the third week came and, having heard about Anki on a reddit thread, I decided to try it out. For starters, Anki was flashcard software which can help you learn vocabulary by lots of rote memorization. I found a huge Greek wordlist, plugged it in and tried to learn lots of Greek words but quickly gave up when I found out that most of these words were irrelevant anyway. Sure, words like deliquescent and a kestrel (words selected by method of interpretation) might be there but they are not terribly useful to know when you don’t know words for a teacher or often. However, adding a personal touch works a lot better. I decided to do just that and got Greek podcast transcript, three of which I scanned for unknown words and added to flashcard software. Oh, I say flashcard software because I replaced Anki, which I can only use on a computer, to something I could use on my iPod (I know, now you can use Anki on iPod Touch/iPhone now but it costs). Since then, I started adding some words every day and gradually increasing the number of words. I also found an iPhone App with a big Greek wordlist divided into topics but it was impossible to remember all of these words without context and without repetition, so I just added a couple of units of these words to each of my daily flashcard bundles. So every day I would have my flashcard software words (anywhere from 20 to 50, usually around 30-40) and then a couple of units of still-unknown words divided into topics (such as clothes, human body parts, etc.). This ended up being from 30 to around 70 Greek words to learn a day. You have to learn them and then you have to repeat them the next day and then keep repeating them again and again and still keep doing that while adding new words too. All of this soon adds up and the share amount of works becomes unbearable (even provided that you only have to focus on the most-recently learned words because it’s easy to get the older ones right after so many repetitions). This becomes frustrating so I began having breaks for a day or two which ended up actually being more like a week (may I suggest a rule: never miss a day). I would also sometimes just not repeat anything and do all the repetition in one day. So the point is, flashcards were good but they are hard to keep up with. Eventually I stopped doing them but I have around 45 flashcards still on my iPod which means I have around 45 times +-40 words to repeat which is around 1800 – 2000 words. I still intend to catch up with all of this repetition and I am slowly moving up there. I will make some more sets just to make the numbers round and reach 50 and then keep repeating those for some time as for post-challenge stuff. All in all, now I would say that flashcards can definitely help you learn the basics of a language quickly and I intend to use them for new languages in the future, but at some point it just becomes too impractical because you are overwhelmed with information and then you have to move to other methods. I would say – do around 30 sets and you’ll be good. Or if you are really stuck to them, do those, then repeat them for some time and then delete all of them to start fresh to add more different words: otherwise it’s just too difficult. ### Podcasts
I like audio content. However, the problem with Greek was that there wasn’t much for beginners. There are only two podcasts for learners that found: this Greek podcast from HAU and then Greek lessons from Glavkos. Let’s talk about the first one: I did not even finish it. As I told you, I just did the transcripts. I tried to listen to the episodes afterwards and I forced myself to do so but not completely: I still have around 10 episodes left to listen to. I still intend to do that. The good news is that since having learned the words (and other stuff in Greek), I can understand most of what is said in the episodes without major difficulties now. The bad news is that the podcast is boring. Sure, it has some dialogues and made up conversations of people doing things such as going out, shopping and whatnot and it includes a lot of different vocabulary due to a variety of situations so that’s a good thing but the problem is that I couldn’t care less about these dialogues. That brings another point: make it relevant. I already wrote about how I like listening to Teaching Company courses: these are awesome. Now it would be so so awesome if I could find something like this in other languages, especially in Greek (and if it was geared towards beginners with an increasing difficulty it would be an infinitive amount of times better) but nothing of that kind exists, to my knowledge. I would say that if you want to make effective language podcasts or just material, that is the way to go: something relevant. Dialogues are not usually relevant and if you think about it, most language learning books still use dialogues which is sad. Fine, let’s talk about the second podcast then. I tried Glavkos podcast and I thought I would do it at the same time with the first one but I couldn’t: I still didn’t get most of what was being said. Thus I left it for the end and by the middle of my third month in Greece, I had a week or two where I listened to all of the episodes. The nice part was: I could understand the sence practically all the time. I did not look at the transcripts, did not read up on anything and yet I could get them. Sure, I still couldn’t get a lot of words and missed some important information but I got the sense, how awesome is that? That is not a professional podcast, though, and it has a limited number of episodes (exactly 12 as of today, which makes a few hours of listening content). The podcast is mainly dialogue based too, which I explained why I would not prefer, but there are some podcast topics I liked, though, such as writting the making a Greek salad one (as a side not, I learned making Greek salad from Jamie Oliver), the letter writing one and then I liked that some of the podcasts include information which is not general knowledge because I love to learn something new . Well, then there is one more Greek podcasts only in Greek although they sometimes use English and it is not very difficult to understand. The bad part is that most of the episodes consist of asking random children at school why they learn Greek and hearing their answers and if somebody asked me to recommend the best way to develop misanthropy: THIS! Some of the episodes have different topics, though, and some are interesting. I liked especially the interview with a writer, now that was cool. ### Never Listen Again!
Here’s one thing about podcasts: I would never, never listen to the episodes more than once. That is simply because I hate listening to the same thing again! Even with lectures that I like and material that is really interesting – I simply do not relisten to it because it becomes boring. Now it is generally said that you do have to relisten to learn the language well. That might be true, however, I just don’t because, well, I don’t like it. Whoooh. I tried listening to some of the lectures that I liked again, though, and it seems indeed that I get a lot more of them by doing that, however, I also feel a lot more bored and I do not feel like relistening. In terms of language learning, I would then prefer to learn the new words in different contexts by listening to new material rather than by listening to the same one. Can’t help that. The point is – well, I am not sure if there is a point, but I would say that* it’s better to do what you like* and not force yourself to do things that are boring and even then you can still learn the language. Although as I have been talking so far, sometimes I just had to force yourself to do what you don’t particularly like to learn the language, especially if there is a lack of resources in that language so that kind of contradicts it. Oh well. ## Grammar – How?
Here’s one way I tried to use to learn the grammar: learn it when you need it. You learn some words and stuff and then either you talk to somebody and want to say something (most likely) or you are just thinking about how to put new words into sentences, i.e. talking to yourself, or you are reading something where you notice a strange word usage which you become interested in – any of these three scenarios, that’s when you need to learn some grammar. You then open some grammar resource and read up on that. Now usually you end up understanding some basic concept and sometimes you get bombarded with tables of endings and stuff like that. DO NOT LEARN THEM BY ROTE ALL AT ONCE! I would say there are two ways to go about it: just learn the one ending you need in your particular example and keep turning back when you need it again, or if you don’t feel like doing that – just analyze them to find general patterns. That’s what I tried to do. That’s what I’ll try to do now. ### General Patterns in Grammar – That’s Where It’s At
Tables of different grammatical endings, or, rather, the fact that people learn them by rote is depressing. The way to learn them, I would say, is to make sense of them. You can use tips or tricks to do that: you can find lots of examples of that in most of my courses. Just look at how I explain Basque conjugations as “gates” which you have to go through with or without armor (where armor is an ending) to arrive at different “times” in the past, present or future in my Basque course. Of course, Basque speakers didn’t think in those terms but that was just a useful pattern that I created that would help explain those tenses. It is cool to think of and it works, so why not use it. Or take the second introductory Lithuanian course for example: the endings of Lithuanian accusative case singular can be learnt like this: the nominative endings as changes to ą, ė changes to ę, as changes to ą, is changes to į, ys changes to į, us changes to ų… Well, you can remember it like that or you can remember that you take the normal word, you dig to the last vowel and then you add the little squiggly thing to it (you have to know the difference between vowels and consonants, though, but most people do, and if you don’t: vowels are sounds you can say continuously, namely aaaaaaaaaaa, ooo, e, iii, uuuuuuu; consonants are the remaining ones such as k, p, m). Oh, and also treat y like i (makes sense because y is a vowel in Lithuanian too). Done! I try to find patterns like that. I tried to do with Greek too. I also tried to do that, for example, in the comments of these Modern Greek noun declension posts from Glavkos. I also found the Greek mediopassive voice as I described to be complitacted in its endings thus I did the same for it and published a course of it. I might have to work a little bit with restructuring the course starting lesson 4 and perhaps making it longer because I kind of rushed in the end, but the idea remains. This whole system enabled me to almost painlessly learn mediopassive in the present (well, at least it provided a system where I can work out the ending I need with a little bit of thinking). The ideas are many here: first, grammar can be very complicated (take English for example) but if you take it at chunks like these, you decrease the level of complication a lot. Second, if you learn it only when you find out that you need it, you are a lot more motivated and your focus is a lot better so it is naturally easier for you to learn the grammar. Third, just analyze it a bit and try to find or create the patterns. ### Where to Learn Grammar From Them?
I have already talked about the resources I used to learn Greek and you can find grammar resources there too so I won’t repeat myself. But in general, I would say it’s fine to use online resources. If you have a good grammar book, that’s cool too. The point is: no magic there. ## Speaking!
Alright, so I did these flashcards, then I kept doing some grammar throughout the whole stay in Greece. What else did I do? Well, of course – speaking. Let me talk about that a little bit. At first when I arrived, I could not speak much. The other problem was, I as I have explained, I had not learned enough. The other problem was, as I also have explained, I did not have many people around that would want to speak to me for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, that did not change throughout my whole stay, although it improved: I then had a couple of Greek people with whom I could speak more often but not as often as I should have spoken. Most of my time was still spent speaking with non-Greek-speaking people, though, so that eventually is responsible for my lack of practice. I did not have the opportunities to speak so I did not speak much then but I had trips around Greece where I spoke to strangers then. I did not use the tactics I had used to learn Portuguese in 5 months and I had short-conversations mostly but I tried to make all of my direction-asking Greek only. Then I went to bakeries and tavernas and also tried to speak Greek only with the stuff (the second one was harder sometimes, though). That helped definitely. A lot of times I had simple conversations with strangers after having asked them something which usually included telling where I am from, how much I had been learning Greek and what I was doing in Greece. The way I spoke Greek was simple: I just did. I tried to work with that I had, prepare for conversations (so if I was going to ask where the oracle in Delphi is, I would have to look up the words for oracle, ruins, center, left, right, etc. and only then go and ask the question. This helped me not only ask the question but also to understand the anticipated answer a lot better. I still think speaking is important and I also recently told you about this speaking idea I got after the challenge. Had I done something like that, I am sure my Greek would be a lot better still. ### My Greek accent
Another part of speaking is my Greek accent. Native speakers can always tell I am foreign. Always. Even if I just say a few words. I don’t know what’s up with that. I think there were a few situations where I managed to pass as a Greek for a sentence maybe which I had prepared before but normally that does not work. I think I have problems with the Greek soft L (which is the only L Greek has): I am still not sure how to pronounce that and that’s an instant give-away. However, it might not be just that because I sometimes say things without the letter L and the natives would still know. Then I was told the Greek S was pronounced somewhere inbetween S and SH sounds and I just hit the S one. I am not sure about that either. And then I am not confident about my pronunciation of D, Θ and G. I do think that I have a pretty understandable accent in general and most Greeks I talked to could understand me no problem (unless I messed up the grammar too much, that is) but I still am not native-sounding which is a bit of a problem. I generally like to learn the pronunciation well but I have been having negative thoughts lately about how possible it is at all. ## Translating everything
Another tip I used while in Greece – I got an electronic Greek – English dictionary called MAGENTA and I kept reading and translating the signs I could see on streets. Most of the time, though, I stayed in one place and I had read the things I could from my neighborhood and translated then so this limited the progress but this still helped me learn the language a lot. The point is – do that. Get a dictionary, this is very important. Also, translate what you see on shops, advertisements, menus, whatever. If nothing else, you can learn the language like that alone with enough time of living in the country. ## My current level of Greek
Alright then, let’s talk about what I have achieved. My goal was B2 which would mean the following: > Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Well, let me tell you that – I think I failed. I have tried reading a few Greek novels and it took me about 15 minutes to read 3 pages and I could still not understand the sense and just separate sentences. That is a problem. I have bought a couple of books which I intend to read, though, eventually, and if I force myself to do that, this should get me to B2. However, reading it is the difficult part. The problem is that I lack vocabulary too: Greek vocabulary, as I have discussed already, is very different from that of the languages I know and it doesn’t help either. If we are talking about my level, however, here’s one that might describe it better – the definition of B1 > Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
I think I have achieved that! I did travel in Greece, went to Thessaloniki, Athens, Pireas, a lot of ancient sites, etc. and I had no problem communicating my needs in Greece in bus or train stations, restaurants or talking to strangers. The last night of being in Greece, I traveled away with a train in the same coupe as a Greek who spoke no other languages and I communicated just fine with him and understood his life details. I think all of this is sufficient to declare myself B1. Oh, that is, I did that in everything but writing. If nothing else, I still wouldn’t know which of the four η, ει, ι or υ to use for i sounds and that would guarantee a lot of mistakes in writing unless I had spell checking (and then ω with ο for the o sound wouldn’t help it either). Not B2, though, so that means the challenge was failed. I am not depressed about it since I did a lot from what I could do in my situation and if somebody now asks what languages I speak, Greek will be one of them! ## Still further learning
I would still like to get my level up to B2 or perhaps further (although I don’t think that’s viable for now) so I will try to at least read those two Greek novels I have and then perhaps listen to some Greek podcasts or even radio eventually. I think I am still above just simple B1 and on my way to B2 anyway, so I need just more input to improve now. That’s what I want to do in the long run now. I liked the Greek language and I still want to make improvement in it. I will also want to return to Greece, if nothing then to see the islands because even though I have traveled some in Greece (probably not enough either), I have totally missed the islands. ## I learnt the history, though!
Well, I talked about how I use TTC. I did 4 courses on Greek history, mythology and Greeks in general and I am doing one more now. That amounts to a lot of hours of Greek history, all of which I have listened to attentively. That means I got the main ideas of where the Greeks came from, what they did, believed and created. I also combined some of this knowledge with traveling and exploring archeological sites in Greece which added a lot more to the experience. This has given me a good general overview of the country and I think I have made a lot of my time in Greece both in experiencing the country, learning about it and learning the Greek language. > Attention: If you want to learn or improve your Greek, please try my Interlinear Greek bilingual book. This book is a Greek book by Roubina Gouyoumtzian translated in the innovative Interlinear format, where the translation is provided below each word. Such format lets you read and improve your Greek easily regardless of your level.
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