So, here’s the question:
“What’s the best way to learn Greek?”
This is by far the most frequent question I get from Greek learners.
Visiting or even staying in Greece is usually thought to be the most effective way.
This is not always true though.
Even if you do live in the country or spend a good amount of your time there, this doesn't necessarily mean you'll automatically learn the language.
In fact, I don't believe in automatic language learning, when your dream is to communicate with real people.
Which means that while simply promising you the "magic" recipe to “The Best Way to Learn” would’ve been easy and would’ve made me look cool, I’m not gonna do that.
Instead, let's try something different.
I want you to imagine you’re learning something new - such as how to create a tangible and easy to understand with your senses object.
For example, making birthday cakes.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? A vision of your ideal birthday cake, right?
For some, this translates to a chocolate fudge while for others it’s a gluten-free cream cake.
I bet you visualized your ideal cake by now. Which takes us to:
Naming your goal is the very first step you need to do before you start learning something.
Do you find it hard?
When it comes to a cake, it can be your special flavour and decoration.
When it comes to learning a language, it’s not at all obvious.
You need to make Greek tangible, so, take a pen and paper and write down:
“What’s my goal in learning Greek?”
Is it to speak with your Greek friends via Skype and social media?
Is it maybe to live on a Greek island?
Is it to visit Greece in the summer and be able to hold an everyday conversation with your in-laws?
Don’t be tempted to write more than 2 or 3 things. Too much is equal to getting stuck.
Have you written your goal down already?
Okay, now let’s go back to our birthday cake (our tangible example).
What’s the next thing you need to do?
Gather your "ingredients" and "baking tools" of course.
Resources, tools, materials
Did I say “gather”?
Be careful on that one.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a recovering book and material hoarder.
(I believe books have little legs and enter your space while you sleep - I’ve no idea how I always end up having too many of them. Same happens to you?)
The same with language learning materials.
Textbooks, course books, Grammar books, notes, posters - not to mention the paperless online materials.
Apps, videos, emails, infographics, social media groups - oh boy.
Let me explain. I’m not saying any of the materials above is bad or wrong.
When we learn languages, we do need to think about our “ingredients and baking tools” same as when we’re making a cake; we can’t use anything and everything.
Don’t be tempted to add too many on your plate and learn from every source possible.
Stick to the materials and resources that resonate with you and choose them wisely according to your current goal(s) and learning preferences.
You love images? Learn with posters, images, infographics.
You love audios or need to practice more listening? Stick to audios, music, the radio. You get the picture.
By making the right list of your “ingredients and baking tools” you’re creating your "recipe" and this way your recipe is not going to fail.
All of this is wonderful and all, but you want to know how to minimize overwhelm and “put your ducks in a row”. Hey, I’m a learner of languages myself, I get you.
Let’s see now how to approach your materials and - hint for today’s question - find your own best way to learn Greek, shall we?
Maria has a list of resources - from videos to audio, radio stations to Pinterest, free online lessons to Grammar books, activities, even apps.
Where does she start?
Maria has written down: “My goal is to speak with my Greek friends during my summer vacation. Also, to catch up with their news online (via emails, social media) when I’m back home”.
See now how having a goal comes in handy?
Sometimes, starting a new language reminds me of expecting a baby. I mean, really!
You’re all excited, getting all the cute stuff, not knowing what you’re going to use - but who blames you, you might actually need them.
Because I’ve been there with stuff (language and baby stuff), I’m now trying to minimize.
Too many choices equal to too many distractions.
Back to Maria, she can only achieve her goal by choosing what she’s actually going to use, having in mind the time she has available after work and her current level in Greek.
However, as with newborn onesies and blankets or with the aforementioned cake ingredients, her Greek learning has some absolute needs:
These are my favourite and most used materials. Some I use in my classes , some I recommend to learners.
Take into account your own learning style. As much as I love some of them, you might find that they're not your dream materials.
A simple rule of thumb: study with the ones you absolutely love.
1. Grammar Book
Are you looking for a good, tried & true Greek Grammar book?
I recommend this by M. Triandaphyllidis and this by D. Holton, P. Mackridge and I. Philippaki-Warburton
Greek is a unique language (literally! Check this interesting info by Ethnologue here and a beautiful language map here).
So, yes, you’re going to have a lot of Grammar questions. Choosing the one book which is right for you is essential.
Greek: An Essential Grammar (Routledge Essential Grammars) was written with English speakers in mind. You can find it in both languages, English and Greek and it’s simply wonderful; thorough and to the point.
Concise Modern Greek Grammar is the most used Greek Grammar book, written by linguist Manolis Triandaphyllidis, which also comes in 14 translations.
Αυτό ακριβώς! This is an amazing Grammar book with tons of exercises and Grammar tables - for Intermediate learners only. It is mainly meant for practicing.
Of course, your choice depends on what your first language is.
For the sake of simplicity, here I'll recommend this Greek to English dictionary which I've been using for years.
However, I do recommend adding a Greek to Greek dictionary as well.
For this, Λεξικό της Νέας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας is a great option.
An online, free option is the Dictionary of Standard Modern Greek.
The advantage of having a Greek to Greek dictionary is the extra valuable information about the words' etymology, idioms and expressions.
3. Exercises - Course Books
Does homework remind you of endless boring school activities?
I won't blame you.
But to connect your goals to your practice, studying and revising are a foolproof way to keep learning.
Here is a list of my favourite course and activity books:
(A note: all of these books are written entirely in Greek)
#1 Ελληνικά Α’ (Beginners) and Ελληνικά Β' (Intermediate) course books with CDs.
Why: They are up to date, nicely presented. Lots of vocabulary and everyday expressions about living and working in Greece. And with great illustration.
#2 Ελληνικά τώρα 1+1 (Beginners) and Ελληνικά Τώρα 2+2 (Intermediate) course books with CDs.
Why: These are the classic books so many Greek learners have used since the 80s when they were published. Quite outdated vocabulary and cultural references, but very good grammar practice. Tailored to the needs of learners who visit Greece every summer.
#3 Επικοινωνήστε ελληνικά 1 (Beginners) and Επικοινωνήστε ελληνικά 2 (Intermediate), exercises books and CDs.
Why: I think I love more the exercises books than the course books. Such a great variety of exercises. But it still is a classic course book. Again, this is more tailored to the needs of tourists or regular visitors.
#4 Ταξίδι στην Ελλάδα 1 (Beginners) and Ταξίδι στην Ελλάδα 2 (Intermediate) course & exercises books with CDs.
Why: I love their texts’ collection, Grammar tables and wonderful Grammar explanations. The exercises are a bit uninspired, but still good.
Great resources and tools, depending on your individual goals:
Apps: Apps are not favoured by everyone. But I learned to love them!
In fact, I’ve written a whole post which you can check here: 3 Best Apps I recommend to learn Greek for free.
Social media: Not everyone’s cup of tea. But if it is yours, choose again what suits you best.
Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest?
Get a bite-sized post with a Greek word, information about the language & the culture, even a Grammar explanation.
Practice a bit or ask away. Why not?
Are you up to more chatting with some friendly & super motivated Greek learners? Join our Express Your Greek facebook group here.
Music: Again, if you don’t really listen to music or if you don’t even like Greek music, then no need to use it.
But in case you do, then add your song here and find the Greek songs’ lyrics in Greek or even sometimes translated by members of the page.
For Intermediate learners, this book Λίγα Τραγούδια θα σου πω can also be found here to download and practice Greek with songs.
Daily emails/reminders/videos: These are offered by Apps; also by most companies that offer language lessons, such as the well known GreekPod101 by Innovative.
To be honest, I personally feel pressured with “daily” forever reminders!
But if you do open these emails and you like having a little nudge to learn some Greek in your day, then go for it.
Skip it, Don’t Keep it
You’ve heard about an amazing webpage which is “old but still good”, you’ve been told to read a children's story and you ‘ve come across the 100th video presenting the Greek alphabet.
While the following list might seem unconventional (and it is), choosing and planning your learning always comes with things you need to let go.
Outdated material: yes, you’ve been told it’s “old but amazing”.
In some rare cases, it can be true if there are other advantages (see the part about the one outdated course book I still use + why, above!).
However, unless you’re interested in talking about drachmas in your vintage coin collection, skip any "old but amazing".
(And avoid sounding like an 80s movie.)
Videos about the alphabet: You're probably past the alphabet, but I need to say this: Don’t expect to learn reading and pronunciation from them.
Why? Because every Greek letter has a name which does not correspond to they way we read.
While alphabet videos are fun, learning the letters’ names doesn’t add much to your learning.
Yes, you might learn how to ask about your spelling, but they can’t teach you Greek pronunciation.
Greek pronunciation is not too complicated but it involves a greater depth and focus than a “learn to read in Greek now” kind of video.
Disclaimer: I am not aware of any such a title, I’m just giving you an example.
Invest in time, by practicing more with your chosen, good quality resources or invest in a qualified teacher or class where you can get all the help you need with pronouncing the Greek sounds.
Kids’ books: I’ve been told to practice English with kids’ books.
And while the language might be simple, do you really want to know about fairies, the big bad wolf or the playground?
Unless it’s a fun, engaging children’s literature book, I don’t recommend every kids' story just because it’s in “easy” Greek.
Which, by the way, is a misconception.
I would much more likely recommend children’s books to Advanced learners, because of the natural language these stories are written in.
How to learn and practice
This is kind of obvious, but if you’re not comfortable with Greek reading, your pronunciation is as well compromised.
Practice reading out loud, repeat after your teacher or after the audio you’re using. See below for more ideas.
In Greek only. If I could write this in big, red, flashing letters, I would.
Writing in the Latin alphabet (the one I’m using now) or any other script will only keep you far away from matching the sounds to the image e.g. [a] → α (the letters).
Make it a habit to write in Greek and don’t care about making spelling mistakes -at all!
It’s much more important to learn the language as a whole than getting stuck to spelling.
Part of learning Greek is its different but beautiful alphabet; embrace it.
Listen, to learn
How about a podcast, like this one by Language Transfer which is free and fun.
I've also used Soundcloud for some of my blog posts. You can find my tracks here.
Listen, to practice
Any Greek series, shows, songs, news broadcast, the weather, anything, really!
Don’t be afraid to get exposed to some real, fast, natural Greek. You’ll be amazed by the words you’ll start noticing.
A tip: have a goal to understand a number X of words.
By focusing on something such as a number of words or expressions or even words starting with a specific letter, you practice without getting overwhelmed.
You also avoid passive listening, which, to be honest, doesn't seem to be making any difference in language learning.
Unless you need Greek to translate books and never utter a word, chances are you’re learning Greek to communicate in Greek.
So start speaking now. Record yourself on your phone doing so.
Practice this vocabulary of yours. Best is everyday, but if time is really an issue, practice at least once per week.
You can do this. You’ll be really, really amazed by your progress.
Almost there now. You have your goal(s) written, your tools and materials in order plus plenty of ideas about what and how to use them… what’s next? Is this the best way to learn Greek?
Like I said, I’m not going to fool you with promises and "easy and fun" learning hacks.
The puzzle is complete only with your own, personal effort.
You’ve already put effort in all of the steps above (and in reading this huge post) now the real work begins, starting from your way of learning.
"Way" means it's a process, a path you need to walk; "the best way" is here for you to plan and follow.
So after you thoughtfully selected the why, when, what and how to learn and practice, now is time to do it.
There may be times you’ll wonder why you chose this language. If it will ever pay off. If you’re ever going to learn it.
If you go back to where you started on Day 1 and look at your notes, listen to your recordings, read your first paragraphs, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
Trust yourself. I know you can do this.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means you'll be supporting Alpha Beta Greek at no extra cost to yourself if you buy through the link. I only recommend books and resources of high quality that I trust and love to use myself.