My Greek Language Journey: Susan's story [Guest Post]

The second story in the series "My Greek Language Journey" comes from Susan. I met Susan when we first came to Canada, 5 years ago. We met each other at the Family Time where she had brought her granddaughter and I had brought my daughter; as she spoke Greek, I mistook her for a Greek yiayia (grandma).

I'm so happy Susan agreed to share her story with you in the blog. After all, it's 50 years of language learning wisdom! Plus some excellent tips about being part of a Greek family.

Read it all below!

Γεια σας, Hello!

One day, while listening to the radio, I heard a language that sounded quite different from the Romance languages and German that I knew.

It turned out to be Greek and I was immediately interested. I signed up for a course in conversational Greek at the YMCA, but didn't learn much. The teacher was delightful and glowed when he spoke of his beloved Greece, but he spoke mainly English.

However, I was determined I would learn Greek one day. It turned out to be sooner than I thought!

I had grown up in an all-English speaking environment, but when I went to high school and started learning French and German, I fell in love with languages.

However, I didn't much like learning them in school. For me, total immersion in the language and culture was much more exciting and a faster way to learn.

Almost 50 years ago I was living in Toronto and studying Languages and Linguistics at the University of Toronto. During my university years I spent my spare time with French, German and Spanish-speaking friends and spoke very little English.

And then in the summer of 1970 I met my future husband, a Greek who had come to Canada to study Chemistry. I started speaking Greek with him, but was learning solely by ear, so it was slow going. Gradually I learned the alphabet and basic grammar from a rudimentary book.

But, I was 100 percent self taught, and wasn't concentrating much on reading or writing.

When I first went to Greece after we were married, I was still learning mainly aurally. I listened very intently and repeated  phrases over and over in my head to imprint them in my memory.

I managed to get along in simple family conversations, though I had a hard time understanding my in-laws when they spoke together, as they spoke fast and used colloquialisms.

It was a wonderful experience, though!

The most difficult thing for me at first, both in comprehending and speaking, was the shift in the accent onto the following syllable for the plural of certain nouns (κατάστημα, καταστήματα), or onto the preceding syllable for verbs in the past tense (τραγουδώ- τραγούδαγα), οr onto an added prefix (γράφω- έγραψα, έγραφα). It took a lot of repetition in my head!!

It wasn't until I retired and started reading and writing systematically, almost 30 years later, that my vocabulary really started to grow. I had never had time while I was raising our children because I was also teaching full time. Through the years I had been able to write letters to my parents-in-law in very rudimentary Greek, but my spelling was far from perfect!

Ironically, years later when I started reading extensively, it came quickly, because I had already built up a good vocabulary by then. We were living in Greece at that time, and I was hearing Greek all day and watching Greek TV with a dictionary on my lap! I was usually too interested in the programs to stop and look up words, however.

So I would scribble words  and phrases down in a mix of Greek and English phonetics and look them up later. It was tiring but I was motivated. My spelling was still guess work.

The most difficult thing for me in writing Greek was all the different ways to transcribe the sound "ee" in Greek, as there are 6 different letters or combinations of  letters that render that sound.

But reading really helped me with writing and spelling. And now the computer's spell check corrects my spelling for me!

Some of the happiest and proudest moments I experienced were participating in a Greek Book Club, and being able to understand programs on TV and to watch old Greek movies and understand the jokes!

And when I go to Greece and sit with the neighbors in my husband's village, I don't feel like an outsider anymore.

Best of all, it's wonderful being able to speak Greek to my grandchildren and sing Greek songs with them.

My experience learning Greek has been a long slow process, but well worth the effort. It opened the door to total immersion in the rich Greek culture. And it certainly is a very enjoyable way to keep the mind active!

Καλή τύχη, Σουzana

About Susan:

Susan comes from Unionville, Canada. After living abroad for years, she now lives in Toronto with her Greek husband.

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