Greek speaking

2 Strategies To Keep The Conversation Flowing

Have you ever wished you could speak Greek the way you wanted to in just one day?

Even if we don’t admit it, as much as we enjoy the process of learning, we sometimes act as if it’s possible to learn everything.

We dive into a sea of unknown vocabulary, pile up expression after expression, get lost in a forest of new meanings and nuances.

Courageous? Yes, definitely.

Helpful? Not always.

And then there’s overwhelm and loss of motivation.

How to keep going? How to keep talking?

When we explore the idea of a slow learning process, where the slow language journey doesn’t seem scary anymore, we come to realize the need to navigate the area: We need a compass.

And that’s because you’ve already covered the foundation of the Greek language and you expect to put your learning in use:

  • Put the words in meaningful sentences

  • Understand what you hear in a conversation

  • Reply back

  • Be part of an engaging conversation

And this is what the compass is here for.

To help you with 2 strategies to use, when you still feel your Greek is not “there” yet.

Now, a note about this apparently generic and a bit simplified definition. You’ve noticed I didn’t say “when you’re a Beginner/Intermediate etc” or “when you hold the A1, B2, C1 etc. CEFR level”.

Levels and categories are all useful and give us some information about our learning.

But if we feel we can’t talk the way we want to, or we can’t express our ideas and thoughts and can’t have the pleasure of a chat or a conversation, then levels don’t mean much.

In fact, we might get stuck behind the labels.

But back to our strategies: here’s how they help us find our focus and make connection with the person we talk to - and also our self.


Focus on what’s meaningful to you

Imagine you knew every single word in your own language.

Would you use them all in a conversation? You might had never had the chance to use them all in a lifetime.

I believe language is as alive as we are. The words we use are weaved into our existence and experience.

When we talk about things we like or don’t like doing, when we talk about our schedule, as exciting or boring as it can be or about our feelings, ideas and beliefs, all these words come to life.

And we share this glimpse of our life with the person we talk to.

We let the person zoom into our life and our thoughts.

The same way we don’t talk about everything under the sun, we’re not obliged to learn everything under the sun. We’re free to choose our focus.

When we realize we have a choice in our learning, this is when the magic happens.

We allow ourselves to narrow down and target the areas that are relevant to our life. We then focus even more on the things we mostly talk about.

And then we break the steps down: we don’t just learn the vocabulary with soulless repetition activities (we might use them, yes, but not rely on them), we invite the words in our world, we dig deeper in their meanings, we make them ours.

By focusing on one area, one topic or theme, we’re eventually able to make the connections in multiple levels:

  • connections within the language, between root words for example, which help us form associations, vital to our learning (For more on why and how this is effective, read this great, geeky article here)

  • connections to our own experience, which help us retain vocabulary better as it is relevant to who we are

  • connections to the person or people we talk to, as we start a chat or keep a conversation going, which eventually help us make authentic connections with other humans.

For example, let’s say you’re a person who lives in the city, you like long strolls out in nature, you’re a science fiction writer and your hobby is photography. You also dislike cooking and are not interested in fashion.

How would you prioritize your learning?

Talking about cooking or learning a long list of words about clothes won’t make much sense to you when you feel you still need to find the right words to make a conversation about things that matter to you.

Focus on what you need, then focus some more and then break it down in small, practical steps.

Jazz up the chat with questions

When we feel we can’t use the language the way we wish in a chat with a native speaker, we tend to answer to their questions but avoid making questions.

It could be because we’re not fast enough as the conversation goes on.

Or because we become so shy, we’d rather hide instead of keep being in the conversation.

On the other hand, it might be because we‘re eager to practice, so, subconsciously, we want to take advantage of the opportunity and talk as much as we can.

What this means though, is that the other person starts losing their interest in the chat.

They don’t get any sign you’re interested in them so they stop talking.

Spicing up a conversation doesn’t necessarily require a perfect use of vocabulary or grammar.

Yes, you might stumble. You might forget. This doesn’t need to bewilder you.

Showing your genuine interest to the person you talk to - that’s what makes a good conversation.

And the way to do that is with questions about them.

You might have noticed that in the Greek culture personal questions such as asking about the family or the origin, are not uncommon between people who meet for the first time and they’ve been chatting for a while.

And by origin I mean the grandparents’ birthplace which is usually a village (χωριό) or island (νησί).

So don’t hesitate to break the ice by asking (or asking back) about someone’s family or birthplace for example.

Questions help us to balance the conversation, especially when we still have limited vocabulary or when we still hesitate too much to use it.

Don’t forget them. Sprinkle them in your next chat. They’ll give you a delicious sense of accomplishment.

And if you’re ready to start speaking more Greek, here some helpful steps:


Recommended for you:

One Simple Trick To Sound More Natural In Greek

What are the subtle differences between speaking fluently / at an advanced level and speaking like the locals?

Studying a lot, for example reading and getting your hands on anything you find interesting and effective for you will take you a long way.

But when it comes to speaking, like “real life speaking” with locals, is this enough?

The first time I went to Canada, I was indeed speaking English at an advanced level.

I could attend University lectures and talk about these topics adequately. I could write an essay.

When it came to speaking about everyday topics though? Not even close.

Avoid sounding like a robot

I didn't become fluent overnight, but I slowly tried my best to avoid sounding like a robot. How?

I came up with a strategy: I took a few lessons to get a boost in my speaking about everyday topics and also learn about local small talk.

Also, I started paying attention to the way locals talked to each other; noted everything down and attempted to use it. The information I got from my lessons as well as the eavesdropping :-) paid off during all the years I lived in Toronto.

And here’s what I found: There is a way to learn how to sound more natural even before reaching the advanced level. It's a little trick that has to do with using pauses to your advantage.

Pauses that include filler words.

Here’s a visual example to see what I mean:

With Christmas around the corner... what makes a Christmas tree a great Christmas tree? Imagine a tree like this one:

And then imagine adding fillers. Such as ornaments, extra branches or garlands.

Fillers fill in the space between the branches and make your tree stand out; as with ornaments, filler words you naturally use in your native language can help your sentences sound richer when you also speak in Greek.

Why are filler words useful for your speaking?

Filler words are a natural pause to think, without stopping speaking altogether, and before keep going on with what you want to say.

They help your audience understand you have more things to add.

Of course, filler words or sounds are different from language to language.

Often, learners make mistakes by translating the filler words from their language to their target language (which is definitely what I did, too).

This simply proves how much we’re used at using them; we try to find a way to add them in our target language.

In addition, these words & sounds can give you valuable time in order to remember a tricky word or think a bit about what you want to say.

What does λοιπόν, βασικά, έτσι mean in Greek?

Have you ever come across these words?

Below, you’ll find a list of some of these very common filler words & sounds we use in Greek and a link to a great mini - series videos to watch and listen how to use them.

1. Λοιπόν [Lipón]

Translated as “so” or “well”, λοιπόν initiates a topic if used at the beginning of a sentence, or at the end of a question:

Λοιπόν, πάμε να μιλήσουμε για τα ρήματα τώρα.

Τι θα φάμε, λοιπόν;

It even connects sentences, when one of them is the conclusion:

Αγαπώ την Ελλάδα, γι’ αυτό λοιπόν έμαθα ελληνικά!

2. Έτσι [Étsi]

“Like this”, έτσι: when used as a filler word it goes after a question in order to reinforce the meaning, especially when you know the others agree or have to agree with you:

Δεν είναι σωστό, έτσι;

It’s also used when you explain something to others:

Μου αρέσει, έτσι, να πηγαίνω βόλτα στην Αθήνα.

3. Βασικά [Vasiká]

If you know how young people use “basically” in English, then βασικά is basically the same. It highlights the meaning of a sentence, at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle or even at the end.

Βασικά, δεν ξέρω την αδερφή της.

Δεν ξέρω, βασικά, την αδερφή της. 

Δεν ξέρω την αδερφή της, βασικά.

4. Εεεεεε … [ééééé]

Not a word, but a sound, as the sound “um” in English. Use it when you try to think or remember something at the beginning of a sentence. It can prove very handy as you try to remember a certain word; we tend to use it a lot!

Εεεεεε … νομίζω ότι μου αρέσει πολύ αυτό το βιβλίο.

5. Θα έλεγα [Tha élega]

This means “I’d say” and as a filler word goes well with statements, such as:

Είναι, θα έλεγα, τα πιο ωραία σουβλάκια της Αθήνας!

6. Ας πούμε [As púme]

This means “let’s say” and it’s used for examples or when explaining something to others or telling a story:

Το ωραίο κλίμα, ας πούμε, είναι από τα θετικά της Ελλάδας.

Και τότε όλοι έμειναν, ας πούμε, σπίτι και έπαιξαν χαρτιά.

7. Ξέρω ’γω [Kséro 'gó]

This is commonly used when you’re wondering about something, since it's literally translated as "do I know (?)" but really means "I don't know":

- Σου αρέσει αυτό το τραγούδι;

- Ξέρω ‘γω; Καλό είναι.

Among young people, it can be used much more frequently, between any word or meaning:

Θα πάω, ξέρω ‘γω, αύριο να δω μια ταινία…. άκουσα, ξέρω ‘γω, ότι η ταινία αυτή ήταν, ξέρω ‘γω, καλή.

This last one sounds a bit annoying? It is!

As with your native language, find the right amount of how and when to use them to get this nice flow when you speak - even if at the same time you're looking for the right word to say.

Here you’ll find a mini series of 3 videos with locals speaking in Greek and using all of the filler words above. Can you spot them?


Read more from my blog:

Learning Greek One Step At A Time: #2 Grammar

Last week I shared with you the first part of the 3 step series currently on the blog  Learning Greek One Step At A Time. This week I’m focusing on Grammar, the most controversial of the 3; Grammar lover or Grammar hater, this post is for you!

Learning Greek One Step At A Time: #1 Vocabulary  

Welcome to the three step series on where to focus when you’re learning Greek. Today I’m going to show you Step 1: what to consider when it comes to vocabulary learning.