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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?


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Show Your Surprise In Greek With These 5 Expressions

Greeks are known for being generally warm, loud and expressive people.

I can’t tell how much any of this is true or not (up to you to say).

But if you want to know what to say when for example your Greek friend announces:

  • they are off to an expedition on Everest or

  • they won the lottery or even

  • they will never eat spanakopita again (never, ever again!)

then you absolutely need to know these 5 Greek expressions:

#1 Τι είπες τώρα! (Ti ípes tóra!) [What did you just say!]

How to say it:

Stress the first word τι more than the other two. Eyes wide open, a smile on your face (or not, as in the case of the spanakopita example - don't smile to that).

# 2 Τι λε(ς) ρε φίλε! (Ti lé(s) ré fíle! [What are you saying, friend!]

How to say it:

I know, I know this one looks more like a question. I promise you, it’s not. Let’s break it down for those who are very curious about all these tiny, one syllable words here.

First, here’s again the τι , which means “what”. It’s indicative of surprise and of wanting to know more anyway.

Then there’s λες. This one means "you’re saying" (present tense).

Do you notice how we drop the ς here? This is informal, casual context and we want to speak quickly plus add some more emphasis on the verb.

Stress the word λε more than the others and drag the vowel ε a bit for extra fun.

Ρε is an interesting word. (More information about it here).

In short, it comes from the word μωρός (vocative: μωρέ → ωρέ → ρε) (moré) [silly]. In Greek you want to use it to call someone angrily or a friend informally or even begin a sentence - again, casually.

# 3 Δεν το πιστεύω! (I don’t believe this!) [Dén tó pistévo]

How to say it:

Stress the first word Δεν and sound like you actually mean it.

(Phew, that was easy!)

# 4 Θα με τρελάνεις! (You’re going to drive me crazy!) [Thá mé trelánis]

How to say it:

After your friend has blurted everything out, you only feel compelled to let them know how crazy their plan is.

So, to be a good and honest friend, warn them: "Keep saying what you’re saying and you’re gonna drive me crazy!"

With some emphasis on τρελάνεις, you’re good to go.

# 5 ‘Ελα, ρε! (Come on!) ['Ela ré]

How to say it:

Again the word "ρε" here!

And if you simply love these open Greek vowel sounds, you’re going to love this.

Stress Ε on έλα and sound like you’re using both a question and a surprised tone.

- there will be no snow in toronto this year! - ela re!

- there will be no snow in toronto this year! - ela re!

Now, I need to tell you something.

Next month I’m leaving Toronto to move to the tiny island of Gavdos south of Crete (less than 150 inhabitants!).

How are you going to reply?

*

*

*

(Just kidding, just kidding!)

Listen to these 5 expressions here:


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Learning Greek One Step At A Time: #3 Pronunciation

This week’s part 3 of the series is, I feel, the least explored of all. You’ll see articles and articles being written about how to learn Vocabulary and Grammar, but how about Pronunciation?

Learning Greek One Step At A Time Pronunciation | Danae Florou Alpha Beta Greek

Sure, pronunciation is not something you can easily explain in writing, but it’s useful to know what to expect and how to improve it when you learn a language.

This is why in today’s post I give you a few ideas and tips about the Greek pronunciation, which I hope will make your language learning a bit easier and more interesting.

I even include a bonus recording at the end of the article!

Greek Alphabet sounds

First of all, how do we pronounce the Greek vowels and consonants of the Greek alphabet?

To reply to this, we need a tool such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), to help us read the sounds. We also need examples of how each letter is being used; also the different sound or sounds each letter produces e.g. when there’s a specific letter/sound next to it.

The following list of such examples is by no means extensive. To explore all the sounds of the Greek language in detail, we would need much more than a blog post.

Therefore, we focus on the foundation - the Α to Ω ; the Alphabet.

Let’s take a closer look:

Greek Alphabet Vowels

α [a] as in ακόμα

ε [e] as in έλα

η, ι, υ [i] as in μήλο, σπίτι, ύφεση

ο, ω [o] as in όταν, ώρα

 

Greek Alphabet Consonants

β [v] as in βήμα      

γ [γ] as in γάτα, [j] as in γη, γένος

δ [δ] as in δέμα

ζ [z] as in ζωή

θ [θ] as in θέλω

κ [k] as in κάνω, [c] as in κιλό, κενό

λ [l] as in λάθος, [ʎ] as in λιώνω

μ [m] as in μήλο

ν [n] as in να, [ɲ] as in νιώθω

ξ [ks] as in ξανά

π [p] as in ποτέ

ρ [r] as in ροή  

σ [s] as in εσένα (but written as ς at the end of a word e.g. άλλος)

τ [t] as in τότε

φ [f] as in φέρνω         

χ [χ] as in χάνω, [ç] as in αρχή, χελώνα

ψ [ps] as in ψήνω

Learning how to pronounce

As you can see above, in most of the cases there are hardly any surprises; 

There are only a few sounds which, when combined with some vowels, they produce a slightly different variation; for example κ /k/ when combined with the sounds [i] and [e] gives [c] as in κιλό, κενό.

Practice

1. Obviously, listening to the sounds and then repeating them is the usual exercise for pronunciation learning (and you can do this with the recording at the end of the post!).

2. A nice activity found in most course books and Beginners lessons is to hear or read and then say aloud each consonant sound in a syllable, e.g. βα, βε, βι, βη, βο and so on.

This way, learners start learning actual parts (syllables) of words; when for example you see the word βάση, the syllable βα will pop into your mind. Another benefit is that by practicing the different combinations, you get to practice again and again the sound you’re focusing on each time.

You'll then realize that Greek is based on a vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant kind of repetition.

3. Beyond the beginners level and as you continue learning Greek - therefore, being exposed to more words - an activity you can try on your own is shadow reading. I learned this exercise from Cara Leopold at Leo Listening.

You can do this by:

- listening to a short dialogue or part of a speech or anything else you find suitable and at your level,

- having a transcript,

- reading the transcript while listening to the person speaking - so you basically try to read simultaneously.

Cara admits it’s hard (there's a video to understand how to do this here) and I definitely believe her since I’ve tried this with French.

It’s a fantastic exercise where you can practice your pronunciation in a fun and fast-pace way. Of course, fast-pace may not suit you and that’s perfectly fine! Slow the recording down if you prefer and gradually speed it up.

4. A fourth exercise is the classic one “repeat what the teacher (or whoever you’ve been listening to) says”. To do this successfully, pay attention to the speed. This is like “acting” because you’re mimicking what you hear.

Try your best to follow the speed and rhythm. It’s hard, no doubt. But I know you can do this!

5. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use your imagination! When I was learning French, I found out I could only say a particular sound while ...smiling. So smiling I did. (Yes, I was funny, but I did it! If you know French, it was the -in- syllable).

With time, I got used to it and I was able to say it right. Smiling also helped me to connect the tricky sound with an action and this created a brain connection which made remembering easier.

A very important note for all the exercises above is to get a good feedback.

Of course, if you’re working with a tutor or in a class, you’ll have many opportunities to get a great feedback from them.

When receiving feedback, write it down or even better, record yourself repeating the sound. Track your progress.

And here’s me reading the Greek alphabet with the pronunciation examples from above.

What's your favourite Greek word to pronounce? What's the hardest? Share in the comments.


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