speaking greek

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:


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The Miracle of A Slow Learning Process: How Accepting Slow Helps You Progress Faster

Julia started learning Greek about a year ago.

It was “love at first sight”: she loved the musicality of the language, the expressive gestures people made when they spoke, the openness of the people she met.

Julia couldn’t wait to chat in Greek. To indulge in the sounds and expressions she had learned. To have a nice, warm conversation with a friendly person.

“Next trip”, she told herself “I’ll be chatting in Greek”.

But words wouldn’t come so easy. They seemed to get tangled in her tongue.

Julia felt that every time she was trying to start a chat with a local, her own brain sabotaged her.

Why couldn’t she keep up with the conversation’s pace? Why couldn’t she reply fast enough?

“It’s impossible” she thought.

Nothing she did was helping her to speak the way she dreamed.

She found herself fed up with grammar.

She blamed herself for not having a good memory to remember enough vocabulary. “After all, I’m not a school girl anymore”, she thought.

She felt discouraged. And often, ready to give up.

Why, oh why was this so hard?

Wish I could learn faster

Have you ever wished you could learn faster and then blamed yourself for taking so much time to speak Greek?

When I was learning Spanish, many years ago, I took an intensive course. 3 times a week, 3 hours each.

(I wanted to learn Spanish fast, that’s for sure.)

I loved Spanish and I still do. The sounds, the rhythm, the similar expressions to Greek and of course the people and the beautiful country. Maravilloso!

I expected to speak “fluently” within 6 months. I bought books, a new notebook, a shiny dictionary. I never missed a class and religiously did my homework.

What happened instead is, halfway down the road, I quit.

There are many reasons why I did that (the lack of a specific goal is one) but the frustrating feeling of not speaking as “fluently” as I wanted, as quickly as I wanted, was something I could not accept.

I was absolutely not OK with a slow process. The expectation of “fluency in 6 months” had ultimately cut my wings.

But, as much as I wished to “get there” faster, the process itself seemed to have a timer of its own.

And no matter how much I pushed, having a meaningful conversation with the locals wasn’t something that needed pushing.

In hindsight, not accepting a slow learning process means that:

1. We start having negative feelings towards the lesson, the language, the teacher

2. These feelings prohibit us from keep progressing

3. Sadly, we quit.

It’s not laziness and it’s not a race either

Like Julia with Greek and like my impatient self with Spanish, we sentence ourselves to a race.

Learning Greek can be love at first sight, yes, but as in real life this love might blind us. So much so, that expectations can be as high as getting married after the first date.

Can’t happen.

This is what we don’t realize:

  • A slow process doesn’t mean lazy, never studying between lessons or never keeping yourself on schedule (then miraculously expecting to speak).

  • Slow doesn’t mean lacking consistency, therefore taking months to progress over a single thing (then blaming yourself for not being as intelligent as others).

  • Slow doesn’t even mean focusing very hard on the aspect of the language that is irrelevant to your goal (for example grammar instead of practicing speaking).

On the contrary.

It means realizing it’s a process that needs its time, like a journey from place A to place B.

And in this journey, there are many things involved: motivation, effort, persistence, consistency, focus but also failure, mistakes, embarrassment - and you still need to move forward.

Above all, slow means permission: Give permission to yourself to learn step by step, every day, even if your steps are tiny.

What happens when you accept slow?

The fact that most of us live in a culture that appreciates fast and easy learning over slow and meaningful is something that you might have experienced too.

But do we realize what this idea is doing to us?

It turns us into competitors of our own self.

It creates unreachable expectations.

It fills us with sadness when we can’t enjoy the process anymore, the one we started in the first place out of pure enjoyment, enthusiasm and a mysterious, deep connection with the language we loved (and the country, and its people…).

So, what happens when we accept slow?

What happens when instead of putting on our fancy running shoes, we choose our most comfortable, the ones that allow us to walk miles while looking around and enjoying the view:

Overwhelm turns into anticipation.

Disappointment into acceptance.

And frustration into fulfillment.

It seems to me after all, that when we learn a language, we are not either fast or slow learners. It’s a completely different idea:

When we realize and accept how slow the whole learning process is, when we embrace it, this is when progress happens.

It is a miracle, isn’t it?


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