spoken Greek

A New Route To Speaking Better Greek: 5 Simple And Steady Steps

I’m all for hidden gems.

Little coffee shops, bookshops in tiny, colourful alleys, a secret beach with emerald waters or a local family bakery that leads you there just by the smell of fresh baked bread.

They all have this one thing in common: Few people know about them because it’s hard to get there.

And to get there, we often assume we need a map. A map with a well-thought route. To get there, we often think there is only one way, otherwise it’s easy to get lost.

You see the problem here, don’t you?

Every time I found a hidden gem - a bookshop, a beach, a coffee shop in a small πλατεία far from crowds and noise - it wasn’t because I followed the same route.

It was because I was led there by curiosity, excitement and a sense of adventure. No mistake, hidden gems want to be found this way and they will compensate you with a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

By the way, there is nothing more annoying than the person next to you who holds the map and tells you  “no, we must go this way, this is the one and only way!”

Let’s take this analogy to language learning - because, why not?

You say to yourself: “I want to speak Greek! How I wish there was a person sitting next to me right now, so I could practice. How I wish I were at a Greek café happily chatting. It’s just so bad I can’t practice what I learn, because I don’t have anyone to talk to”.

Okay I might have added a little Greek drama here. While I’m sure you’d love to be at a Greek café right now and while I’m sure you do want someone to talk to in Greek, things don’t look so grim.

It’s true we often think there’s only one way to practice speaking and that is: talking with a native speaker.

Just like the person who stubbornly persists on the one and only way to get to the hidden gem/tiny bookshop/secret beach (and spoils all the fun), we convince ourselves that there’s no other way around it: in order to improve our speaking, we must speak with a Greek.

But it makes me a bit sad thinking that all other skills in language are gifted with creative ways of practicing them - but not poor speaking. Which is, usually, the skill most of us want to practice and use as soon as possible.

We can write on our textbook or even journal in Greek whenever we want, read an article in Greek if we feel like it, pick a song we like or watch a TV show ...but how can we speak daily?

So, we’re left with fill in the blank activities, yes or no answers, reading and writing texts and an overall disorientation, which leads us far from our destination (the hidden gem of speaking).

What if we could do things a bit differently? What if we could take another, not so obvious way and be a bit brave and adventurous about it? What if we could actually say out loud those new expressions we’ve learned, the new vocabulary we studied, the couple of new phrases we’ve noted down?

What if we could imitate speaking to someone?

A few years ago I was introduced to this idea for practicing speaking: Recordings.

It’s so simple, really.

You basically record yourself speaking the language.

I’ve tried it too with English and a bit with Dutch and here’s what I found:

Recordings are great. They can make an amazing speaking practice. But only if done right.

I challenge you today to record yourself speaking Greek after you read this article. But let me share first a few things I’ve learned along the way. They’ll help you stay focused and keep this activity simple.

#1 Consistency

As with all our learning, consistency is key. Recordings are no exception and we need to use them a few times to include them in our way of studying.

We’ll find that it gets easier as we go and that at the end of the month or the trimester we have a solid amount of recordings, a proof of our progress and learning.

Now, don’t think I’m talking about a rigid schedule here. I’m by no means a strict schedule person when it comes to enjoying a language (some people might enjoy the strict study schedule, I don’t).

Just remember to record yourself a few times to get used to it and then it will organically become part of your learning.

By staying consistent you’ll have the advantage of actually monitoring your progress.

#2 Self-confidence

With monitoring in mind, recordings can boost our self-confidence.

I bet you’ll find it miraculous how on recording no1 you stumbled on this and that expression but recording no10 you used them without even thinking about them.

It’s gratifying and makes you want to move on. And because it’s like a rehearsal in a quiet studio, it gives you the time to practice and repeat words, expressions and pronunciation you want to get right in an actual discussion.

#3 Focus

You might be asking: What should I talk about? Well, think of this: What do you want to talk about? How can you find the right vocabulary around that topic? Is there a question you‘d like to answer or even a topic for discussion you’d like to analyze a bit?

A mistake I made with my recordings - and I don’t want you to make too - was that I just started talking about whatever came to my mind, without a plan.

Although this might be okay for some learners, for me it wasn’t motivating.

Choosing one thing or topic helps you stay focused, make more efficient connections between the new or revised words & their meaning and reduces the overwhelm of trying to include everything in one sitting.

#4 Realistic expectations

Imagine if I were downtown, looking for the aforementioned little coffee shop. Would I expect to find the secret beach with the emerald waters? Of course not. Even hidden gems have their limitations.

But it’s easy to get excited and say  “Oh, recordings! Great idea. Yes, I’ll do this!” and then imagine yourself talking and talking only to find out later that you can barely speak on the recorder for one minute.

One minute is surprisingly a lot, by the way. Instagram videos, for example, are one minute long, yet they fit in so much information.

Start with small steps. Talk about one specific topic or question. Use a certain number of words or expressions. Take advantage of the time you have in front of the recorder to say what you want to say without interruptions and with no one listening.

#5 Be brave

Now, I’m one of those people who usually panic behind the mic or the camera. It’s just what happens, even when no one’s listening!

What I realized however is that the voice that terrifies me the most, is the voice of my perfectionism.

Recordings are meant to be liberating. But when this little voice creeps in, we freeze and then start the negative self-talk.

If you find yourself in a vicious cycle of hitting play - stop - delete, be brave and push a bit more. It’s the point where you need to allow yourself accept your mistakes and embrace your imperfections.

And when this happens just between you and the recorder, you know you’re a step closer to your hidden gem of speaking in real-life situations.

So go ahead and record yourself today.

Remember to:

  1. Be consistent with this new activity

  2. Monitor your progress and gain some precious self-confidence along the way

  3. Focus on just one thing

  4. Be realistic about your expectations

  5. Be brave and move past your perfectionism

Let me know how it went!

And if you ‘re ready to speak some more Greek why not try these ideas:

  • Sign up for my Free Email Course. You’ll use bite-sized tasks to complete your own speaking project + you’ll be able to receive free feedback from me!

  • Book your spot to Greek Recorder: This is a short but mighty speaking & feedback service to help you talk about a topic you’re interested in. You use supporting vocabulary, weekly recordings and meaningful feedback from me. Choose between 1-Week option or 3-Weeks option (with the option to renew). Curious to see how it works? Read more here.

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Good wines and keep your eyes fourteen? 7 funny idioms and why to use them (PART 1)

Have you ever tried to translate an idiom from your native language to someone?

The translation sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Yet, you use this idiom very often in your native language without even noticing how strange it might be.

Today, I’m going to show you 7 common idioms we use in Greek. You’re going to learn their meaning, where and how to use it. You're going to hear them to. (Click on the audio at the end of this post).

If you’re already convinced about their importance and you’re curious to learn them immediately, feel free to skip this part and read below.

If you want to learn a bit more about why and how it’s great to use expressions and idioms in language learning, the next few paragraphs might interest you.

It's true we usually don’t even notice expressions and idioms when we speak our native language; this is the reason why they are so important if you want to sound more natural as a learner.

Why does this happen? Well, imagine you’re talking to your friend, describing your day; You won’t simply go from one event to the next or use all words literally - like a robot. Of course not.

Language express so much more than plain, actual facts and we’re creative enough to use multiple meanings in one word or sentence.

When we learn a language however, the first vocabulary is indeed the basic one, which helps us talk about basic needs and wants.

As we progress in the language learning, it is common to wonder about many expressions and idioms native speakers use.

It is also common to learn these expressions from our friends or by overhearing conversations on the street (I’ve learned a great deal of French expressions in France that way and you can read about it here) but it is uncommon to read about them in a course book  - even though they appear so often in everyday conversations.

So let’s see these 7 idioms, shall we?

1. Καλά κρασιά!

What does it mean?

The sentence literally means “good wines” ; καλά is the adjective and κρασιά is the noun κρασί, in plural. Note that there’s no article used with this idiom.

The translation could be “yeah whatever” or “good luck with that”.

Where & How to Use It

We say καλά κρασιά when we want to express our disappointment or frustration about cancellations, delays and things that just went wrong.

Also when someone replies in a completely nonsensical way to our question.

You can use this idiom in an informal context, when you talk to a friend or relative. Avoid using it when you’re replying to people you don’t know, since it might sound sarcastic.

[...] NO BUSES, AGAIN!

[...] NO BUSES, AGAIN!

2. Σιγά τα λάχανα!

What does it mean?

Literally, it means “slowly the cabbage”. Makes absolutely no sense, right? Σιγά is an adverb and it means slowly or softly and τα λάχανα is, as you guessed, the cabbage in plural.

In English is like saying “Big deal!”.

Where & How to Use It

We say σιγά τα λάχανα sarcastically, when we think whatever the other person says is below our expectations or we think it’s not as exciting and important as they think.

This idiom is again used in an informal context. (And even then, it’s better to use it about someone who’s not present!)
 

3. Να ‘χεις τα μάτια σου δεκατέσσερα

What does it mean?

“To have your eyes fourteen” is an idiom used by so many Greek mamas out there (mine included!) Να έχεις (‘χεις) means to have or you should have, τα μάτια means the eyes and δεκατέσσερα is, as you know, the number 14.

This idiom means be very careful, be alert.

Where & How to Use It

Since there is a verb here, έχω, it means we can use it according to the person we refer to. We tend to use it in the subjunctive however, keeping “να” at the beginning.

It’s not offensive to anyone; it’s rather one of those things you’d say to your teenager, when they’re going out with their friends (and it will definitely make their eyes roll - not multiply).

You can even warn a friend of yours about something you think is dangerous.

4. Οι τοίχοι έχουν αυτιά

What does it mean?

It means that the walls have ears. 

Yes, it actually means that someone might overhear what you’re saying so you should better be careful when you're gossiping about your cousin at the family dinner (...)

Where & How to Use It

When someone is, well, gossiping! You don’t want others think you’re gossiping too but... you are somehow curious to know what happened next so…

Obviously you need to use it at a very low voice... 

Speak lower about your cousin, walls have ears!

Speak lower about your cousin, walls have ears!

5. Πληρώνω τα μαλλιά της κεφαλής μου

What does it mean?

Literally, it means I paid (all) the hair of my head.

Πληρώνω, you probably know already it means I pay, τα μαλλιά is the hair (in plural; it also has a different use than τρίχα, which is one single hair and can be used for animals too) της κεφαλής μου means of my head.

(Note: της κεφαλής is an older form of the word το κεφάλι. Της κεφαλής is genitive and comes from η κεφαλή, which is feminine. In modern Greek, use το κεφάλι for the actual head and η κεφαλή for the person in charge, the leader).

In English it's like saying "It costs me an arm and a leg".

Where & How to Use It

We say πληρώνω τα μαλλιά της κεφαλής μου in exasperation, when we think that we paid waaay too much for something. You can use it to almost any situation, even when you complain to the person who sold you this nice jacket - with a hole in it?!? (Good for you!)

This idiom has a verb as well, so depending on who you refer to and what kind of tense you want to use, the verb will change.

6. Πέφτω από τα σύννεφα

What does it mean?

It literally means I fall from the clouds. Ouch. Πέφτω means I fall, από means from and τα σύννεφα means the clouds.

Doesn’t look nice to fall from the clouds, does it? It actually means I’m very surprised, even shocked about something or someone’s actions.

Where & How to Use It

This idiom can be used anywhere. It just expresses a big shock or surprise - negatively.

Again, depending on the person and tense, change the verb. Πέφτω or simple past έπεσα are the two most common tenses.

7. Σκάει γάιδαρο.

What does it mean?

This idiom means (He/ she / it) σκάει, bursts γάιδαρο, a donkey. Greeks love donkeys and donkeys love Greeks, this is why we have so many.

Okay maybe not true, but Greeks think of donkeys as extremely patient animals so it’s difficult to make them angry.

Whoever makes a donkey angry, is a truly annoying person; thus this idiom!

Where & How to Use It

When you think someone is extremely and annoyingly persistent - or plain annoying. While you can say this idiom over an argument with the said annoying person, it is only used informally.

A verb again. Σκάει or the second person σκας are the forms you usually need to use.

Click below to listen to the idioms:

Have you ever heard of these idioms? Try and include them in a sentence below - I’d love to see what you came up with!


Ready to Express your Greek?

 

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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:


Ready to Express your Greek?

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