Have you ever got a simple question and for a moment you thought you could just give a simple answer, only to immediately discover there were tens of details you need to cover?
Yeah, today’s question is one of those questions. You bet my answer is one of those answers too. (Brace yourself for a very detailed, information-packed blog post! )
Here’s to you, dear reader. If you‘re in love with the Greek language and want to learn the “know hows” of learning it, I’m going to walk you through the process in this very post.
How to set goals and why they are more important than you might think.
How to choose quality materials wisely to avoid confusion, overwhelm and quitting!
How to practice Greek in a smart and efficient way.
What’s the "secret", final ingredient to learning Greek.
Grab your tea or Greek coffee and get ready to read on.
So, here’s the question:
“What’s the best way to learn Greek?”
If you’ve just started learning Greek you might be asking yourself the same thing.
In fact, I get this question a lot from people who are already Greek learners, even in the Intermediate level.
While learning Greek in Greece is by far the most effective way to learn - although it might not be the case for everyone - it’s too restricting for today’s post. Plus, I’ve already covered this topic in the article 5 Ways to Improve Your Greek When Visiting Greece. Read it here.
Okay, back to our question!
While simply promising you the magic recipe to “The Best Way to Learn” would’ve been easy and would’ve made me look cool, I’m not gonna do that.
Why? Here's the truth. In language learning there are no magic recipes or fast and trouble free learning methods. You need to put yourself to work. You need to ask yourself the right questions and get the right support for your learning.
Ready to find out how? Then let's go!
I want you to imagine now you’re learning something new - such as how to create a tangible and easy to understand with your senses object. For example, making birthday cakes.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? A vision of your ideal birthday cake, right?
For some, this translates to a chocolate fudge while for others it’s a gluten-free cream cake. Maybe with some fresh fruit on top. Yum.
I bet you visualized your ideal cake by now. Which takes us to:
Naming your goal is the very first step you need to do before you start learning something.
When it comes to a cake, it can be your special flavour and decoration. When it comes to learning a language, it’s not at all obvious. Bummers.
You need to make Greek tangible, so, take a pen and paper and write down:
“What’s my goal in learning Greek?”
Is it to speak with your Greek friends via Skype and social media? Is it maybe to live on a Greek island (So jealous of you!)? Is it to visit Greece in the summer and be able to hold an everyday conversation with your in laws?
Don’t be tempted to write more than 2 or 3 things. Too much is equal to getting stuck.
If you’ve already started learning Greek (Congratulations, by the way!! You must feel very proud of yourself!) and your level is between A1 - B1 according to CEFR (What's this? Find out here), then this is the moment to build a solid foundation for your learning.
So think carefully and make sure you don’t skip this step. Have you written your goal down already?
Before we continue, you can download the list with all the resources included in this article here (and review them at your own pace!):
Okay, now let’s go back to our birthday cake (our tangible example!).
What’s the next thing you need to do? Gather your ingredients and baking tools of course.
Resources, tools, materials
Did I say “gather”?
Be careful on that one.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a recovering hoarder - although my “condition” was never too bad! I just loved hoarding bric-á-bracs I’ve had from places, trips and gifts.
Oh, and books. Although I believe books have little legs and enter your space while you sleep - I’ve no idea how I always end up having too many of them. Same happens to you?! (Told you! Little legs!)
The same with language learning materials. Textbooks, course books, Grammar books, notes, posters - not to mention the paperless online materials!
Apps, videos, emails, infographics, social media groups - oh boy!
I know what you must be wondering right now:” Hey, Danae, aren’t you creating materials as well? What’s the problem, then?”
Let me explain. I’m not saying any of the materials above is bad or wrong (although there are lots of mistakes “out there” and not everything is made by professionals).
I’m trying to say that, when we learn languages, we do need to think about our “ingredients and baking tools” same as when we’re making a cake; we can’t use anything and everything!
Don’t be tempted to add too many on your plate and learn from every source possible. Stick to the materials and resources that resonate with you and choose them wisely according to your current goal(s) and learning preferences.
You love images? Learn with posters, images, infographics. You love audios or need to practice more listening? Stick to audios, music, the radio. You get the picture.
By making the right list of your “ingredients and baking tools” you’re creating your recipe and this way your recipe is not going to fail. High five for that - or, as we say in Greek: stick five = “κόλλα πέντε” (kóla pénde)!
All of this is wonderful and all, but you want to know how to minimize overwhelm and “put your ducks in a row”. Hey, I’m a learner of languages myself, I get you!
So let’s see how to approach your materials and - hint for today’s question - find your own best way to learn Greek, shall we?
Maria has a list of resources - from videos to audio, radio stations to Pinterest, free online lessons to Grammar books, activities, even apps. Where does she start?
Maria has written down: “My goal is to speak with my Greek friends during my summer vacation. Also, to catch up with their news online (via emails, social media) when I’m back home”. See now how having a goal comes in handy?
Personally, and please don’t laugh, starting a new language reminds me of expecting a baby. I mean, really! You’re all excited, getting all the cute stuff, not really knowing what you’re going to use - but who blames you, you might actually need them!
Because I’ve been there with stuff (for both languages and babies!), I’m now trying to minimize. Too many choices equal to too many distractions.
Back to Maria, she can only achieve her goal by choosing what she’s actually going to use, having in mind the time she has available after work and her current level in Greek.
However, as with newborn onesies and blankets, her Greek learning has some absolute needs.
What’s the no-nonsense list Maria - and you! - are really going to need?
Well, here it is. Download it to save all the links in your device and revisit later.
1. Grammar Book
Greek is a unique language (literally! Check this interesting info by Ethnologue here and a beautiful language map here). So, yes, you’re going to have a lot of Grammar questions. Choosing the one book that’s right for you is essential.
Greek: An Essential Grammar (Routledge Essential Grammars) was written with English speakers in mind. You can find it in both languages, English and Greek and it’s simply wonderful; thorough and to the point.
Concise Modern Greek Grammar is the most used Greek Grammar book, written by linguist Manolis Triandaphyllidis, which also comes in 14 translations.
Yes, you need a dictionary for sure! Of course your choice depends on what your first language is.
For a Greek to Greek dictionary, Λεξικό της Νέας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας is a great option.
An online, free option is Dictionary of Standard Modern Greek.
The advantage of having a Greek to Greek dictionary is the extra valuable information about words and expressions; this is recommended for Intermediate learners and up, however.
3. Exercises - Course Books
I believe every Greek learner who is serious about learning Greek needs homework!
Why? Because you need to practice and revise the vocabulary, reply to questions, write your own texts in a different alphabet. You also need to follow a step by step process, according to your goals and needs; having a schedule can be a great guide.
I bet you agree ;-)
With my students, I create their very own online materials they can keep forever but I also suggest additional materials they can use if they like.
Here are my favourites:
- Ελληνικά Α’ (Beginners) and B1 (Intermediate) course & exercises books with CDs: up to date, nicely presented. Lots of vocabulary and everyday expressions about living and working in Greece. Great illustration.
- Ελληνικά τώρα 1+1 (Beginners) and 2+2 (Intermediate) course books, exercises books and CDs: the classic books so many Greek learners have used since the 80s when they were published. Quite outdated vocabulary and cultural references, but very good grammar practice. Tailored to the needs of learners who visit Greece every summer.
- Επικοινωνήστε ελληνικά 1 (Beginners) and 2 (Intermediate), exercises books and CDs: I think I love more the exercises books than the course books. Such a great variety of exercises. Again, tailored to the needs of tourists or regular visitors!
- Ταξίδι στην Ελλάδα 1 (Beginners) and 2 (Intermediate) course & exercises books with CDs: I love their texts’ collection, Grammar tables and wonderful Grammar explanations. The exercises are a bit uninspired, but still good.
- Αυτό ακριβώς! B level Grammar book: This is an amazing Grammar book with tons of exercises and Grammar tables - for Intermediate learners only.
Great resources and tools, depending on your individual goals:
Apps: Apps are not favoured by everyone. I learned to love them! In fact, I’ve written a whole post about the 3 Best Apps I recommend to learn Greek for free. Read it here!
Social media: Not everyone’s cup of tea for sure! But if it is yours, choose again what suits you best. Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? By following or signing up to an account, you get a bite-sized post with a Greek word, information about the language & the culture, even a Grammar explanation each day and you can practice a bit or ask questions for free! Amazing.
There are many social media accounts to help you with Greek! To follow mine click here for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. I'll be happy to see you there!
Music: Again, if you don’t really listen to music or if you don’t even like Greek music, then don’t use it. If you do, then add your song here and find the Greek songs’ lyrics in Greek or even sometimes translated by members of the page.
For Intermediate learners, this book Λίγα Τραγούδια θα σου πω can also be found here to download and practice Greek with songs!
Daily emails/reminders/videos: These are offered by Apps; also by most companies that offer language lessons, such as the well known GreekPod101 by Innovative.
To be honest, I personally feel pressured with “daily” forever reminders! But if you do open these emails and you like having a little nudge to learn some Greek in your day, go for it!
Skip it, Don’t Keep it
You’ve heard about an amazing webpage which is “old but still good”, you’ve been told to read a children's story and you ‘ve come across the 100th video presenting the Greek alphabet.
While the following list might seem unconventional (and it is), choosing and planning your learning always comes with some things you need to let go.
Outdated material: yes, you’ve been told it’s “old but amazing”. In some rare cases, it can be true if there are other advantages (see the part about the one outdated course book I still use + why, above!).
However, unless you’re interested in adding drachmas to your coin collection or vintage, skip it. The last thing you want, is to sound like an 80s movie.
Videos about the alphabet: I see some raised eyebrows here. Hey, I never said don’t watch them, I say please don’t hoard them - also, unfortunately, don’t expect to learn reading and pronunciation from them.
Why? Because every Greek letter has a name which does not correspond to they way we read.
While alphabet videos are fun, learning the letters’ names doesn’t add much to your learning.
Yes, you need to know how to ask about your spelling “Is it correct to write it with an ι - γιώτα or an υ - ύψιλον? However, alphabet videos can’t teach you Greek pronunciation.
Greek pronunciation is not too complicated but it involves a greater depth and focus than a “learn to read in Greek now” kind of video. Note: I am not aware of any such a title, I’m just giving you an example here!
Invest in time, by practicing more with your chosen, good quality resources or invest in a qualified tutor or class where you can get all the help you need with pronouncing the Greek sounds.
Kids’ books: More raised eyebrows here. Wait, please, just wait! Yes, I’ve been there. I’ve been told to practice English with kids’ books. Here’s what I learned:
- Fairies eat an incomprehensible and unpronounceable fairy food.
- So many words about playing in the playground I literally felt dizzy - I can no longer remember them, because I never used them.
- Kids’ slang I can’t use with grownups around.
See where I’m at? Unless it’s a fun, engaging children’s literature book, such as for example Astrid Lindgren's Pippy Longstocking (to learn English), I don’t recommend every kids story just because it’s in “easy” Greek.
Which, by the way, is a misconception. I would much more likely recommend children’s books to Advanced learners rather than to Beginners, because of the natural speech these stories are written in.
How to learn and practice!
This is kind of obvious, but if you’re not comfortable with Greek reading, your pronunciation is as well compromised.
Practice reading out loud, repeat after your teacher or after the audio you’re using. See below for more ideas!
In Greek only. If I could write this in big, red, flashing letters, I would.
Writing in the Latin alphabet (the one I’m using now) or any other script will only keep you far away from matching the sounds to the image e.g. [a] → α (the letters).
Make it a habit to write in Greek and don’t care about making spelling mistakes -at all! It’s much more important to learn the language holistically than getting stuck to spelling. Part of learning Greek is its different but beautiful alphabet; embrace it.
Listen, to learn
There are so many videos on YouTube but there are also podcasts, like this one by Language Transfer which is free and fun.
Did you know I use Soundcloud for some of my blog posts? You can find my tracks here and practice with me -also stay tuned for more recordings.
Listen, to practice
Any Greek series, shows, songs, news broadcast, the weather, anything, really! Don’t be afraid to get exposed to some real, fast, natural Greek. You’ll be amazed by the words you’ll start noticing.
A tip: have a goal to understand at least 3 words for example. By focusing on something such as a number of words or expressions or words starting with a specific letter, you practice without getting overwhelmed.
You also avoid passive listening, which, to be honest, doesn't seem to be making any difference in language learning.
Unless you need Greek to translate books and never utter a word, chances are you’re learning Greek to communicate in Greek.
So start speaking now. Say "my name is..." out loud in Greek. Say your likes and dislikes. Describe an object using 5 adjectives and repeat those idioms you’ve learned yesterday in a meaningful sentence. Record yourself doing so.
Practice this vocabulary of yours. Best is everyday, but if time is really an issue, practice at least once per week.
By practicing, I mean saying all the words out loud. Record yourself speaking in Greek on your phone for at least 10 minutes each time. You can do this!! You’ll be really, really amazed by your progress.
Before you go, did you miss the Resources List? Here it is:
Almost there now! You have your goal(s) written, your tools and materials in order plus plenty of ideas about how to use them… what’s next? Is that all? Is this the best way to learn Greek?
I told you at the beginning I’m not going to fool you with promises and perfect learning solutions.
The puzzle is complete only with your own, personal effort.
You’ve already put effort in all of the steps above (and in reading this huge post! Yep, you’re a-ma-zing.) ... now the real work begins.
The best way to learn Greek is your way. Truth be told, my awesome, Greek learning friend. No one will know your needs better than you and no one can put all the work needed for you.
"Way" means it's a process, a path you need to walk; "the best way" is here for you to plan and follow.
So after you carefully and thoughtfully selected the why, when, what and how to learn and practice, it’s time to do it.
There may be times you’ll wonder why you chose this language. If it will ever pay off. If you’re ever going to learn it.
If you go back to where you started on Day 1 and look at your notes, listen to your recordings, read your first texts, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
Trust yourself. I know you can do this.
Do you have any questions or ideas to share? Write in the comments below!
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means you'll be supporting Alpha Beta Greek at no extra cost to yourself if you buy through the link. I only recommend books and resources of high quality that I trust and love to use myself.
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