Greek is spoken by close to 13,5 million people mostly in Greece and Cypress. Like English, it's an Indo-European language, but it doesn't belong to one of the known branches like Germanic, Slavic, or Romance. Greek is alone in the "Hellenic" branch. This means that Greek is only faintly related to any other language, and that makes it pretty interesting. But also slightly more difficult and time-consuming!
If you want to learn Greek, you might ask yourself how long you need to spend before actually reaching fluency.
The time it takes to learn Greek depends on your language aptitude, how motivated you are, and the time and effort you put in, as well as the level you're aiming for. For a motivated English-speaker, who's gone to school, studies every day for about 1½ hours, you could reach an upper intermediate level of Greek in about 2½ years.
This is based on the calculator that I made for figuring out how long it takes to learn any language depending on different factors.
There are so many things that come into play when trying to figure out how long it takes to learn a language like Greek, however, so keep reading if you want to know more.
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The Greek Language Is More Time-Consuming Than Other Languages
I've written an entire article about the Greek language and whether I consider Greek difficult to learn. The language does have some aspects that will take some time to really get under your skin, but generally, it's doable.
Many people assume that languages with alphabets different from the Latin alphabet we use in English take longer to learn. They may take a little while longer, but not as much as you might think.
Unless we're talking about complicated scripts with thousands of characters like in Chinese, most alphabets can be learned in a week or so, or even in an afternoon if you know what you're doing. Greek is no exception!
After all, it's just a question of matching some 20-30 little symbols with their corresponding sound and then remembering that new information. When you learn languages, you memorize thousands of words without giving it a second thought.
Greek pronunciation isn't the most difficult in the world. You might, however, spend a little while getting used to their two "R"-sounds (Γ and Ρ, a thrilled R and one that's closer to the French R). as well as the "Χ" which sounds a little like you're clearing your throat.
Pronunciation is something that you can gradually improve along the way, and in itself, it doesn't really delay you reaching your goals.
The difficulty with Greek lies more with the grammar. Greek has 4 grammatical cases that you need to master, and the verb conjugation is a little more complicated than in English. Still, it's not that difficult, and you'll be well on your way to fluency if you just listen and read a lot of Greek and gradually "get used" to the grammar and taking it easy even if you aren't immediately able to understand every grammatical rule.
What Level Of Greek Are You Aiming For?
Many people don't really think about what kind of fluency-level they're actually aiming for when they set out to learn a language like Greek. They want to speak the language fluently, but what does that actually mean?
Fluency is one of those words that often comes up when people discuss language learning. Nobody really can explain exactly what is meant by it, though. Some consider it to be when you master a language to a near-native like level, whereas others say that you're fluent when you can independently carry a conversation and get by in a foreign-language situation without relying on a dictionary.
The different levels in language learning are often described through the CEFR-levels or the "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages".
There are 6 different CEFR-levels.
You could describe the "A" levels as beginner levels, the "B" levels as intermediate, and the "C" levels as advanced. Practically speaking, B1 and B2 are where you begin to be able to carry a conversation, whereas C1 approaches near-native proficiency. Some might actually argue that not all native speakers speak their mother tongue at a C2 level because C2 reflects being able to correctly reconstruct arguments and summarize information acquired in the language.
So which level would you aim for?
Personally, I'd argue that B2 or even B1 are good enough for most people. It will allow you to express yourself, communicate with native Greeks, understand, and be understood. And it's a great foundation for improving through books, and TV all the while putting active study a little bit on the back-burner.
Aiming for C1 or even C2 is perfectly fine, however, but keep in mind that it might take you twice as long as a reaching the intermediate levels would.
What's Your Background With Languages And Schooling?
When studying a language like Greek, you'll have a huge advantage if you're already experienced with learning languages or, perhaps, just learning in general.
It seems obvious that a polyglot who speaks 10 languages won't see the "next one" as much of a hassle. It's easier, smoother, and faster to pick up a new language when you've done it before because you have a much better understanding of what really makes up a language. You'll get those weird ways that the Greeks express themselves much quicker, and you might even be familiar with loan-words, grammar points, or pronunciation patterns that are similar in other languages that you know.
You don't have to be an all-in language geek to learn Greek, though! Simply having some kind of experience with a foreign language will be a benefit too. Did you take Spanish classes in high-school? Do you like watching Japanese tv-series with subtitles?
All of these will help you with Greek. Not because Japanese or Spanish have much to do with Greek, but because they both are foreign languages, and you having been in contact with other foreign languages just makes Greek a lot less strange, and you'll have surpassed an obstacle that can take a "monolingual" a lot of time to get past!
But even if you come from a strictly English-speaking background and you've had no prior experience with foreign languages, being used to study (anything) will be advantageous.
Knowing how to be disciplined, being used to taking notes, and so on, will be a big plus for learning Greek.
And if you've neither done a lot of studying in the past nor have any other languages under your belt you can still become a Greek-geek. It just might take slightly longer!
How Motivated Are You To Learn Greek?
To learn Greek, you've got to want it. The more you want it, the easier it'll be, and the faster you'll reach your goals.
With a long-time project like learning Greek, motivation is an extremely important factor to consider when looking at the time needed for getting to fluency. If you don't love the language, it'll feel like a chore to study, and if you don't have any good reasons for sitting down every day and putting in the effort, chances are that you probably won't.
Motivation is important for language learning. What kind of motivation is not important, if only you strongly and passionately want to reach your goals. Good motivation has to do with positive emotions. Do you like the sound of Greek? Are you a fan of Greek cuisine? Do you like Greek literature? These are all examples of how the Greek language could make you feel good about yourself.
If, on the other hand, you're mostly motivated to learn Greek, because you need the language for your job, because you want the challenge, or because people think that you should, you'll find that it'll become difficult staying on track and keeping moving forward.
Lacking motivation might lead you to become inconsistent in your study routine, which might turn into a major setback or even make you give up.
Not "being in love with Greek" will also simply make learning harder. It's easy to remember new words and information if you associate those words with positive feelings. It's actually quite simple.
So in short: The more motivated you are, the faster you'll learn. It's actually quite obvious, right?
How Often Du You Study Greek, And Do You Do So Consistently?
You'll learn Greek faster if you study every day. Much faster than if you were to study just once a week.
Okay, you can figure out that much yourself... So let me ask you this:
Which is better: Studying Greek for 1 hour per day, 7 days in a row, or sitting down and cramming in 7 hours in one go during a lazy Sunday?
You probably realize that you'd get more out of consistently putting in an hour a day. If you didn't then let me tell you: studying often and consistently is better than studying for long stretches infrequently.
There are several reasons why this is true. One is that studying for 7 hours during one single day will make you extremely tired, diminish your focus, and lower the quality of your work. If you only study for one hour, your brain will remain fresh and tuned-in to the task at hand, and you'll be able to benefit fully from the material you're working with.
Another important point is repetition.
Even if you cover a lot of material once a week, when you put down your book for 7 days, most of what you've learned will evaporate and disappear from your recollection. When you get back to studying, you'll have to start over and refresh a lot of things.
When studying an hour every day, on the other hand, you'll keep building on what you've studied the previous day, and while you'll probably still need to review a few things here and there, the Greek words and phrases you've covered yesterday will stay sort of "active" in your mind.
What's even better is if you study multiple times per day. If you were to study Greek 6 times per day for 10 minutes at a time, you'd never really be able to "tune out" and your brain would be in a constant state of being "soaked in Greek". There are many apps and tools that work great for this. One I can recommend is Glossika Greek.
On the other hand, the more inconsistent you are with your Greek studies, the longer it'll take, and you'll run a serious risk of getting so far off track that you'll let yourself give up and stop learning Greek altogether. Don't let that happen!
How Long Can You Spend Studying Greek Every Day?
So while it's better to study for shorter bursts more often than studying for long stretches once in a while, those bulky study sessions still have their place.
If you want to learn Greek quickly, you need to study a lot, even if you might be slightly less effective at the end of each study session.
So 2 hours a day is better than 1 hour per day. 3 hours is even better. And if you haven't got anything else to do, and if you're disciplined enough to not lose steam and motivation, go ahead and study 8 hours per day! You'll get slightly less out of each hour spent, but the amount of time you put in is guaranteed to make you quick progress nevertheless.
And at the same time as putting in a lot of study time every day gets you a little less "bang for your buck" studying only a little every day isn't worth that much either.
Let's say that you'd need to put in 1000 study hours (60.000 minutes) to reach your goals in Greek. If you were to study 15 minutes a day, dividing 60.000 by 15 wouldn't work. Why? Because 15 minutes a day isn't enough for reviewing what you did yesterday, covering new material, and exercising what you already know. In other words: 15 minutes daily will be worth less than a quarter of an hour per day.
I find that there's a Goldilocks zone of language learning study time. You need to study between 45 minutes and 1½ hours per day do get the most out of your time spent. Anything less or anything more will be less effective.
So try to get in at least 45 minutes of Greek studies per day. And only do more than 1½ hours if you absolutely have to reach your goals sooner and have enough empty hours in your schedule.
Summing Up: How Long Does It Take To Learn Greek?
How long is a piece of string? Well, it depends.
As does the time it takes to learn Greek. It depends on a metric ton of things. Some of which I've covered in the above, such as the level that you aim for, your past experience with languages and studies, your motivation, consistency, and the time you can put in every day. Other things that I haven't touched on are the study method, the materials used, and plenty of other things.
It's impossible to say exactly how long you'll need to learn Greek, so I'll just repeat what I said at the beginning of this article:
You've got a good chance of getting some useful results in 2½ years. If you want anything more precise, go, and play with my language learning calculator yourself!
And in case you'd like some of my tips for learning Greek, have a look at my article on the subject: How To Learn Greek By Yourself!