Some 13,5 million people in the world speak Greek as their native language. Most of them are Greeks, but the language is spoken in Cyprus and Albania as well as many countries around the world where Greek expatriates live, like Turkey, Hungary, Italy and a lot of other places.
Even though Greek is a relatively uncommon language in the world, there’s no denying its importance to the history of the world, modern society, democracy and philosophy. Greek has been a written language for at least 3500 years, making it the oldest language still spoken today.
Greek belongs to the Indo-European language family where it’s got it’s own subcategory called Hellenic. This means that Greek is related to most European languages, although it might be a distant cousin.
But you came here because you wanted to know more about learning Greek, so let’s get into it: How to learn Green by yourself?
Greek is not necessarily a difficult language to learn. You need to first work on the alphabet and basic pronunciation. Then gradually work your way through some beginner’s textbooks, branch out to listening, repeating and reading and then finally start writing and conversing. It’ll take some time, and you’ll need to be patient and consistent, but if you keep it up, you’ll eventually become fluent in Greek!
- 0.1 Start by learning the Greek alphabet
- 0.2 Greek pronunciation
- 0.3 Work your way through a Greek beginner’s course.
- 0.4 The importance of studying Greek from more than one source at the same time
- 1 A second Greek course
- 2 Time to start reading in Greek
- 3 You need to be consistent to learn Greek
Start by learning the Greek alphabet
In order to learn Greek, there’s no way around the Greek alphabet. Unless you want to focus solely on speaking or reading Greek through transliteration. I don’t recommend that!
Learning the Greek alphabet is quite easy, actually, and there’s no reason to put it off. Many language students worry about studying foreign languages that use other alphabets than the Latin alphabet we use in English. Foreign scripts appear, well, foreign, and to many, this gives them a false idea of it being difficult to learn.
The reality is that you can learn most foreign scripts or writing systems within a week or less! Greek is no exception.
The word “alphabet” actually comes directly from Greek. It’s a combination of “alpha and beta” – the two first letters in the script. The Latin script that we use today is actually based on the Greek alphabet, and they have a lot in common.
To get the Greek alphabet under your skin, I recommend that you do some daily hand-writing exercises. If you do 5 new letters per day, you’ll be able to go through them all in 5 days and know them well after 7-8 days.
Start by watching this video:
After having finished watching this video, I recommend that you do exactly the same as the instructor in the video.
- Sit down and write the first letter on a piece of paper
- Pronounce it out loud as you write it three times. Upper case and lower case.
- Do this with five letters in one sitting.
- Later in the day, come back and do the same exercise over one or two times.
- Next day, go through the previous 5 letters and add 5 new.
- Continue the process for 5 days until you’ve covered all the letters.
- Now repeat the exercise with individual words. Don’t forget to pronounce the words out loud as you did with the letters!
After about a week you’ll have mastered the Greek alphabet. It’s really not any more complicated than that! Keep doing daily handwriting exercises as you carry on with your Greek studies. It’s a good way to remember new words better.
As you’ve noticed in the above video, Greek pronunciation is not that bad. There are a couple of letters that you need to focus a little extra on however.
- γ Gamma – this letters is pronounced like “y” when it comes before e, u or i, but before all other letters it’s pronounced like a French or German “r”. Some English speakers find this hard, so you might need to work on it!
- ρ Ro – this is a rolled “r”.
- χ Chi – this one is pronounced like the “ch” in the German word “Ich” but can also occasionally sound like the raspy “h” sound in the Scottich word “loch” or the Spanish “j”.
Other than these letters, Greek pronunciation won’t represent a huge challenge, but like any language, you might need a little time to get used to the sounds.
The Greek alphabet also has the advantage of being mostly phonetic. This means that words are pronounced the way they’re written. This will make it significantly easier learning new words. Imagine having to learn English over again and having to guess how to pronounce “Leicester”. You don’t have that problem in Greek!
Work your way through a Greek beginner’s course.
To really get started with learning Greek, I recommend that you go shopping for a good beginner’s text book with audio.
One course I can recommend is Teach Yourself Greek. (link to amazon) Teach yourself is a very thorough series of language learning guides. Their Greek edition is no exception.
The course will start by teaching you the alphabet. Even though you’ve already covered this, I suggest that you read the material and take note of everything you might have missed. There’s no need to do the exercises over again, however, so you might want to skip past the things you find too easy.
After refreshing some points about the alphabet, you can start with the first lesson. I recommend doing one lesson per day. Find a good moment during your daily routine where you can fit in 20-30 minutes of Greek, and do one lesson per day. (On a side note, here’s an article I wrote about how to find time to study languages while on a busy schedule)
The lessons consist of dialogues in English and Greek and are written in the Greek script as well as Greek written in the Latin (English) alphabet.
- First read the dialogue in English to get an idea what’s going on
- Then listen to the recording while following along in the Greek text
- Then listen once more to the Greek recordings, but pause in between sentences.
- Repeat out loud as well as you can. Try to mimic the way the Greek speaker says the words. Copy the pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and melody of the language.
- Finally go through the dialogues one last time, glancing to the English if you already forgot what the individual words mean (and you probably will)
For each new lesson you do, I recommend that you go through the previous 5-10 lessons. Listen to the audio and follow along the Greek writing. Have a peek at the English translations whenever you’re unsure.
The Teach Yourself Greek book also has a lot of exercises, grammar explanations and drills that you’re asked to work through. While I recommend that you do these as well, please don’t worry too much about understanding everything from the get-go. You’re not expected to master all the material when you’re first introduced to it.
The grammar explanations also might remain unclear even when you try very hard to understand everything. This has always been my experience with grammar at least. If you feel the same way, don’t worry about it.
Grammar can be learned much better from habituation than from analysis. So while I recommend that you read the explanations, don’t dwell too much on them. You’ll learn grammar automatically by getting used to the Greek language as you continue on!
The importance of studying Greek from more than one source at the same time
When I study languages I always try to keep my study method as varied as possible. This is easier when you’re at the intermediate and advanced stages of language learning, because you can read books, newspapers, listen to the radio and and watch television.
As a beginner, however, you’re limited to the kind of material that you can understand. This is mostly language learning textbooks for beginners and that kind of thing.
The reason that it’s effective to work with material from different sources at the same time has to do with how your brain deals with new information.
When you come upon a new word or concept in your Teach Yourself Greek book, the brain sees it as relatively unimportant and it doesn’t allocate a lot of energy and “memory capacity” to it. It helps to revise the material daily and refresh the word again and again.
But it’s much more effective to study simultaneously in another beginner’s course. Learning the same kind of vocabulary and grammar concepts from another source gives you another perspective. You’ll have multiple contexts to compare, there will be more than one native speaker voices in your head. This triggers something in your brain that consequently puts the new piece of information in a more important spot in your “brain’s archive”.
Instead of hiding the new word in a dusty corner of your brain’s archive, it keeps it in focus.
An important aspect of language learning is to make new information stick in your memory. Seeing things from more than one perspective is one way of doing it, but there are many more. You can read more about this in my article entitled “How to remember words“.
But what I recommend that you do at this stage, is get another beginner’s course to work with while doing Teach Yourself Greek at the same time.
A second Greek course
One of my favorite courses is Assimil, and I can strongly recommend their Greek course. Assimil is a much more intuitive course than Teach Yourself Greek. It relies more strongly on the dialogues and a lot less on exercises and grammar explanations. It’s also generally a very enjoyable course to work with, and the audio is of excellent quality.
It’s got a problem though. Assimil hasn’t yet published a Greek course for English speakers! If you can manage studying Greek through German or French, though, I strongly suggest that you check out the German or the French edition on amazon.
I’m going to have to assume that you neither speak French, nor German, however. (Although if you do, good for you!)
In that case, you should have a look at the FSI Greek course. The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) have developed their own courses that they’ve used for teaching languages to US diplomats and officials throughout the years.
They’ve made that course available for free on the internet. This means that you can go and download the books as PDFs and the audio in MP3 form and use their high quality course free of charge!
The course is a little dated, granted, but the content is top notch.
You can use it in the same way as Teach Yourself Greek. If you’ve established a routine of studying Teach Yourself in the morning, why not do your FSI each evening?
Next step – work on pronunciation, listening comprehension, grammar and vocabulary with Glossika
After you’ve made some progress with your Teach Yourself Greek and FSI courses, it’s time to add another approach to your routine.
Since I first heard about Glossika, I’ve become a big fan of their language learning system. (Scroll down for a link)
Glossika teaches you languages (Greek included) through sentences. There are no quizzes, grammar drills, explanations or exercises. It’s all about the sentences and repetition.
This is how it works: Before starting on your first sentences in Glossika, you’re asked to do a placement test. Normally, I’d advice you to skip this test and start from zero – but if for some reason you’re already at a reasonably high level in Greek, try taking the test and see where you’re placed.
After taking the test, you can start your first study sessions with Glossika. You study new sentences in batches of 5. You’ll see the sentence written in English and Greek on the screen. Then you’ll hear it once in English then a pause followed by two times in Greek.
After first hearing the sentence in English, try reading the Greek sentence out loud. Do this relatively quickly, because you don’t have much time. Then after hearing the sentence in Greek two times, repeat, trying to mimic the Greek speaker as precisely as you can. Focus on melody rhythm, intonation and pronunciation. And try doing it in the same speed as in the recording.
At first, this will be really difficult, and you’ll end up mumbling a lot. Don’t worry about this. It’ll improve as you’ll revise the same sentence again and again.
When you work your way through the first five sentences in this way, you’ll do each of them 5 times in total. They’re repeated at random, so you’ll be doing a total of 25 reps in one sitting.
Although this doesn’t seem really challenging, I recommend that you don’t do more than 10-20 sentences per study sessions. The reason? Glossika will schedule these for review several times and you might end up creating a huge workload for later!
The importance of reps with Glossika Greek
So after finishing your first Greek session, put Glossika aiside for 12-24 hours. When you come back, you’ll notice that all the new sentences you’ve done are up for review. Do these before adding any new sentences.
These reviews (or “reps”) are a vital part of Glossika. For each time you review a sentence, it is scheduled further into the future. This system of scheduling and rescheduling reviews is done with an algorithm that’s based off what’s called the forgetting curve.
In short – Glossika uses an algorithm to schedule reviews just before you’re predicted to forget the new sentences! And to make it more precise, you can choose if you find the sentence difficult or easy as you do the reviews, and it will be scheduled accordingly.
The number of reps you’ve done is an important milestone in the Glossika system. They set the bar high. You’re supposed to have breakthroughs in Greek after 25.000, 50.000 and 75.000 reps!
I could go on for days about Glossika, but instead I’ll just point you in the direction of the Glossika review I’ve written.
Or you might simply go to their website.
Time to start reading in Greek
When you’ve finished your beginner’s courses and you’ve worked a good chunk into Glossika, having done a few thousand reps, it’s time to start focusing more on reading.
Most people, when they think of reading in language learning, they think of reading with a dictionary and looking up unknown words.
I don’t recommend that you take this route. As a beginner, or a lower intermediate learner, you’ll need to look up a lot of words all of the time. This will mean that you’ll spend more time in the dictionary than the text you’re trying to study. This can be immensely frustrating.
- You just began reading, but now you come upon an unknown word. You pause.
- You pick up the dictionary, open it and search for the word.
- You find the word in the dictionary. You now need to find the right definition and match it to the context.
- You try and make sense of it, and go back to reading for a total of 11 seconds until…
- another word needs looking up!
With this process, it’s impossible to get anywhere. You’ll forget all about the story when you look up words all the time. And as you reach for the dictionary the second time, you’ll have already forgotten the last word you looked up.
So how then, can you benefit from reading Greek when you’re still at a very low level? Should you read children’s books only?
Well, you can.. But I’ve got a few other suggestions too:
Read Greek articles online with a pop-up dictionary
One tool that I really find useful for reading Greek online is Google Dictionary. Google Dictionary is a browser extension for Chrome that you can download for free. Once It’s installed on your computer, you can click any word anywhere on the internet and get an instant translation.
Instead of spending several minutes for every look-up like you would with a paper dictionary, you get a translation in under a second. This makes for a much more fluid reading experience.
To find good and useful articles to read, search for whatever you’re interested in in Greek. Questions and how-to’s are good for short and simple articles. You can search for your hobby or interestst. The sky is the limit. Just keep away from “heavy” subjects like history, philosophy and so on in the beginning.
Don’t know how to find easy articles? Write your search term into Google Translate and search directly for a Greek translation.
Reading Greek through LingQ
LingQ is a tool that I’ve used since I first discovered it many years ago. With LingQ, you import your texts into their system where the text is analyzed and held up against your existing vocabulary and the words that LingQ has already noted that you’re in the process of learning.
When you first begin reading Greek through LingQ, you’ll notice that all words are colored blue. The blue words are words that you don’t know yet (or that LingQ doesn’t know that you know). Once you click one, a popup much like Google Dictionary will appear.
When clicking a blue word, you’ll hear the word pronounced out loud. Then you’ll see a pop-up with a couple of translations to choose from, as well as the possibillity of clicking “ignore” or “I know this word”. I use ignore for people’s names and things that aren’t really words. Click “I know this word” if it’s something you’ve already learned.
If you click “ignore” or “I know this word” the word will turn back into an ordinary word without a colored background. If you click a translation, however, it will turn yellow. Yellow words are called “LingQs”. These are the words that you’re in the process of learning. LingQ will remember these and they’ll show up yellow in all future texts you’ll read until you mark it as known.
The LingQ system keeps track of your known words count, the amount of words that you read and how many words you learn. It’s a great way of keeping track of your progress, but it’s also helpful for learning the words.
After working your way through your first text in LingQ, I recommend that you go back and have a look at the LingQs (yellow words) you’ve created. Can you think of a better translation than the one the system suggested? Write that instead.
Any association, synonym or explanation that you think of yourself is better than an instant look-up. The reason for this is that you’ll have activated your brain in relations to that word, and you’ll have made connections in your brain that weren’t there before.
Always try to do something extra with the words you’re learning. A simple dictionary-definition will disappear in your brain, but linking more information to the word will help it stay in place.
If you want to learn more about LingQ, go read my LingQ review.
Or you can simply go directly to the LingQ Website.
Improve your Greek by reading English and Greek books in parallel
If you’re not much for reading Greek texts off your computer or phone screen, there are other options as well.
One is reading Greek and English books in parallel. You first read a sentence, paragraph or chapter in English, then you read the same thing in Greek.
When you read the English part first, it clears up all the unknowns. You’ll know what’s going on and what’s written “between the lines”. This doesn’t magically teach you all the unknown words once you switch to the Greek text, but it allows you to keep reading even if there are Greek words you don’t understand.
So what kind of books should you be reading in parallel? I suggest that you have a look at anything that’s exciting, filled with action, suspense and so on. The book should be difficult to put down, or the strain of reading it in Greek will make you loose your motivation. (Read more about staying motivated in language learning in this article)
Start speaking and writing in Greek
Once you’ve made some progress with Glossika and your daily reading sessions, it’s time to start producing the Greek language yourself.
It’s time to start speaking and writing in Greek.
I recommend doing this by looking into the possibility of using a Greek language tutor. There are many sites on the internet where tutors in Greek and other languages offer their services, but try having a look at Italki.
Look through their list of Greek tutors, pick one that you think you’d be able to work with and make contact.
While many language tutors offer their own programs, materials and language learning approaches, I recommend that you take charge of your tutoring sessions from the beginning.
You’ll want them to be purely conversational. No exercises, introductions in English and so on. You’ll need to agree with your tutor beforehand that this is the way you’ll want to work.
Agree on a discussion topic before scheduling a conversation and try speaking about it for 30-45 minutes. You need to hear your own voice at least half of the time, or you’re not speaking enough.
After the end of each conversation, your tutor can write you a report with the pointers, corrections and suggestions he or she noted during the conversation.
Now sit down and write a short text on the topic you just discussed. In the beginning you can make it 100-300 words, but as you improve, you can write longer texts. Send it to your tutor and have it corrected. Then make sure to read through the corrections and take note of the errors you made. (But don’t expect to never make these errors again. These things take time!)
I recommend that you do 2-3 of these conversation and writing sessions per week.
Language exchange – the free alternative to a tutor
Hiring a tutor is one of the more expensive options when learning a language like Greek. You can try other options, however. One is language exchange.
There are many places online where you can find a language exchange partner. Just google it and you’ll see.
The idea is that you team up with a Greek person who’s learning a language that you speak. You then act as a tutor for each other.
The problem with this is that it can be difficult to find a language exchange partner who has the same ambitions and learning approach as you do. You can’t make demands because you’re getting his or her services for free after all. Another disadvantage is that you’ll need to spend a significant amount of time being a language tutor yourself. This takes away from the time that you could have spent studying Greek.
It can take a while to find a good match, but ultimately, language exchange can be extremely helpful and effective. It can even be the beginning of lasting friendships.
You need to be consistent to learn Greek
There are obviously many ways to become fluent in Greek. If you follow my suggestions above, you’ll eventually get there. But no matter which study method you end up picking, there’s one thing that matters much more than anything else:
You need to keep at it. If you don’t study every day, you’ll have a hard time improving. Learning Greek requires patience, willpower and work. Language talent is not really important if you don’t put in the work.
So the single most important suggestion that I have is this: Study Greek every day. Even if it’s only a little. And you’ll end up speaking the Greek language fluently!