4 tips for learning Greek

Growing up monolingual in America I was lucky enough to have parents who somehow understood that language was an important part of experiencing other cultures.  Exposed young to an at that time “experimental” French class for children, followed by a student exchange program which afforded me the chance to live with a Quebecois family in a small town in northern Quebec, language has been, for me, the key to opening doors to a greater understanding about our world.  With that foundation, and having inherited my father’s ear for language, it wasn’t surprising to my parents that I’d return home from my first waitressing  job pockets full of change and head full of newly learned Greek words. Little did they know how those informal Greek diner language lessons would ultimately shape my life.

Waitressing for language lessons probably isn’t in your pre-trip itinerary program, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn Greek in time for your travels. There’s a number of online resources and audio tools, some free, some for sale, available for the do it yourself language learner. Here are four sites to help you get started learning Greek and opening up doors as you travel through Greece.

  1. For a basic introduction, BBC Languages offers a free online collection of essential phrases for travelers.  You can download the mp3 files and lookup useful phrase along with a very brief, gentle introduction to the Greek alphabet and pronounciation.
  2. The Pimsleur method is a tried and true language training program for offline language learning. Their basic Greek language course is a useful introduction to the Greek language and should leave you with the ability, after 8 lessons, to hold short, information conversations.  Their in-depth Greek language program is designed for anyone who really wants to delve deep into learning and understanding Greek and includes a set of 16 audio CDs and a guidebook. (Yes, for most people, myself included, there is something of a gap between one’s ability to communicate what one wants to say and actually understanding the response we receive.)
  3. Kypros.org is a website offering free Greek language lessons. You need to sign up for the site and login to use these courses, but in addition to the audio lessons there is a support forum where you can ask questions and get help.
  4. For the truly impatient, Unforgettable Languages is so sure of their speedy results they offer a 30 day money back guarantee. Their method, which teaches little memory tricks for remembering words (Heeree is hand, remember “the hand is hairy” and you’ll quickly recall the word in Greek. Try their demo and if you like it, download instantly to your PC.
Reviewing these sites I’m not sure if I am glad or sorry they did not exist 30 years ago when I first began learning Greek. I’m certain that as good as these sites are, they don’t include many of the more colorful expressions I mastered in front of the quintessential Greek diner pickup window, but perhaps having a more formal introduction to the Greek language would have saved me lots of embarrassing moments the cleanest of which include the time, intent on ordering lamb chops (paidakia/παϊδάκια) I instead ordered “grilled children” (pedakia  / παιδάκια).

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