The Beginner’s Guide To Learning Modern Greek (How To Get Started)
- Written byDanae Florou
- Read time9 mins
UPDATE: I highly recommend this Greek resource to anyone learning Greek.
Today’s post comes from Danae, a native Greek speaker and teacher who runs a site called Alpha Beta Greek.
As you know, I recently started learning Modern and Koine Greek together as a project for 2018, and I’ve found Danae’s website to be super helpful so I was happy to have her share some advice here today.
Over to you, Danae.
So you’ve decided to start learning Greek.
You did a bit of Googling and looked at the course books on Amazon.
So many options. Which one to choose? And what’s with some books being so… vintage? (Greeks with a moustache, Ionic columns and all?!)
Hmm, not as straightforward as you initially thought. Maybe start learning the alphabet first? You head to YouTube…
Oh no. Which video to watch first? This one seems interesting. But still…?
Getting started learning Greek can feel like a daunting task, especially if you decide to learn it on your own.
Course books, apps, audiobooks, videos – they’re all here to help you but you need to know how and which ones to choose.
You need a guide and this is what this post is all about.
Ready to go through it step by step?
Unlock the treasure chest
Learning a language with a different alphabet is like getting a chest with gold – you need to have the key first – just not the rusty one.
The actual problem with the Greek alphabet is the confusion by the way it’s taught, rather than the pronunciation or the letters themselves.
After all, the Greek alphabet is quite easy to learn as it’s close to the Latin alphabet.
In fact, the Latin alphabet gradually developed to its current form from the Greek alphabet.
So no, you don’t need to make the mistake and learn the letters’ names first.
But yes, you do need to include the alphabet and how to read Greek in your very first steps of learning.
The best reading activity I’ve seen so far in various resources is in the first few pages of the (admittedly outdated) course book Greek Now 1+1.
They use syllables – rather than separate letters – to start forming 1 – 3 syllable words right away.
Your first task is to listen and repeat the sound while reading them. Next, you need to move to the combinations of vowels and consonants.
Once you feel more confident, start listening and repeating longer words (we do love our long, Greek words!) and soon enough, short, meaningful sentences.
A tip: the Greek language loves the consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant- etc pattern (a bit like Spanish).
A great video series with a similar technique is from Learn Greek with Lina on YouTube.
In this link you’ll find 4 basic plus 6 videos which will give you a pretty good understanding of Greek reading and pronunciation.
You got reading down? Continue on to learning Greek writing
Seriously, this can be intimidating for many learners.
However, unless you practice the Greek alphabet you won’t be able to master it and eventually read.
Start handwriting your name (that’s always fun to do, right?) the place you live, the country, and your favourite Greek food.
Here’s a great video to get you started:
Yes, you’ll make spelling errors. But it’s always better to start with small steps and keep it up.
Mastering the alphabet helps you in a number of ways:
- You learn your first words. In your alphabet session you might end up with a new vocabulary of 20+ words plus sentences which you can write down and practice, especially if you’re a visual and / or kinesthetic learner.
- You can now look up any word in the dictionary and be able to pronounce it.
- You start making connections from yοur past experiences with the language, even if they were unintentional e.g π = pi, Δ= delta etc.
And how about learning to type in Greek?
Typing is of course necessary.
It helps you access a variety of online resources as you progress in your Greek and you’ll use it to communicate, message, email, and comment.
Most importantly, it gives you access to authentic materials: songs on YouTube, TV series, online magazines and newspapers, social media posts, blogs about topics such as recipes (Greek food anyone?) or travel, to name a few.
And now with all the apps out there, finding a Greek course to practice your vocabulary requires typing.
I find that the most straightforward way to type in any computer is to add the Greek keyboard.
Here’s an explanatory video for Mac users, which by the way, shows you how to add the Koine (Polytonic) keyboard but it also shows you the option to Modern Greek.
If you’re adventurous like Donovan, learning both Modern and Koine Greek, then this video will definitely help you:
Tip: in case you find that you’re going to use the keyboard quite a lot, then purchasing a keyboard that includes the Greek letters on it might make things more simple for you.
Alright! Now that you have a good start with reading, writing and typing let’s see how to use some Greek.
It’s all Greek to me
Speaking in a new language is a topic most of us being involved with languages explore, trying to find the most effective ways to eventually master it.
From communicating in everyday Greek to learning pronunciation and back again to expressing yourself in more complex structures, speaking is the area that most learners want to focus on.
But it’s often overwhelming.
Let’s break it down and see how you can get started with speaking.
It’s true that Greek doesn’t have an abundance of materials compared to English or Spanish for example.
However, when you start learning, do you really need to have tons of materials? Apparently not.
Investing in a good course book, such as Ellinika A or Epikinoniste Ellinika is probably all you need.
If you’re looking for a more detailed list to find which course book is suitable for you, then I suggest you check my blog post The Best Way To Learn Greek.
Why do I mention course books in speaking?
They include CDs which will help you memorize slow Greek dialogues and eventually use these sentences and their structure to your speaking as well.
Introductions, small talk, asking for something or ordering food, talking about yourself and your preferences are some of the first things you ‘ll learn.
By mimicking the audio from the CDs while looking at the text, you start forming those important first sentences which help you internalize the structure of Greek.
Tip: a simple rule of thumb is that Greek has a subject-verb-object structure.
What are some effective and practical ways to practice speaking, even without a teacher?
1. I love recordings
It’s fun to listen to yourself saying something so… unusual!
Of course, it won’t be unusual forever and that is your goal – to familiarize yourself with the sounds of Greek.
You can record yourself speaking either repeating the sentences you learned or making sentences of your own with the vocabulary you learn.
Alternatively, see our list of podcasts for learning Greek for quality listening material.
2. Speaking challenges, such as the 30-Day Speaking Challenge are great if you need some accountability or even an award!
The sense of community is definitely encouraging as well and I know that some Greek learners had memorable moments from taking part to challenges.
3. Practice with songs on YouTube
Here’s a playlist with Greek music I prefer.
Greek swing is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea so feel free to explore Greek rock, pop or Greek laika (λαϊκά, it means people’s/popular music) or even reggae in Greek.
Yes, there’s even reggae!
Recently, I posted a poll on my Facebook page and I was happy to find out that learners also love rembetika (ρεμπέτικα), a form of music from Asia Minor originating back in the 20s and 30s with a unique history. For your beginning level needs, pop music is easier, but if you like a different genre then don’t be afraid to include it in your learning.
If you fall in love with Greek songs, the expressions and vocabulary you’ll pick up from the songs will amaze you.
4. How about trying a language exchange with a Greek who’s learning your language?
Especially if you’re an English speaker, you’ll have success finding someone who wants to practice your language.
Make a deal of 50-50 language time and go for it.
Language centres or university language departments are great places to look for language exchanges.
5. When in Greece, practice Greek in non-tourist areas
Don’t expect people who work in tourist areas to practice Greek with you.
Look for that special, friendly place where only locals go and start using what you know.
How do you find this special place? Ask a local!
To grammar or not to grammar, that is the question
The word ‘grammar’ alone in Donovan’s blog is enough to spark some cool discussions.
Traditionally, Greek is taught with lots of grammar included. This is true for native speakers as well. We do learn grammar starting from the elementary school.
How about you?
You might love conjugations. Or you have a “thing” for grammar jargon. Or you even want to have a grammar book for your reference.
In any case, I got you covered.
The book I love using and it’s perfect for English speakers is this one: Greek, An Essential Grammar.
As with any Grammar book, use it wisely.
That is, yes, find out the answers to your questions, but don’t get too caught up in the rules and the exceptions.
The eternal sunshine of the Greek mind and other Greek myths
Last but not least.
Do you want to learn Greek because you love all things Greek? I like you already.
Keep in mind though that Greeks are not “all sunshine”. Not even “all Ionic columns”.
As with any culture, keep your mind open to experience how life really is as you progress in your learning.
You’ll start your language journey with a set of assumptions but be prepared to challenge them. This always benefits your learning, no matter the language.
And if you find that learning Greek is really for you, be assured that it is a journey well worth it.
All the best! 🙂
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I’m revisiting my Greek knowledge after taking a year of Koine in college. I find the conversational approach really compelling. “Back to the Greek” is a documentary released last summer (2019) where the producer goes to Cypress to read the Greek NT to modern Greek speakers. They had NO trouble understanding it. The only difference appears to be pronunciation and inflection markings.
Do you have suggestions for how to study both modern Greek and Koine at the same time without melting my brain?
How can I writer like love or see in Greek or if I see it in greet I will know it pls
Thank you for doing this, could you please clarify the difference and use of: An Essential Grammar (Routledge Essential Grammars) as there is a blue comprehensive and the red essential, there is also a green modern one which is best for becoming fluent in modern greek? thank you
What a brilliant post. You have given me the motivation to start learning Greek more.
Great post, Danae. I’ve been itching to learn Modern Greek for awhile. I finally started today. I’m using the 2003 Teach Yourself course. There’s also a 100% free course called Language Transfer which is in the style of Michel Thomas. Enjoying the experience so far. I’d love to see more concrete examples of your chunking method too, Don.