Does Learning Koine Greek Benefit Modern Greek (Or Vice-Versa)?

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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Does Learning Koine Greek Benefit Modern Greek (Or Vice-Versa)?

I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year celebrating wherever you are in the world!

I did.

We had our son’s first Christmas which was really special! (although I suspect he was probably more interested in wrapping paper than new toys at his age) 🙂

We also got to spend another fun month holidaying back home in Australia. A good but busy end to 2017!

So…here we are in 2018.

With lots of tentative travel plans to share with you soon. 🙂

Normally, every year at around this time I come up with a routine idea for New Year’s language learning resolutions.

“How to plan/prepare/accomplish your language goals for the New Year.”

But I think that New Year’s resolutions rarely work out for most of us. We tend to forget about them by about February!

So not this time.

But I did want to share with you one of my own personal goals that I’ve set this year which I’ve been itching to get started on for a long time now.

And that is: Greek.

To be more precise: Greek x 2 -> Modern + Koine. 🙂

My goal for 2018 is to learn a spoken language and its written ancestor simultaneously.

What is Koine Greek?

It’s not a brand new language for me.

As I’ve shared often in the past, the first foreign language that I attempted as an adult (in college) was a language that’s no longer spoken.

Koine (Κοινὴ‘common’) Greek was the global lingua franca (similar to the way that English is now) from the time of Alexander the Great to a few hundred years after Christ. It was spoken across most of the developed world at the time.

Half the Bible was originally written in it (all the original Gospel accounts and letters).

So historically speaking, it’s probably the most consequential language in history as it facilitated the early spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire and changed Europe.

I took this language in seminary before taking up linguistics.

4 years of it.

I flunked the first year completely and it wasn’t until I started developing a visual-spatial learning strategy for myself that I went from a total failure to a grade A student at the time (I explained that here).

I originally wanted to master Κοινὴ Greek back then and even continue on to a PhD but as you know, I ended up taking a very different direction with Arabic.

So I’m just now arriving back at the point of picking up where I left off.

It’s been a long time! 🙂

I still don’t quite know just how rusty I am but I’ll soon find out (although as I often say, if you learn a language properly the first time then you never truly forget it).

Reasons for wanting to learn Modern Greek

** Learning the Greek language

This time I’m not limiting myself to Κοινὴ.**

I’m taking up Modern Greek at the same time and aiming for conversational fluency this year.

Κοινὴ evolved into Byzantine/Medieval Greek and ultimately evolved into the Greek that we have today. Unlike Old English and Modern English, I’ve been told (and correct me if I’m wrong on this!), Κοινὴ is quite intelligible to modern-day Greek people.

So I’m fairly certain there’s a strong advantage for me here if this is the case.

This will be the first time (another experiment) where I’m using an ancient language as a foundation to learning a modern, conversational language.

There may be drawbacks however.

No doubt the vocabulary and syntax have changed significantly over time so I’m assuming it’ll be tough dealing with interference between the two (where one language confuses the other).

This is why, by the way, I usually don’t advocate learning two languages simultaneously – especially ones that are so similar.

So why Modern Greek then?

Well, a few reasons:

  • Firstly, to find out just how useful a linguistic ancestor is to learning a modern-day, spoken language. It’s an experiment.
  • I’ve been all over Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, and yet never set foot in Greece – despite it being one of my most desirable destinations to visit.
  • Some of my friends from Egypt have been working with refugees in Greece and there may be an opportunity there for me to come alongside them. Greek would be very useful.

It’s also just time for me to take up a new challenge as I had a long break over 2017 for language learning and 2016 was too hectic to accomplish much (getting married and all).

I’m itching to get back into language study. 🙂

So Greek it is.

Initial resources for learning Greek and my method

I’m amazed at how much my own language learning strategies have improved over the last decade.

I’ve developed strategies for learning that I never had a chance to implement when I originally learned Greek in college (and in retrospect would have saved me a LOT of time and stress).

For example, I came up with an approach called ‘chunking‘ (developed on the back of Michael Lewis’ Lexical Approach) which has been enormously successful for me personally and has also grown a lot in popularity over the last few years (other language bloggers have even adopted it from me).

Admittedly, everything I’ve applied is for spoken languages.

But I’ve never had a chance to reapply this learning approach to the ancient/written languages I took in my earlier years.

So I’ll be sharing my results and methods as I go along.

Resources I’m starting out with:

I’m starting back with my very first textbook for Κοινὴ Greek. It’s an older edition but I may purchase the newer edition soon that has an audio component.

One thing I’ll be doing differently is focusing on the English -> Greek translations (i.e. producing the language). I didn’t do much of this in college because it was widely regarded as unnecessary (why translate into a language that nobody speaks anymore?) but now I have the experience to know otherwise.

For vocab training, there seem to be some great decks up on Memrise, and other online Greek courses that I’ll make use of at least initially.

I’ll also be creating my own audio tracks (more on how I do this later).

[instagram post]

As for Modern Greek, you’ll be surprised to hear that I’ve decided to give Michel Thomas a second chance.

Yes, you read that correctly. 🙂

My MT review ended up being one of my most controversial posts and positions yet (people either strongly agreed or strongly disagreed). Some think I was very unfair because I reviewed the Arabic edition and therefore must of had a pre-conceived opinion.

Hodder Education actually contacted me about my review.

They offered me another free sample – MT Total Greek – to give the product a second chance.

I’ve decided to do that.

I’m going to start by going through the MT Greek audio course exactly as they recommend I do and then see at the end just how much Greek I’ve learned. As far as modern, conversational Greek goes, I know absolutely nothing.

Not even “hello”.

So I feel like a complete beginner even though I may have some familiarity with Greek and be able to recognize words from Κοινὴ.

Later on I’ll take an italki conversation lesson to test my results.

For a change, I want to keep this is as simple as possible in the beginning so I’m not going to overwhelm myself with Greek resources until I complete the MT audio course and assess its true value.

Experimenting with different content styles and platforms for 2018

I’ve always prefered writing here on my blog to other mediums like YouTube and so on.

But trends seem to be changing fairly quickly.

Although I’ve experimented a little bit here and there with podcasting and video, being the absolute contrarian that I am I’ve tended to stick with what I like and what I’m good at despite what everyone else is doing.

But I’m committed to being more adventurous this year.

I’ve decided to spend more time on other platforms getting my message out in different ways – in addition to writing.

So I’ll be sharing more about this soon and I’ll update my progress with Greek on other platforms.

You can subscribe to some of these here:

YouTube, Instagram, iTunes/Stitcher, Facebook.

How do you say “Chat soon” in Greek? 🙂

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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Sebastian Carnazzo

Sebastian Carnazzo

I totally agree with your approach. Have you had any success using Modern or Koine as a surrogate for the other? If you have a chance, take a look at my teaching technique, conversational Koine, and let me know what you think. I would really like to learn more about what you have learned and see if I might be able to duplicate your success.

Matthew Coatney

Matthew Coatney

I’ve almost completed Mounce’s 1st year book/course and wondering if a modern greek course would help me at all. I’m having trouble with pure rote memorization and think an audio/visual approach would help but where to go?



I am wondering how it is going, learning both koine and modern Greek. I have been learning koine and recently switched over to the modern pronunciation. I am very happy with that change, and will be teaching my son this coming school year. I am not planning to learn modern Greek or have him do so at this point as I don’t want us to become confused, but I do plan to include some modern Greek in the form of common set phrases, greetings and probably a host of daily usage vocabulary. I am concerned with learning modern grammar as it is simplified and may lead to him not actually learning the older, koine grammar. How are your studies coming? How much koine did you remember from your college days before you embarked on this plan?



I too would love to see his response to this.



I plan to learn Greek as well starting in the next year or so. My parish church (Greek Orthodox) has a school attached to it, mostly for the kids but they do have adult classes. I will sign up for a semester to see what I can gain from formal lessons, but I am very interested in following your process! If you want a place to practice Greek with other speakers, I do highly recommend visiting a Greek Orthodox church - they would love to chat with someone who values the language like they do!

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

I’m actually going to be attending the local Greek Orthodox church here where I live and hopefully make some new friends there.

Best of luck with your Greek studies, Naomi.



I strongly suggest to use Language Transfer to help you learn modern Greek, it is a 1000 times better than Michel Thomas, plus it is free and covers more material.

Brian T.

Brian T.

Steve was using Living Language, but apparently didn’t find it very helpful. He has one or two videos about it.

It sounds like an exciting project you have going there, and I wish you luck with it. It will be interesting to see how you manage learning the two different varieties of Greek together. The US Foreign Services Institute places modern Greek in its fourth category of difficulty for English speakers, up there with Russian and Polish. It does indeed seem tough to me. I once tried to learn the ‘Πάτερ Ήμών’ in Greek but it took me ages just to learn the first third of it. Learning the ‘Tatăl Nostru’ in Romanian, on the other hand, took me only a couple of hours, even though I’m only at beginner level in that language. (The FSI places Romanian in its first, easiest, category.)

One possible cause for confusion when learning both varieties of Greek is pronunciation; as far as I know, some of the sounds are pronounced differently in modern Greek from how the Ancient Greek textbooks tell you to pronounce them. But that need not be an insurmountable problem. I’m told the Greek Orthodox Church, in its liturgies, uses the old language but with modern pronunciation.

Anyway, best of luck. We’ll see how you get on with MT this time. And let us know how you find the Duff/Wenham book; I’m thinking of using that myself one day, if I ever do get around to learning Koine Greek!

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hi Brian,


Yes, Living Language is terrible. I can understand Steve not liking it.

Regarding pronunciation, when dealing with a language that old we never really know *exactly* how it sounded back then anyway. I intend to use Modern Greek pronunciation too to read Koine as it really doesn’t matter to me being a literary language that I’ll never need to speak.



This sounds like a very interesting project. I’m pretty curious actually, because I haven’t seen anyone try both simultaneously. I look forward to your updates.

Yes, Koine is nowadays the language used at Church and this is the only place where we listen to it really.

I’m not sure how much a native Greek speaker will understand of Koine if they have absolutely zero knowledge of Ancient Greek. Otherwise, yes, you can understand it if you’re a bit creative!

Speaking of resources, there are plenty, it’s just a bit hard to find them and adjust them to your liking. The alphabet doesn’t help a beginner with google searching, obviously. You need to either type English or Greek or “Greeklish” (Greek word in latin alphabet, which -by the way- has no standard way of writing, it can be anything, even include numbers).

The real problem with the resources is that there is an abundance of them for complete Beginners but not for Intermediate learners -or when you feel you want to get a real feel of the language and of native speakers. Also, when I say “an abundance” it’s not compared to English, is only compared to other levels in Greek.

I look forward to your review about MT Greek for sure.

Feel free to visit my blog, even though still new, you might find something useful for your learning.

And lastly, you can say “τα λέμε” for chat soon!

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hi Danae,

Great to hear from you. I’ll bookmark your blog for later - looks awesome. Perhaps I’ll contact you later on.

Thanks a lot for the advice.

τα λέμε :)



Resources for learning Modern Greek are thin on the ground. I can’t even find a edictionary that includes noun gender, let alone a decent textbook that doesn’t cost a fortune.
I want to learn Classical Greek and was told modern was easier to start and gave you a good foothold. I did find a site with lessons in both classical and modern Greek. LingQ helps too. Steve Kaufman just took up Greek too.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hi Cate.

That’s a shame. I honestly haven’t looked at the resource situation properly yet so that’s good to know beforehand. Wasn’t aware that Steve is learning it either.

Have you considered Koine Greek as an alternative (at least to start)? There’s a lot of written material and resources for it (not just biblical).



Cate, check this e-dictionary

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