Learning Modern Greek from the Reverse Course: A Guide
I recently completed the English for Greek speakers tree after working steadily on it for about a month and a half. Since the Greek for English course is still some way off, I thought I would make up a guide for the reverse course to help those who want to start learning Greek now.
NB - If you see things that are wrong or missing or can be improved, let me know in the comments.<h1>My Background in Modern Greek</h1>
Several years ago when I was beginning my PhD I made a stab at learning Modern Greek properly. I went to two semesters of classes (not sequentially) and also got some private tutoring. At the time, I also needed to read a certain amount of scholarship in Modern Greek, so I spent a good deal of time battling through articles with dictionary in hand. In the end, I let it slide because Turkish became more of a priority for my research.
In addition to this, I have studied Ancient Greek to a high level. However, since Modern Greek has another 2000 years of linguistic development and cultural influences under its belt, knowledge of Ancient Greek is as often a hindrance as it is a help. In effect, I found that I had to 'un-learn' Ancient Greek and all the misleading expectations I had of Modern Greek grammar because of it, learn what Modern Greek grammar was actually about, and only then did my knowledge of Ancient Greek start to explain things rather than make them more confusing.
So, I would say that when I began the Duolingo course I would have put myself in a lower intermediate class - I had a vague memory of the grammar and some familiarity with the vocab, but really Greek was my weakest language by a long way.<h1>Has Doing the Reverse Course Helped?</h1>
Overall, YES. As you would expect with any Duolingo course:
I can recognize and (mostly) understand the core grammar concepts of Modern Greek.
I have a vocabulary of about 1,500-2,000 words, about a third of which I can recall without trouble at the moment.
I feel relatively confident in reading and in forming new sentences.
HOWEVER, there are some important areas in which the reverse course is no help:
Because it's a reverse course there is no Greek voice, so my pronunciation is still terrible.
Also because it's a reverse course there are no listening exercises, so I don't think I would understand someone speaking to me unless they spoke extremely slowly.
Because, obviously, the Greek grammar doesn't get explained, there are quite a few grammar concepts where I now know what the right thing to do is, but I don't really understand why it's the right thing to do.
To put a number on this, when I completed the course I took the quiz and got 1.68/5.00. This is similar to the 1.65/5.00 I got when I completed Turkish for English speakers. After a month of keeping my Turkish tree golden and spending time on the grammar points I didn't really understand I re-took the test and got 3.97/5.00. So in a month's time I will re-take the test for Modern Greek and see whether I have made similar progress.<h1>Is Modern Greek Difficult?</h1>
People who have studied Ancient Greek like myself are really not the people to ask about this - the tendency is always to emphasize how much grammar hasn't survived ("where's the optative?!", "what have you done to the dative?!", "why are there no infinitives?!"), and as a result a lot of Classicists I have met think of Modern Greek as being easy, even if they've never actually studied it.
For English speakers, the US Department of State's Foreign Service Institute lists Modern Greek as a Category IV language, estimated to take 44 weeks or 1100 hours to become proficient in because of, "significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English". By contrast, they list German as a Category II language (30 weeks, 750 hours) and Turkish as another Category IV language.
This isn't quite my experience. Modern Greek has about as much grammar as German (e.g. a largely intact case system, number/gender/case agreement for articles/nouns/adjectives, a menagerie of compound verb forms, etc.), but the word order of Greek is generally much closer to English (e.g. no sending verbs to the end). In addition, quite a few words will be familiar to English speakers, either because English and other European languages have adopted these words (e.g. αράχνη, 'spider'), or because Greek has taken these words over from other European languages (e.g. πόρτα, 'door'), or because Greek has simply transliterated an English word (e.g. μπολ, 'bowl'). By contrast, as I explained in my review of the Turkish for English speakers course, Turkish has a variety of elements that make it very challenging, e.g. totally unfamiliar vocabulary, vowel harmony, agglutination, subject-object-verb sentence order, and much more besides. At least in my personal experience, I would rate Greek as being maybe a bit harder than German (especially if, unlike me, you begin with absolutely no prior knowledge), but substantially easier than Turkish.<h1>Getting Started</h1>
Here are the things to do before starting Στοιχειώδη 1:
Before you start, you'll need to know the Greek alphabet. I don't have any great insight into how best to do this because I learned it such a long time ago. However, my strategy with things like Cyrillic and Hebrew has been to sit down and transliterate a largish chunk of immediately available text (a menu, a magazine article, the nutritional information on a cereal packet - whatever), and I find that you pick it up after about half an hour.
The pronunciation of the alphabet in Modern Greek is very different to the pronunciation used in Ancient Greek. You can use this helpful guide to familiarize yourself with the sounds. There is also this guide put together by danaie which explains both the alphabet and the pronunciation.
The Duolingo course doesn't really accept Latin alphabet input, so you will need to install a Greek keyboard.
On my computer (Windows 8) I went to Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Language > Add a Language and then added Ελληνικά. You can toggle between English and Greek keyboard by pressing Alt + Shift.
For phones and tablets (I'm on Android) go to Settings > Language & Keyboard and you should be able to add Greek to the available keyboards. Personally, I like the Google Keyboard app because it has good language support for Greek. There is always a button on the keyboard you can use to toggle between Greek and English (usually it's the space bar). However, ...
The Thing I Wish I'd Realised from The Start
It can get quite tiresome constantly switching between the English and Greek keyboards to answer questions in the two different languages. The solution is to use the microphone on phones/tablets (the icon will be on the keyboard) to speak the answers which require English input. This way, once you start your practice session you can keep your keyboard on Greek the whole time. Easy! Unfortunately, I only stumbled on this quite obvious solution about two days before completing the tree ...
Pronunciation and Speaking
Reverse courses on Duolingo are no help for speaking and listening because these exercises are of course in English. Before you start, go to Settings and switch off Microphone and Speaker so that you don't get these questions (if you are already on the Greek site, go to Ρυθμίσεις on the drop down menu from your user name and then switch Μικρόφωνο and Ηχείο to ανενεργό).
If you want to check how words are pronounced, Forvo is very good. If they don't already have a recording of a word, then you can request that one be made - whenever I have done this, I have never had to wait more than a day or so.
Greek accents (i.e. accents on letters, not regional accents) are important to learn because they tell you where to place the stress in a word. The accents are especially helpful because the rules for where the stress falls within the last three syllables are highly irregular. This post explains the rules that there are, and also the exceptions to the rules, and the exceptions to the exceptions. In lieu of a clear and simple explanation, I just made sure to be assiduous about using accents in all my answers, and by a process of osmosis I've now learned quite a few of them.<h1>Resources</h1>
Here are some tabs you might want to keep open while you learn:
A round up of online dictionaries. I have not tried all of them, but e.g. Word Reference works quite well.
An etymological dictionary with pretty decent coverage (much better that what Wiktionary has available for Modern Greek). I find looking into the etymologies of words is a good way to make new vocabulary stick.
If you look up a word on Βικιλεξικό and it just says αρχαία ελληνική, then head to Philolog.us where the entire Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), the standard English language dictionary of Ancient Greek, is available in an easily searchable and attractive format.
Greek Grammar (http://www.greekgrammar.eu/)
This covers all the grammar you will encounter in the Duolingo course (and a good deal more). I found the explanations a bit dry - this is really a reference grammar rather than something to read to understand how something works from scratch.
Duolingo Greek Learners (Facebook)
I have asked a few questions on here and have always received prompt and informative replies. Well worth joining!
panagiotists13 has put together a list of all the very useful Greek lessons he has made in addition to some other useful links.
[NB - If there are other links people have found useful, then let me know in the comments].<h1>Stray Observations</h1>
Finally, I'd like to thank ssurprize and panagiotists13 for all their help on the forums. I asked a LOT of questions when I was making my way through this course, and they answered all of them promptly and with incredibly clear explanations. Σας ευχαριστώ!
YOU. ARE. AMAZING! Thanks you so much for putting this together. I've started and quit the reverse curse several times, and had almost given up hope. Please, have "some" lingots.
You deserve every one of them, and more ;). Definitely considering starting this course again before the "normal" course comes out. Thanks again.
What an achievement! Congratulations!
I think keeping the keyboard in Greek and using microphone for English input is a great suggestion and definitely works.
Could you please explain what you mean by this: "Greek accents (i.e. diacritics) seem to be wildly complex. Explanations such as this do not really persuade me otherwise."? Does the "wildly complex" refer to the fact that the single accent moves about a bit within the words depending on the case? I'm not sure I understand. As a native Greek speaker, I can tell you that one of the most annoying things I encountered when I was learning English was that you cannot know where to put the stress in a word when reading. In Greek it's all laid out in front of your eyes, no guesswork, when you are reading at least. I'd started teaching Greek a friend of mine but never got that far, so it'd be really interesting to know how people perceive the whole "accent" situation in Greek.
Also, here's one source for grammar (completely in Greek): http://www.greek-language.gr/greekLang/files/document/modern_greek/grammatiki.triantafyllidi.pdf
It is a pdf file of the official grammar schoolbook taught in all primary schools in Greece. Loved -or loathed- but certainly trusted by everyone as the grammar book.
This is an older print of the book with the latest 2005 revised version only available for sale as a hard copy. Unfortunately I cannot tell which revision number this is. It is still valid but of course every revision includes corrections based on linguists arguing that some phenomena described in older versions we could now do without - and I don't even know how many of those arguments have been adopted in the new version. The fact is this is the Greek grammar book, old version or not. As the language evolves and different generations have been taught different grammar rules in school, especially with the "Katharevousa" being dropped only in 1976, there are still arguments between people who care for such things, but practically it is a matter of age or opinion about minor details rather than one being clearly right or wrong.
Please also note that, while this is a pdf file, it works more like an image file: there is no word search function so you can only refer to the list of contents at the end to find what you're looking for. Also, the page numbering of the pdf does not correspond to that of the book's pages.
I don't know how easy it would be for someone learning Greek as a foreign language to use this book, but it is definitely the reference standard. If someone has more information about the new official grammar book and what corrections have been included, I'd really like to know.
And lastly, a little fun fact: the man in the ilearngreek website definitely has a northern accent! There's only one point where this shows: check how λ sounds at the corresponding sound file and also for every other word example that has this letter, apart from "ήλιος" for η. Ηe pronounces it in a bit "fuller" way that is characteristic for Northern Greece, specifically in the (wider) area of Thessaloniki . Disclaimer: I am not an expert. In general he would be considered to have an accent by Athenian standards, as his N,v is also pronounced "with an accent". This of course is more about style rather than anything else and the site is great for basics as far as I've seen.
Sorry for the long post, I'll stop typing now. :)
Thanks, this is really interesting and helpful!
On accents/diacritics, I should probably clarify what I've said in the text. I completely agree that the Greek system of marking the stress with an accent is much more helpful for learners than in English where you just have to memorize where the stress should go. This makes things much easier when you are reading Greek and in particular when you are seeing a word for the first time. For this reason, I wanted to emphasize to people using the reverse course that the accents may seem unimportant but actually they're well worth learning (especially given the fact that the reverse gives you no other help on pronunciation).
However, what I find difficult is knowing where to place the accent within the last three syllables when you don't have the word written out in front of you. So, if I am speaking or writing Greek and I want to say 'boy' and know that this is αγορι, how do I know whether it's άγορι, αγόρι, or αγορί? The explanations I have seen (for example the one I cited in the post, which is actually quite good) suggest that the rules which exist are very complicated and full of exceptions.
Oh, I fully agree that the accents are a great aid, probably in any language. It's a shame we don't have them in Eng. How about "esPIonage"?
Your link is really good but might be a bit heavy for newcomers.
Have you seen this? It's the one my children used. Οι τόνοι begin on page 22. but of course it's in GR.
Also, reading some of the children,s stories and articles from:
will help with the accents as well as vocabulary etc. You'll also get a picture of the Greek school system.
Yes, the grammar book is definitely not for beginners considering its intended audience. There are some tables in there though (noun & adjective categories, cases/numbers etc, verb tenses) that could be very useful, always as a reference guide -if one can make sense of the contents- rather than reading material. It's the grammar book I had in school, blue cover and everything! As I said, no indication as to which revision it is though. I believe you have the same link for Triantafyllidis' grammar? Actually Google lists 3 different pdf links for the exact same book.
"how do I know whether it's άγορι, αγόρι, or αγορί": well I guess you don't, just like in English...* You just have to learn the word with its accent placement and only get the bonus of not wondering once you've seen it written. And when I say you don't know, I really mean you can't and not because this is a foreign language to you. I honestly don't think there are rules about that. As I said, I'm not an expert and I realise that as a native speaker a lot of it could very easily go over my head just because "this is how it is" and regardless of all the years studying grammar in both ancient and modern Greek.
I've had a closer look at the two links for the accent rules, but all I see is exactly that: rules for moving the accent from one syllable to the other and not any information as to why the accent appears in one syllable to begin with. That little bit of information is missing and I for one cannot think of where it would be, other than etymology maybe. As for the rules, they do make sense. :)
*I still remember seeing the word "accident": accident, accident or accident? Still wish there were accents there too! Or go the French way and stress everything in the end - job done. :D
I think you're right though I haven't studied Ancient Gr at all (I opted for Latin) and not much Modern Greek grammar but would agree that most of the times the answer is: "That's just how it is."
Now, you've piqued my curiosity and I'll ask some philologists. Babiniotis where are you?
As in English, the answer is very often: "It's a fixed expression."
I've now changed the bit on accents so hopefully it's clear now. On accents, the private tuition and one of the terms of teaching I got was from a fellow PhD student who was working on Byzantine literature. Consequently, she had a really great knowledge of the development of the language from Ancient Greek through to the present. This seemed to explain quite a few apparent oddities, but unfortunately I've forgotten it all now.
Thank you so much for posting! I actually just started learning Polish and Czech through the reverse courses, because I am impatient. I will definitely change the way I am learning now. :D :D :D
Thank you so much! I have been wanting to learn Greek but was previously unsure of how to approach using the reverse course. I was waiting for the release of the Greek for English speakers course, but this gives me the hope that I'll be able to learn well in the reverse course. Thank you!!
Very helpful, as everyone else has said. I've been thinking about learning this language and am relived to know that it is easier than Turkish. I may do the reverse course (as you have done) after the English course is released, that way I can learn the grammar and pronunciation easier. Thanks for sharing this information with us.
Thank you, doesn't cover it. It has been my aspiration for many years to learn proper Greek. What i mean is that although I speak fluently and read well my grammar is atrocious and I've no doubt negatively influences my ability to communicate and predisposes the listener to "tune out".
Note, I've only mentioned "speak" my writing is a disaster.
Life has become a lot easier since the institution of the "monotonic" spelling - ah, the "perispomeni" I remember it well and bid it good riddance.
Here is an interesting source sent to me some time ago by "mptmpt" another of the invaluable members of the Greek team:
Looking forward to starting the reverse tree.
Sei grande ;-) I also studied Ancient Greek when I was in high school, and even if it has faded away a bit since then (I graduated in 2009), I'd like to learn at least some Modern Greek... this post of yours is very inspiring, two Lingots for you.
My advice is to pick up the Michel Thomas Greek audio course for the grammar explanations (MT courses are always the best at that) and stick to Duo for the vocabulary.
Thank you for the tip, please have a lingot!
ευχαριστώ! It is a little confusing at first, but it does work! I can test myself on the questions where you answer in English, since you can check the greek at the bottom after you submit. I am using the TypeGreek online keyboard instead of using the windows one, which lets me type in all my answers on the English keyboard. I don't really like trying to use a microphone to input answers. I'm sure this wouldn't prepare me for a trip to Greece or anything, but it should tide me over until the English to Greek course is completed.
Congratulations! If you would have it, I am up for helping you with your Greek via Skype. You seem like a nice fellow.