Babbling Fish

Learning Modern Greek

By Matt Bass · February 13, 2022 ·REFERENCE

A view of Quandary Peak (left), Blue River CO
A view of Quandary Peak (left), Blue River CO

When I started learning Modern Greek I felt frustrated when I typed “Greek Learning Resources” into Google. Every item on the first page was for Ancient Greek. It is more common for American universities to teach Ancient Greek than Modern Greek. Why is it so hard to find good resources for Modern Greek?

Eventually I did find some great resources for learning Modern Greek, it just took a lot of digging. Here I have compiled my favorite resources so others can avoid the effort I had to do.

The resources are arranged by level using the European CEFT system. Using these resources, I created a deliberate practice routine to teach myself Greek.

Absolute Beginner (A1)

Language Transfer is a series of 120 podcasts, each around ten minutes long. The podcasts follow a formula the creator calls “The Thinking Method.” The Thinking Method is a way of learning the fundamental rules of a language by presenting one rule at a time with examples, then allowing the learner to think of sentences that utilize that rule.

Because the podcasts are short they are easy to do once a day in under fifteen minutes. Making them the perfect way to begin a language learning routine because it provides structure. The concepts covered get progressively more complicated, and towards the end different concepts start to be combined together.

What I like about the Thinking Method is it focuses on learning by doing. It teaches the form of the language through demonstration, and it encourages the learner to actively engage with what they’ve learned.

This is a more generative way of learning a language that mimics to some extent how children naturally learn language, by hearing it and then speaking it. Greek (like all languages) has surprisingly few rules that when combined can produce beautiful and complex language. The focus of this program is to teach you the basic rules so you can identify correct sentences from incorrect sentences. Then you can start thinking in the language and self-correct your own mistakes.

This podcast was a major game changer for me. I had been struggling with learning on my own for some time when I had found it. Afterwards I felt like I had a really solid foundation and could finally wrap my head around the first principles.

Resources

Here is a collection of resources I find useful through my language learning journey. I’d recommend getting comfortable with using them early on. They are useful for when you are reading, writing, or listening. I would highly recommend avoiding Google Translate. It’s not very good at translating between English and Greek. And some people might use it as a crutch.

WordReference

WordReference is the most comprehensive English to greek dictionary I have found. It also has slang and info for different dialects. This is handy for looking up the meaning of words you don’t know.

Cooljugator

Cooljugator Is a website that allows you to look up the verb conjugations for a given verb. It can help you when you are having trouble remembering a specific conjugation. Or if you see a word for the first time and you want to know if it’s irregular.

Wikitionary

Wikitionary Is helpful for looking up the Etymology of words. Greek is the oldest continuously used language in the world. Many words have a rich etymology and surprising associations with words you already know!

I have intentionally not included a website for pronunciation, though there are many out there. Greek is a language with a one-to-one ratio between letters and sounds. There is no ambiguity in what a word should sound like. The challenge is pronouncing it correctly! Once you learn the alphabet and the vowel sounds you will have all the tools you need to guess a word’s pronunciation. Developing an accurate accent is something that would come much later.

Upper Level Beginner (A2)

At this stage you have a basic understanding of Modern Greek. I define this as being able to conjugate verbs in the various tenses; use pronouns correctly; and comprehension of sentences with the help of a dictionary.

The goal in this phase is to grow vocabulary, improve listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and the ability to generate language. These four things should be worked on simultaneously, if you have time then use all three resources every day.

Reading

Modern Greek for Classicists is a Graded Reader designed for beginners. A graded reader is a text designed to use grammar and vocabulary that is easy enough for people learning a language. It gets progressively more difficult after each chapter. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with Greek mythology, It is useful to anyone learning Modern Greek.

What I love about Graded readers is that they are the appropriate difficulty for a beginner. Even with my limited vocabulary I could understand 95% of the words on the page. This makes you feel like you are really reading Greek. When you read a language with high comprehension things begin to click as you see the different pieces come together in real time.

At the end of each chapter are exercises to test your comprehension and to practice your reading and writing. This is a good opportunity to practice writing by answering the questions. Or what I like to do is to answer the questions verbally by talking to myself.

Note: The book costs $20 and shipping is around $5 for those in the US when I bought it. This is not an affiliate link or an advertisement.

Vocabulary

ClozeMaster is a game available on web and mobile that utilizes cloze deletion tests for learning vocabulary and natural phrases. A cloze test is a sentence with a word deleted and you have to guess the word. This game is free for the basic features with no limits on how much you can play.

I have tried flash cards as well as other gamification vocab apps, I find cloze deletions to be the most effective method. What is enjoyable about ClozeMaster is that it uses natural language for the example sentences. So it’s a fun way to pick up expressions and phrases, to learn how people actually speak.

I like to practice speaking by talking to myself as I play the game. Using the example sentence as a starting point, I’ll make small adjustments, adding a clause, changing the tone, swapping the object with the subject. This helps the vocab stick in my mind as well as helps me practice generating the language.

Listening Comprehension

Peppa the Pig (Πεππά το Γουρανάκι) Is a youtube channel that makes educational cartoons for preschoolers. The language is simple enough that it is accessible to beginners. I have found that if I try to use materials that are too difficult for me it will feel really discouraging. So it’s better to use something that is the appropriate difficulty.

One downside is that a lot of the vocabulary is not relevant to being an adult. For example when peppa plays with dolls or jumps in puddles. These are not words adults use with a ton of frequency. The main thing here is to focus on understanding what is being said. Greek is spoken quickly and it takes the brain some training to hear where the gaps are between words and phonemes.

Lower Level Intermediate (B1)

At the intermediate level you can start expanding your practice to some more challenging resources.

Easy Greek is a great way to practice listening to Greek as its spoken naturally. In these videos Dimitris walks around Athens interviewing people on various topics. He then captions the video with Greek and English subtitles.

As I watch the videos I read the Greek subtitles and listen for when they’re spoken. When there’s a word I don’t know I pause the video and look at the English translation.

There are several ways to engage with this material. Sometimes I will listen to a phrase then pause, think about what was said, then read the subtitles to check if I’m right.

If you become a Patreon supporter, they also provide worksheets and online flashcards, as well as audio recording with slower speaking. I’ll watch the video over and over again until I can watch it without reading the subtitles, and only listening.

Once you can start understanding Greek without subtitles you are ready to watch TV in Greek. This is probably my favorite way to practice because it creates a low friction way to practice listening comprehension for an extended period of time.

There are a lot of shows and movies dubbed in Greek on Netflix. I would recommend starting with some of the Dreamworks animated shows. For example, I really enjoyed Kipo, it has great characters, story, and voice acting. Blood of Zeus is surprisingly approachable because the characters speak in short simple phrases.

Conclusion

The journey of language acquisition never ends because there is always room for improvement. While this sequence can be followed in the beginning as you get more advanced your practice will need to be more self-directed. It’s best to use as many different types of resources as possible. For example you could use a combination of different mediums like books, podcasts, tv, and audiobooks.

As you get better the number of resources that are accessible increases. Eventually something as advanced as Greek TV and podcasts will become accessible. At that point practicing can consist of speaking with natives or watching a funny sitcom like Στο Παρά or Είσαι το Ταίρι Μου.

There are no shortcuts so the best thing to do is love the process. Approach the language each day with a beginner’s mind, and have fun with it! If you are like me, progress may be slow. As long as you are enjoying the process that will help sustain your practice.


Matt Bass

Written by Matt Bass

© 2022