Monday, August 24, 2020

It's All Greek to Me

 Pote (PO-te, πότε) or when will I be able to count to ten without pausing the count to remember the word for a specific number? I ask myself. . .again . . .and again.

Maybe Pote (po-TE,ποτέ ) or never, I answer. 

At The Stone House on the Hill counting to 10 (deka)

Pronounced POE-tay and poe-TAY the words for when and never are but just two examples of why I may never speak the language of the land on which I live well enough to carry on a conversation with any Greek-speaking person over five years of age. 

But this summer I am at least determined to increase my vocabulary by a few hundred words or so. The Greek language has long been ranked as the world's richest language with five million words and 70 million word types.  So learning a hundred or so should be a snap, I keep telling myself. 

Our Greek village, Agios Nikolaos

Learning a bit of Greek! It is another of the many things I've shuffled around on that 'to do' list of mine since we moved to the Greek Peloponnese as American expats now nearly three years ago.  When the COVID lockdown put a halt to all things planned, I vowed that once I was able, there would be no more putting off until tomorrow these many things on my list.

It really isn't necessary to speak Greek as seldom do we find ourselves here in a situation that we are unable to communicate in English. But still, it would be nice to verbally answer when a friend calls out a greeting in Greek. I usually opt to look like an American bobble-head doll, smiling and nodding my head, with not the slightest idea of how to respond.

Paralia means beach in Greek - good to know around these parts!

Or on the rare occasion of signage only being in Greek, as sometimes happens in the more remote areas of the Peloponnese. Sometimes it occurs even in our village as evidenced by the photo above.  It took some time for us to finally get around to learning the sign in town wasn't pointing to the parking lot. The sign says παραλία or paralia, for beach and was directing visitors to Pantazi Beach.

You Move to Greece, but don't speak Greek

The Stone House on the Hill

A part-time neighbor up the road from us, who speaks only a bit more English than I speak Greek, was trying to converse with me one morning a year or so ago and being unable to make his point, raised his eyebrow, and said somewhat accusatorily, 'You move to Greece but don't speak Greek?!'

'No, pero yo hablo español,' I replied, trying to save face and slam dunk the ball back into his court by adding, 'y usted?' (No, but I speak Spanish . . .and you?)  He wasn't impressed. We've not tried to converse again since that morning. 

The Greek alphabet

But the memory of that raised eyebrow at least challenged me then to start trying to read the letters of  the Greek alphabet. With only 24 letters including seven vowels, I thought I could do it, but that 'alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon stuff. . .pardon the expression, is still a bit Greek to me. I am still calling them 'the little pitchfork' or 'the gate' as I sound out words letter-by-letter.  BUT, I am pleased to report, that I am able to read far more signs along the road and on businesses than when we first moved here.

Greek Speak - The Journey

Street signs are usually - but not always - in two languages

I set a few rules for myself before setting off on this new linguistic journey:

First, none of the verb tenses; those past and present participle perfect kind of words. KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is my mantra. I simply want present, everyday words that may allow me to speak a simple sentence and have the person to whom I am speaking understand what I say. 

For example, If I want some ice with my white wine I will be able to say:  I want (thelo) ice cubes (pagakia), παγάκια and not lamb chops, (paidakia), παϊδάκια  (we have mixed those words in the past much to the amusement of the wait staff). 

Ice cubes not lamb chops in the wine

And I didn't/don't want that packaged program language stuff that teaches you how to say useless phrases in perfect tenses, like: 'Look! There is a pelican on the beach!' "There was a pelican on the beach.' 'There will be a pelican on the beach.'

I want useable Greek as the kind that lets me order meat at the market, get directions to the bathroom when needed, and know what the fruit vendor is calling out when he drives through town announcing the day's offerings.

Our teacher (in the white shirt) Aris gives us homework as class ends

The Scout wasn't eager to learn Greek so I turned to a few expat friends -- all good sports and eager to try something new -- and we became 'the class'. We vary in ability. Some like me are very beginners and others should be considered for advanced placement status. 

Our teacher, Aris, who with his wife, Dora, run one of our favorite tavernas in town promised that over morning coffee once a week he could teach us the basics we were after.

A 'classroom' by the sea - under the blue umbrellas

So sitting and sipping a diplo (double) cappuccino in the postcard perfect setting of his restaurant while learning Greek has been one of the summer's highlights. And it has been serious business since the first session.  Aris arrived at our first class with a notes for that day's lesson and we left with homework! 

In three weeks time we had so many new words and phrases that we've taken a hiatus in order to grasp them all. Old brains seem to take longer to absorb new words - and remember them! While class is on 'August break' though our group is continuing to meet once a week . . . in what we might have called back in our day, 'study hall.' Again, it isn't tough duty as we move from one taverna to another each week for our coffee/Greek chat/study sessions.

Linear B Script - Ancient Greek

Each time I start reviewing my Greek words I laugh thinking back to that first 'wellness exam' I went through after becoming Medicare-age in America. The nurse gave me five words, selected at random that I had to remember and repeat in order at some later point in the appointment (checking the old brain and memory sensors). Let me tell you that test couldn't hold a candle to learning Greek!!

And speaking of Greek, that's it for today - I have homework to do because we meet tomorrow!

Hope where ever you are in the world and whatever your Covid constraints have been, that you have also found some project to keep you busy and entertained.  We also hope that you and yours are safe and well.  Efharisto poli, or thanks much, for the time you spent here today. Hope you'll be back for the next installment and bring some friends with you!

Linking soon with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. I love this! Good for you! You learned English (granted. A younger brain learned English) and you can learn Greek! I started doing an online US History class just for the heck of it, I guess. I decided I am spending too much wasted time during this Covid thing. But I have only done 3 lessons in a month. At this rate, I will graduate when I’m 97. Thought it would be interesting. Enjoy those coffee hour lessons!

    1. And good for you in taking a US history class! Sounds like your graduation and my ability to speak Greek might happen at about the same age!! xx

  2. Tambíen hablo el español. When we've traveled in Spanish speaking countries, I get so much more out of the experience because I can speak to people in their native language. When we go elsewhere, I make it a point to at least learn how to say, hello, please and thank you in the local language. (Shockingly, I was just able to summon the Bulgarian word for "thank you"). So, good for you to work on learning some Greek, plus doing it with friends sounds like fun. My problem would be cringing at the thought of not learning grammar. For one trip to France, I learned how to say "I dont speak French" in French. I must have had a good accent because people seemed to think if I could say that, I must know how to speak French.

    1. Grammar will come in good time but if we can't remember the word for meat, cheese and milk it won't matter if we have it grammatically correct. . .we need first the basics and then will move on!

  3. Jackie I too felt just like you when I first moved to Greece. Although I am Greek, I had grown up in the States and was very rusty. I had to learn the language all over again with the kids as my teachers using their primary school books. It was a hellish time for me. I think you are doing great learning the basics, that is all you really need, since everyone speaks English anyway.

    1. Thanks for understanding this one. While it really isn't necessary that any of us speak the language we really want to be able to understand the words when spoken to us or on a menu or grocery store flier. . .siga, siga, as we say here! xxx Jackie

  4. I took an intensive Dutch class, or rather a series of 4, in the first year I lived in the Netherlands. That was a mistake because there was much too much emphasis on being correct rather than just speaking. I ended up scared of speaking for fear it would be wrong. It took me several more years before I could speak, though I could understand as long as people spoke fairly slowly and clearly. I finally got over that by signing up for a class. It was an education class to get my teaching credential and, in it, I was forced to speak Dutch in carrying out projects with the other students. So what I tell people who arrive here from other countries is a) take Dutch, but take the classes offered for immigrants, which focus much more on survival Dutch, e.g. how to order in the market or deal with a government bureaucrat and b) sign up for a class in anything, e.g. painting or autorepair or world history. It doesn't matter what, as long as it's taught in Dutch.

  5. Friends joining in the basics class I described report much the same on more formal classes they have taken here. So much emphasis on correct grammar that you freeze up and can't think of words or phrases when the time comes to speak. I'd rather get the words and phrases down pat, them do the grammar! Thanks for commenting!

  6. All the best to you as you continue your elementary Greek lessons! It sounds like you've found the best way to attempt it - with other ex-pat friends over coffee at the taverna. It will all sink in, eventually!

    1. Siga, siga, slowly, slowly I am coming to recognize new words. All boomers should set forth to learn a new language - keeps the mind active!

  7. Hello,
    Good for you, learning a new language is a challenge. Taking a class with your group of friends sounds like fun too. I love the views of your village. Take care, enjoy your day and week ahead!

  8. To learn a new language with uses a different alphabet is doubly challenging!
    Thanks for sharing at

  9. I enjoyed your post very much. During lockdown I decided to try and learn a few words of Spanish. I downloaded the Duolingo app and try and do a lesson a day. I am pleased that I have learned quite a few everyday words but will I ever be able to travel again to practise them? Who knows!

  10. All the best to you!

    Learning a new language is challenging!

  11. Good for you for taking the plunge. I did six years ago, spending summer holidays taking Greek lessons on the island of Syros with the OMILO school. I continue with the lessons via Skype here in Switzerland, and after plowing through five different textbooks and countless other materials, am at a high intermediate level and can converse without too much difficulty with Greeks in their own language. I disagree that grammar is not so important; on the contrary, it is absolutely vital to successful communication. Do learn basic verb tenses as well as the difference between the nominative and the accusative along with those essential nouns. Gradually it will all start making sense to you--and Greek-speakers will understand you much better. Καλή τύχη!


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