The Greek language has a long and influential history.
In fact for English alone, the Greek language has given an estimated 150,000 words. Greece has made significant contributions to politics, philosophy and mathematics. To anyone attempting to learn the language, be aware, you are embarking upon a well trodden path.
So, now you must be wondering, how hard is Greek to learn?
The answer is that it is one of the hardest European languages to learn.
- Vocabulary – There are a significant number of loan words from English and French, but you are going to have to dedicate a lot of time to new vocabulary. There are 3 genders for nouns and 4 cases, this means that you are going to spend a lot of time memorising word endings. That being said, the building blocks for forming words are quite logical and you can pick up new words quickly.
- Grammar – The big issue with Greek grammar are that gender, case and plurality play significant part in many aspects of the Greek sentence. Be it adjectives, verbs, noun, pronouns, demonstratives and so on, all are effect. You have to always keep in mind the possible forms and change the components of the sentence to match. Many European languages have some or all of these features so you may already be familiar with such a process, but to anyone unfamiliar, it can be quite laborious.
- Speaking/Listening – There are only a few sounds in Greek we don’t encounter in English like the guttural gh and kh sounds. There are no tones and the rules are stress aren’t too complicated. Intonation really only plays a part when asking a question. All in all you won’t take too long to overcome any speaking issues.
- Writing/Reading – There are 24 letters in modern Greek, some may look familiar but you have to be careful as many can be very misleading for native English speakers. There are also double consonants and double vowels which have also to be learnt. That being said, with a couple of days of practice you should be able to sound out new words.
So, lets take a more detailed look at some of the key components of the language.
So, how hard is Greek to learn really?
Greek, or rather modern Greek, has taken most of its vocabulary from ancient Greek. As the language evolved it took loanwords from other languages like Venetian, Turkish and Latin while adding its over variation to these words.
In more recent years, Greek has taken loan words from Macedonian, Bulgarian and Romanian but the most significant number come from English and French.
In truth, there are a large number of English loan words across a wide ranging number of vocabulary topics.
Basic English Loan Words
- Basketball – baskelbol
- Foxtrot – fokstrot
- Grapefruit – grejpfrut
- Policeman – polilsmanos
- Sandwich – sandwils
- Weekend – wikend
- Whiskey – wiski
In order to understand the grammar of a language it is necessary to deconstruct the basic sentences to observe how the language functions.
- The apple is red — Το μήλο είναι κόκκινο — to milo einai kokino — to is the neutral article, the adjective has to agree with the gender of the noun
- It is John’s apple — (Αυτό) είναι το μήλο του Γιάννη — (Aftó) ínai to mílo tou Yiánni — Subject pronoun isn’t necessary, the word tou is to show possession.
- I give John the apple — (Εγώ) δίνω το μήλο στον Γιάννη — (Egó) díno to mílo ston Yiánni — the verb ending is conditional on gender and tense. Direct object then indirect object.
- We give him the apple — (Eμείς) δίνουμε το μήλο σε αυτόν — (Emís) dínoume to mílo se aftón — clear change of verb ending
- He gives it to John — (Αυτός) δίνει αυτό στον Γιάννη — (Aftós) díni aftó ston Yiánni
- He doesn’t give it to John — (Αυτός) δεν δίνει αυτό στον Γιάννη — (Aftós) den díni aftó ston Yiánni
- She gives it to him — (Αυτή) δίνει αυτό σε αυτόν — (Aftí) díni aftó se aftón — he and she pronouns are different
- I gave John the apple — (Εγώ) έδωσα το μήλο στον Γιάννη — (Egó) édosa to mílo ston Yiánni — clear change of verb form for past verb
- I must give it to him — (Εγώ) Πρέπει να δώσω αυτό σε αυτόν — (Egó) Prépi na dóso aftó se aftón — auxilliary verb precedes the main verb
- I want to give it to her — (Εγώ) θέλω να δώσω αυτό σε αυτή — (Egó) thélo na dóso aftó se aftí — want and must follow similar structure
The language deconstruction method is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good base for understanding Greek. It operates under the 80:20 Pareto principle, in that 80% of your languages needs are covered by 20% of the functional language.
- Word Order – Greek grammar has a subject-verb-object word order, however this is not fixed. Other variations are possible. That which is being emphasised usually comes first.
- Gender – Greek has three genders for the nouns. You have to learn the gender for every noun you learn.
- Cases – In Greek there are 4 cases which describe the role the noun plays in the sentence. Nominative – which is basically the subject, accusative – the direct object, genitive – which is either the indirect object or possessive, and vocative – for when specifically addressing someone. This means that word endings of nouns can change conditional on the specific case at play.
- Articles – Both indefinite and definite articles exist in Greek and they will change depending on the case and gender of the noun. In the case of definite articles, they also change for plurality. This basically means there are 9 potential indefinite articles and 18 definite articles to memorise and apply.
- Pronouns – There are subject, direct object and indirect object pronouns for 1st, 2nd and 3rd person. There are two forms of you pronouns, for informal and formal.
- Nouns – Nouns vary by gender, case and plurality. This basically means you are going to have to learn a lot of different combinations. Also bare in mind that pronouns, adjectives and articles depend on the case, gender and plurality of the noun.
- Adjectives – Adjectives are placed before the noun and are dependent on the case, gender and plurality of the noun.
- Verbs – There are two types of verb in Greek (active and stative). The ending of the verb changes depending on the subject, but the ending change combinations are different for active and stative verbs. The ending change is also different for the tense. These ending changes also have some irregular features at play for certain verbs which you would have to learn individually.
- Auxiliary verbs – The auxiliary verb goes in front of the main verb
- Be – The be verb, i·me, will change for tense and the subject.
- Have – The have verb, e·kho, similarly to be changes for tense and subject.
- Negatives – To form a negative is pretty straight forward, you just need to place δεν before the verb.
- Questions – Upward inflection at the end of a statement can make it a question. The subject and verb can also be flipped to make a question.
Greek has 26 phonemes made up of 21 consonant sounds and 5 vowel sounds. There are a few consonant sounds in Greek that we don’t encounter in English like the guttural gh and kh sounds. Greek isn’t a tonal language, however intonation is important when asking questions. In terms of stress, usually one syllable is stressed in a word but there are few different rules to learn as to which syllable.
- Consonants – m, k, j, p, n, t, l, s, b, ɡ, d, f, z, v, ɾ, ts, x, ɣ, dz, ð, θ
- Vowels – i, u, ɛ, ɔ, ɑ
Greek was originally written in a script called Linear B. It wasn’t until 750BC that the Greek Alphabet came into use. The alphabet was probably derived from the Phoenician alphabet. The most recent changes to the alphabet happened in 1982 when diacritics, small markers, used to denote stress were removed. Greek letters are often used in other languages in the fields of Science and Mathematics.
My hovercraft is full of eels – Το αερόστρωμνό μου είναι γεμάτο χέλια – To aeròstromnò mu ìne gemàto hèlia
The red script denotes the consonant symbols and the blue script denotes the vowel symbols.
- The script is written from right to left.
- There are 24 letters in Greek.
- 17 consonants and 7 vowels.
Why Learn Greek?
Each person has their own motivation for taking on a language, but without a doubt i’d say there are three important reasons why people might learn modern Greek.
- Ancient Greek history. This corner of the world is overflowing in history and mythology. If you intend to spend anytime studying such topics then a solid foundation in Greek is going to pay dividends in the long run.
- For anyone with a passing interesting in STEAM + P. That is to say, science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics and lets not forgot philosophy. Well, in studying Greek you can take a behind the scenes perspective on the origin of a whole host of concepts and ideas.
- Culturally, Greece is just a fantastic place to visit. Take just one aspect, the food. Being able to discuss the methods of cooking, the ingredients, the secret recipes, is going to enhance your experience beyond what it otherwise would have been. Never underestimate the power of good conversation.
But, lets explore further.
Greek is an Indo-European language and part of the Hellenic branch. It is the official language of Greece, Cyprus and the European Union. It is a minority language in Albania, Armenia, Italy, Romania and the Ukraine. It is spoken by 13 million people and is regulated by The Centre for the Greek Language in Athens.
Travel, Culture, History and Economy
The country of Greece is in Southeast Europe. It has a land border with Albania to the northwest, North Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. To the east lies the Aegean Sea while the Ionian Sea is to the west, the Cretan Sea and the Mediterranean Sea are to the south of the mainland. Greece has an incredibly long coastline and the south of the coutry is dotted with many many islands. Much of the mainland of the country is mountainous.
The culture and history of Greece has evolved over thousands of years. Ancient Greek civilisation, so basically everything from science, mathematics, politics, philosophy, art and literature, has had a huge impact on much of Europe and Western Asia. A great many Greek figures from history also stand out – Aristotle, Homer, Plato, and Alexander. The modern nation state of Greece emerged in 1830.
The Greek economy is an advanced, high-income economy although in recent years this description has been tested. Nevertheless, Greece is a developed country with pretty solid standard of living and it also has a high Human Development Index ranking. Its economy is mainly made up of services with a small portion of manufacturing. The more important industries include tourism and shipping.
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has put together a relative comparison of world languages including Greek.
They rate Greek as a category 4 language along with languages like Persian Farsi, Hindi and Zulu. They believe it would take 44 weeks (1100 hours) to achieve a L3 proficiency in speaking and reading.
In attempting to learn anything it is best to first deconstruct the problem and then break down the learning task into manageable chunks. It is with this in mind that I recommend the following resources to help you in learning Greek.
- Fluent Forever or Anki – The Fluent Forever method details exactly how to use spaced repetition to quickly build functional vocabulary and learn common grammar rules.
- italki.com – Italki gives you access to very cheap video chat lesson with teachers from around the world, dive straight in.
- lang-8.com – Lang 8 allows you to input writing and have it corrected for free in a matter of hours. This community is very helpful and is a great way to practice online.
Sample of Greek