I think I may have cracked one of the most difficult puzzles of learning Greek – that of the double syllables. These tend to get skipped out of language lessons as English doesn’t have χ (kh), ps ψ, ts τσ, mp μπ or tz τζ. Need to add in the fact that f φ in Greek is ph in English too eg photo φωτο etc.These are found at the start of common words like khelona χελονα (turtle), psomi ψωμί (bread), tsipouro τσιπουρο (famous Greek spirit and politician) There is also tzomi (window glass) as a window is usually referred to παραθυρο parathyro. The secret to conquering these as I was told long ago and it has only just occurred to me that this is the way, is to ignore the first letter and just continue with the rest. So in effect, these are the silent letters in Greek. So although Greek is a very phonetic language; there is, of course, a catch. Therefore it is (k)helona turtle, (p)somi bread, (p)sari πσαρι [fish], (p)zonizo ψωνίζω verb to shop, (t)sipouro or (t)sipouros τσιπουροσ[Greek prime minister], (t) sea bream τσιπουρα.
Special mention needs to go to the fact that d δ is pronounced th (thelta not delta), b β is pronounced v (vita not beta), tz is pronounced b (hence [George] Best starts tz), χ is pronounced h as in λαχανικα lahanika (vegetables) or χαλι hali (a wool rug), there is no c its k κ instead (akrobates ακροβατες instead of acrobat), there is no j its io instead (Ioannina ιωαννινα ie the Greek city not joannina) and there is no w (not to worry here unless your name is William and then its νασιλλις ). μπ is another that crops up a lot (μπορο boro etc) and is pronounced b so I always have to remember that as it doesn’t logically follow if your English. The ν is an n sound, so while not a double, it is another one that you wouldn’t usually think of if your English ie νησι nisi is island . Also, you have to think that when you want to write th in Greek it is most likely either a θ theta or a δ delta as that’s how they represent those sounds.Penultimately I need to mention about ο and ω. When an English person thinks o they write omicron ο which is usually incorrect and you need to be writing omega ω instead. The last thing that needs mentioning is the eta η meaning the e sound which is most frequently used when an English person wishes to write ε because of the similiarity. ντ is a sound that turns up occasionally but I don’t think I’ve quite mastered that one yet. ντουζινα meaning dozen.
As for spelling that requires a different post later on as spelling is a tricky thing in the Greek language as they don’t tend to spell things in just one way. It also doesn’t help that they change the spelling of simple words like egg αυγα to αβγα to make it easier to spell but easier for who?
I’ve just started listening to the Michel Thomas language learning CDs in Greek for the foundation course and what struck me was the nature of the language is very accusatory. As an example of this take the sentence, “Do you want a sandwich and an ouzo?” It can be said in various ways but is usually a polite inquiry, at least in English anyway. However, when this sentence is rendered in Greek it becomes θελουετε ένα σάντουιτς και ούζο; So literally you want a sandwich and an ouzo? It almost sounds like a mafia Don is trying to make you an offer you can’t refuse. This rails against my English sensibilities and I find it very difficult to be so direct and almost so rude as it’s so abrupt in its tone. I’m always trying to find out what is “Do you …” in an attempt to translate directly from English which is the worst thing you can do as the grammar is so different that it doesn’t work! Breaking away from the boundaries of the English language to speak in a completely differently orientated one is quite a challenge as it almost requires developing a separate personality. This is the only way I can categorize in behaving in 2 ways which are almost at odds with each other in how they tackle even basic questions. My friends are shocked when I try to teach them and I try to impress upon them the need for volume and also for passion with whatever they are trying to say. It doesn’t really work even though I try each year. I admire people that manage to sort out this kind of linguistic difficulty in their head as I’m having great trouble.
This is a key word if you’re trying to take advantage of the multiple ways to do anything nowadays. Gone are the days when things could only be done the one preset way that tradition demanded that things always be done in that manner. Now the world is your oyster but this presents you with a completely different paradox. There are now so many ways to be explored and things that can be done that you become lost in the multitude of options that are now available to you and with the current preoccupation of not settling down and always getting your options open as you never know whats around the corner what do you do? Well to settle this conundrum once and for all you have to analyse all of the possibilities that are currently open to you. Ignore anything that may happen in the future for the time being as we are trying to cull the list now to something that is manageable so there needs to be a cut-off point. Afterwards, when you can see what you can do, you can start making some decisions as to what you would like to do and what you wouldn’t. Feasibility comes later after your preferences have been recorded because if you are sufficiently motivated by something, you will make it happen no matter the difficulties.
If you are someone like me you will have a tough time making up your mind as to which interest you follow next and just let fate decide for you but that’s, no way to live a life. You need to stand up for yourself and be counted amongst the human beings that have done something worthwhile in their lives and left a legacy behind regardless of what it is. A mark on humanity saying I was here is always worth your time as for some it’s their children, others its a work of art, a novel or maybe even an invention. A few contribute such ground breaking advances in science such as the discovery of a new element or DNA but each of us must make sure we are responsible for at least one thing even if it’s just a house we renovated to live in it more peacefully.
I believe achieving this will give you a sense of purpose and happiness because as the noted philosopher Aristotle once mused and maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit too much here – the purpose of life is happiness.
Now I’m no stranger to either having had several of each during my life so far. However it’s only just now though that I’m learning which interests belong in which of the aforementioned categories. An obsession is an all burning desire to know everything about a subject as quick as possible and this usually includes boring others with the immense amount of details that you have picked up in a short space of time. This continues until your curiousity about the topic at hand has been sated and you just get bored and stop doing it all of a sudden and your left wondering what do you do now as this has run your life for however long it was. A passion by contrast still contains the same elements but you recognise that others are not quite as interested in it as you so you quietly pursue your goals by yourself. At least until the next obsession distracts you but the thing about passions is that you always come back to them like classic styling in clothes while the obessions will come and go rather like fast fashion trends.
Therefore in order to get the best out of a life that will constantly be obstructed by novelty, you have to allow for the fact that your passions will be slow burn areas to be worked on in the periods between the much faster burning obsessions. Life is a series of trade offs but we always have to be checking that we are making the correct ones for our current situation as circumstances mean adaptation is necessary for an optimum lifestyle.
Today I have been getting back into the language learning saddle after as break to focus on other projects and I came across as a most excellent fellow called Donovan who is very introverted like myself but isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger and likes to travel to far flung places to learn languages fluently.
His blog is called Mezzofanti Guild (after a famous 18th c polyglot) and it details his journey towards proficiency in Irish, Russian, Arabic and Korean. These are very hard languages to learn and I admire him for the dedication, time and effort that it requires to go to the lengths that he does to study these to the degree that he does.
Now I’m not personally interested in learning Irish, Arabic or Korean but I do know people that have learnt/are learning those languages so it can be done even if your a mono-lingual English speaker.
Russian is a language I dabble in when I have time but it’s not a priority for me. Same could be said for Spanish. These are interesting (and I’m a very curious, inquisitive person) and it would help me with travel, socialising and my other hobby Eurovision but my main focus is on Greek. Not the biblical or ancient kind but the modern kind. This is so that I can strike up a conversation with a native and actually gain friendships out there (Lefkas) but due to the fact that a) I can’t drive and b) I couldn’t afford a mobile out there that’s never really going to happen as I so very rarely interact with people my own age.
I love words as I may have mentioned a few times before but the spoken word is a bit of a mystery to me as you can interpret the same phrases in so many different ways depending on how they are said. This presents quite a problem for a person learning Greek as there are many word pairs that I have come across that change their meaning depending on how they are pronounced. For a person with issues with their speech, this is quite a nightmare. Some examples are the word for safety and fuse, amusement and theme park, when and never, the most common swear word and straits of Malacca in Indonesia. There are countless more that could be listed as while English has about 1 million words as we steal from a myriad array of languages, Greek tends to be the originator so only has about 650,000 in comparison. This density is useful as you could possibly obtain fluency quicker but also increases the errors you could make as well and for socially anxious types like myself, this is never going to be a good idea.
It’s commonly put about that it’s easiest to learn a language through speech as that’s how we learn our first and while this is true it’s not very helpful if your shy, introverted, or just a person that doesn’t like talking. This is a daily struggle for myself having to get out into the wider world and converse with strangers. I most recently tried with a bunch of computer scientists which was doomed to failure almost from the outset because of the inherent qualities of being a girl meaning I’m was persona no gratis.
Sometimes there is nothing like reading a proper old-school book (Collins Greek phrase book from 1977) to cement certain knowledge into your head that you know because you’ve seen it lots but you haven’t quite grasped it in its entirety. So far I have understood the Lefkas road sign (it wishes you a good voyage instead of welcoming you as your leaving), the reason why I can never say toothpick (οδοντογλυφιδα) correctly, why Bravo and only this is always said to congratulate me on speaking Greek correctly and the ever presence of οριστε (oriste) to mean a variety of things depending on the inflections used.
I know words are used to communicate but with the same phrase meaning so many different things, ποτε (pote) for instance, meaning both when and never depending on where you place the accent, it’s extremely difficult for me to differentiate between them yet alone reproduce them in speech or writing. Yes, I can deal with παρακαλω (parakalo) being please, your welcome but also a person in a shop getting your attention or even you getting theirs. Using it as excuse me too is pushing the boundaries but then there is also γειο σου (yia sou) which literally means your health but is a catch-all for hello, goodbye and goodness knows what else and is why I’m getting rather perplexed with the Greek language as these are just the most basic of phrases. Extend this to the 4 different ways to say my name is με λενε … (me lene …), Ποιο είναι το όνομα σου? (poio einai to onoma sou) etc and you get the picture as to why Greek is such a different language to learn as I haven’t even started on how are you? or anything more complex than an introductory phrase. As you can see I’m not even taking into account the gender changing the ends of words, the form in front of them, whether its single or plural, the formality that is required to be used here or sentence organization which can be rather flexible at the best of times. This is enough to drive any logically minded person like myself insane!
Others may look at that and think well that’s easy there are fewer words for me to remember but its the way you say them to infer the various meanings that gets to me the most and how are you to decipher this in text without the different stresses you can reproduce when talking?