June 4, 2010 | Greek

Greek: Some Materials to Learn By

Thoughts on being one's own Greek teacher, and tools you can use.

I am starting to feel pretty optimistic about my Greek prospects. And it also seems so useful. I didn’t study Latin or ancient Greek in school, but this encounter with the modern version of Greek—which, yes, I realize is not the same as the ancient—is already helping me understand the history of English and its etymology a little bit better. 

Be Your Own Teacher!

Be Your Own Teacher!

Between Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, I have some great instructional backing. These are both what I would call handholding products. What I mean by that is you are not abandoned; they are systematic in approach and rigorously edited, and if you pay attention, you will learn.

Over the past 11 months and four days, unfortunately, I have encountered plenty of ostensibly self-study books and other language products that abandon the user to varying degrees. It is time-consuming, brainpower-demanding, and expensive to develop a product that does not leave instructional holes for the self-taught language learner. And many product developers do not consider carefully what the instructorless student truly needs. As learning obstacles mount, the solo learner will all too often become frustrated and give up.

A small caveat about Rosetta Stone: part of the program involves your saying things, and then the program tells you if you’ve pronounced them right. Here is where one confronts the limits of speech-recognition technology. I have often been told I have pronounced things correctly when I can see two seconds later, as the program repeats the phrase, that I got consonants totally wrong. In one case today I added an extra syllable to the word “apple” without being penalized. And that, as far as I know, is how it goes with speech recognition software. I am uncomfortable with the idea that some people might accept an okay from Rosetta Stone as a sign of their pronunciation correctness when they are in fact making mistakes, sometimes substantial ones.

Pimsleur, on the other hand, has no speech recognition function—you are on your own with your pronunciation—but there are plenty of opportunities to compare what you are saying with what the native speaker in the recording is saying. And you remain vigilant, precisely because you know you are on your own. As I have commented before, I imagine Pimsleur would be tough for people who really have a bad ear, because they will not necessarily be able to perceive the difference between what they are saying and what the person in the recording is saying. But language learning is generally tough for people with bad ears for language; that would not be a uniquely Pimsleurian experience.

If you use Rosetta Stone, just be vigilant about checking your pronunciation against the speaker’s pronunciation, regardless of whether or not you get a pass from the program on a particular word or phrase. Doing so won’t get in the way of your enjoying or benefiting from the program.

I had a chance to try out other resources today, too, one while I was waiting for my follow-up eye appointment this afternoon. The doctor was running very late, and the waiting room was full of emergencies. There was a woman with a foreign object in her eye, and a man with a scratched cornea, and a 35ish guy in a wheelchair with a bandage over one side of his face who was explaining to someone on the phone that he would be in jail if it wasn’t for his daughter. All except the man in the wheelchair were ushered in ahead of me.

An Overview of Greek

An Overview of Greek

I didn’t care about the delay, though, because I had brought Douglas Q. Adams’s Essential Modern Greek Grammar, a slim, carefully written volume. I read that for about two hours while I was waiting, and it kept me from being in the slightest bit irritable. And because I wasn’t irritable, even though I had been kept waiting so long, everyone, including the doctor, was extra nice to me. Having something you can whip out and study on the spot is very therapeutic when your life is being delayed by forces beyond your control.

Anyway, I am really liking this book. The marketing copy on the back says, “Written primarily for the tourist or business traveler with limited learning time, this concise, well-organized grammar provides a clear-cut system for learning to communicate, in both speech and writing.” I don’t agree with that explanation of its purpose exactly, as I don’t think I could learn to communicate well from it, and I didn’t perceive a “system.” But I do like it as a companion piece to my other materials. So far (I am on page 25), it has been giving me a nice overview of the language, and how it works, and its basic grammar. The whole book is only 77 small pages, excluding a brief glossary that explains some grammar terminology for those who need it. It does not contain exercises.

Your First 100 Words in Greek

Your First 100 Words in Greek

Another book—totally different—that I had fun with later today was Your First 100 Words in Greek.

If you are very sophisticated, this book probably isn’t for you. It has supersize font, and flashcards to cut out, and an assortment of games. Now, I am not a games person myself, but I do like something simpleminded from time to time. I am currently in a section where I am being taught vocabulary from “Around the Home.”

Here are a few samples:

  • φούρνος (FOOR-nos) = oven
  • παράθυρο (paRAthiro) = window
  • τηλέφωνο (tiLEfono) = …well, I bet you can guess this one.

I think Greek writing is beautiful!

Comments (3)

Donna • Posted on Tue, June 08, 2010 - 5:55 pm EST

Well, the most profound statement to date on your website I believe to be “language learning is generally tough for people with bad ears for language”.  This is truly my problem. It took me all of 6 months to be able to say Kümmelbrot such that the baker knew what I was saying.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, June 11, 2010 - 5:01 pm EST

I’m sorry that there was such a formidable barrier standing between you and bread, but this is very funny!

Jasmyn • Posted on Thu, January 30, 2014 - 2:41 am EST

My problem with Rosetta Stone was pronouncing things right and being told I was wrong- it wouldn’t let me proceed after it was sure that I was mispronouncing ‘велосипед’ and ‘хлеб’. So I tried practising with a Russian in town who told me that I was saying them just right. Very frustrating but, as you said, that’s voice recognition for you :)

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