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It’s all Greek to me

January 15, 2012

We had another Greek class last night.  Nicos, our tutor, has a lot going on in his life (he is studying at the university on Rethymno, sings in a band, writes poetry etc) and had postponed the lesson from the previous day.  He is always late.  For a while he agreed to come at 4.30 but would inevitably arrive nearer 5.  When we agreed 5 was a better time  he came at 5.30.  Given that John and I don’t exactly have any appointments in our diary other that Nicos, it is hardly a problem other than that I was brought up on strict punctuality!

We have got a text book, which is all in Greek and a bit daunting.  It had been recommended by Inge who had arranged the tutoring in the first place.  But Nicos has not used this book.  For the first few lessons he has come here with a notebook and  a pen. So we have a notebook and pen too.

In our first lesson he asked us what we wanted to learn and why.   There was no sign of any fixed lesson plan.  He started with letter sounds.   To do this he used specific words which used sounds which are very difficult. They are ghama, chi and thelta.  Chi is like ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ so maybe a bit easier for me but to get the ‘gh’ sound, you have to pretend you are gargling (John has referred to this earlier).  Anyway he deliberately chose words like ‘ghala’ (milk) and ‘ghata’ (cat) and has kept using these words so that we have constantly to repeat this sound when we would really like to avoid it!

Nicos has kept the initial vocabulary very small. He has clearly recognised how bad my memory is and my need for constant repetition!  This has led to us to speaking and writing sentences such as ‘The cat drinks fizzy orange and he drinks milk’ or ‘We are at Sheila and John’s house and we are drinking orange juice’. (Below is an example of John’s notebook).


Not sentences we will probably need in everyday life but it uses vocabulary that involves troublesome sounds and it involves gender, case and singular/plural.  He has always stated that you need to understand how sentences are constructed and learn the rules (this message is said very nicely but firmly, giving no option but to believe this is how it should be done!).  So it is probably best to keep the vocabulary small while you get to grips with all of the above.  Nicos just laughs at the complaints (particularly by John) about the number of ways the Greeks say ‘the’ and all the endings of the nowns which change depending on the case or whether it is plural. 

We have also learnt the importance of the accent and how different a word can sound if the syllable is in a different place.  Nicos has made us aware of the melody of the language and tells us that people will understand the word if you get the accent in the wrong place but you have no doubt that he believes that it is just as important to achieve the correct pronunciation as it is to get the grammar correct.  So while he seems on the surface to be easy going and casual, in fact he is very proud of his language and insists on it being treated with respect. You can’t argue with that, although you might like to.

While John and I have the same lesson, Nicos treats us as individuals.  He identifies specific mistakes or problems you have.  That is a lot easier to do with two people than if he were with a whole class.  It is very nice though. He never puts you down but does insist that you get it right.  He has encouraged us to ask each other simple questions and that is helpful.  We can practice a  few sentences at the house before going public with it in the village! Yesterday I asked the butcher confidently for 4 sausages and I got the accent correct on sausage and the right case.  That felt good.  (I know the picture has 6 sausages but it was taken a couple of weeks ago!)

It also means we can identify grammar problems and ask for clarification at the next lesson.

So while there was no evidence of a lesson plan, Nicos has focussed on the nuts and bolts that you as an English speaker need to progress with the Greek language. The lessons have been fun.  Nicos uses his own personality to make the lessons interesting and lively but he is also quite strict about what is good practice –  all in my view good adult learning practice.  How nice to be the learner!

Yesterday he produced the text book.  Apparently we have learnt enough to move onto the book.  I think that is progress.  John and I have also bought the childrens’ books ‘Jack in the Beanstalk’ and ‘Puss in Boots’.  They are in Greek, in case you think we have really flipped. We have learnt the words ‘Once upon a time’ so far. 



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One Comment
  1. kate permalink

    the sausages look impressive – but even more that you could ask for them rather than point! Sounds like an interesting learning process – my italian classes were much more basic and seemed to consist of the teacher trying to work out what vegetables we were selling. Very useful in its own way – and helped avoid the pointing!
    Cold, frosty and very bright here today – could do with a bit of warm sun for a change. Have fun
    Love kate

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