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It’s All Greek To Me: The Ultimate Guide to Learning Greek

Some might say that the Greek language is one of the most complex languages in the world.

But imagine understanding the deep meaning of the very first words ever used to describe music, when music was born. To specify theater when theater was invented. To define medicine when medicine was just a crazy idea. To interpret the laws of nature when physical phenomena were still attributed to ancient gods.

The phrase “it’s all Greek to me” is enough to deter any inquisitive wanderer from daring to take a chance on Greek. Yet, thanks to Greek’s long history, there’s no other language you could study to unlock such unique possibilities.

If you ever thought of learning Greek, wanted to travel to a Greek island, or if you are just interested in getting to know Greek culture, aesthetics and history, this post is for you.

We prepared a detailed guide with everything you need to know (the good and the bad) about the Greek language, and how to conquer it.


Contents

Why Learn Greek

How Long Does It Take to Learn Greek

Common Challenges When Learning Greek

How To Improve Greek Vocabulary

How To Improve Greek Listening Skills

How to Practice Greek Conjugation and Declension

Best Resources To Learn Greek


Why Learn Greek

Greek has the reputation of being a tough language. So why bother to begin anyway?

If you dream of learning Greek but have trouble getting started, keep reading to get a whole new perspective on the Greek language and the world around it.

Education

The Greek language incorporates the rich history of Greek culture. Greeks established the foundations of philosophy, drama, democracy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and many other modern disciplines. The Greek language takes us back to the roots, to the first words used to talk about culture, arts and science.

It’s a fact that languages carry the history of the people and the nations who developed them. So, whether it’s for a hobby or your profession, fluency in Greek opens up numerous resources allowing you to understand history and its nuances to its full depth.

Get to know your own language

Greek is one of the oldest recorded living languages in history. Through centuries, it has had a visible impact on the majority of the languages being spoken worldwide.

Did you know that many English-looking words actually have their roots in the Greek language?

Let’s take a look at the below:

  • Music
  • Air
  • Electronic
  • Athlete
  • Planet
  • Idiot
  • Acrobat
  • Hero
  • Academy

More than 150,000 words used in English have pure Greek roots.

The more knowledgeable you become about Greek, the more connections you’ll start noticing with words in your native tongue that you had no idea originated from Greek.

Professional terminology

Because of the contribution the Ancient Greeks made in so many fields, the terminology of many professions includes an array of Greek words.

Famously, medical terms are often derived from Greek words, but the same is also true of astrophysics, biology, theater, and many others. So, there is a chance that knowing Greek will help you better handle all the terms thrown at you at university lectures or in the workplace.

Have you ever heard the words below?

  • Algebra
  • Democracy
  • Galaxy
  • Dinosaur
  • Europe
  • Geography
  • Ocean
  • Symmetry

If yes, then you already know some Greek words that existed ever since the beginning of their field. And every single one of them has a fascinating story behind it.

Tourism

Greece is often considered a go-to place for summer vacations. Learning Greek might come in handy when spending some unforgettable moments in the Greek mainland and the Aegean Islands.

Although you can easily manage to communicate with locals in English, understanding Greek words will enhance your overall travel experience. This is because in Greece, the name of every island, village or beach means something and has a long history behind it.

Understanding Greek and being able to analyze the words will unlock numerous ancient stories, myths and traditional customs. So you’ll be able to discover a whole hidden world where other non-Greek-speaking visitors just see a beautiful landscape.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Greek

One of the most usual questions and concerns of people who are interested in learning Greek is “how long will it take?”

Learning Greek means embarking on a long-term journey. A journey that includes a lot of word discovery, consistent studying, patience and persistence. Yet it’s also a journey that will take you back in time, will reveal numerous ancient histories and myths and will always surprise you with the depth and the wealth of the language and the culture it carries.

What is your purpose?

Exciting as the journey might be, the truth is that learning Greek takes work and time.

Of course, exactly how long it takes to learn Greek depends on what your goals are. This directly affects the time it takes for you to be relatively satisfied with your fluency.

Are you learning Greek because you’d like to relocate to Greece and want to deal hassle-free with everyday life? Are you learning Greek because you want to read Plato’s Symposium in its original text? Or are you learning Greek to visit Greece and casually chat with the locals in Mykonos?

They’re all perfectly valid reasons, and they all require a different level of fluency.

What is the difficulty tier of Greek

The US Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute classifies Greek as Tier 4 language in difficulty to achieve utter fluency if you speak English. They calculate fluency to require approximately 44 weeks or 1100 hours of practice. That means that if you practiced every day for 1 hour, it would take you just over 3 years to get to fluency.

Of course, there are different ways to practice that may work better or worse depending on what studying techniques you’re using. All people learn differently, and not all time spent studying is well spent.

If you want to ensure you’re applying the best practices, check out our article on learning a language fast that outlines some of the most efficient ways to learn a new language.

Try and see what works best for you. That being said, if you don’t see the great results you expect right away, I want to emphasize that it’s still important to relish any form of fluency you achieve during the process.

Because learning Greek requires commitment. So, the small victories along the way matter if you want to stay motivated.

Common Challenges When Learning Greek

There is a reason why Greek is classified by the FSI as a Tier 4 language when it comes to its difficulty. However, all is not lost!

Like all languages and skills, it’s a process, and you’ll start getting results much faster than you think once you’re past the initial hurdle.

To help keep you on the right path, let’s take a look over a few key points to keep in mind at the beginning of your journey.

Modern vs. Ancient Greek

When scouring the web and libraries for tips, rules, and information on how to write or speak Greek, it is really important to make the distinction between Ancient and Modern Greek.

Academics have spent centuries analyzing Ancient Greek, so often the results that come up when looking for “Greek”  refer to Ancient Greek. Be careful when starting out, because these definitely aren’t the right resources to use when you’re just beginning with Greek. They won’t be of great help when you’re trying to practice Greek conjugation, because many of the rules don’t apply in Modern Greek.

To a beginner, naturally, Ancient and Modern Greek may seem rather similar, but the reality is Ancient Greek is way more complicated, and it would simply make your life harder.

For example, Modern Greek has only two diacritics – written symbols that alter the pronunciation of a word – while in Ancient Greek the number of diacritics is nearing double digits.

Greek has such a long history and has been morphed by so many cultures through the centuries that sometimes it may feel like there’s an ocean of information. With a single web search, you can come across myriads of resources to learn Greek, each on a different grammatical subject – even when you’re just looking for resources to help you improve Greek listening skills.

Well, when it comes to learning Greek, the answer is simpler than you think…

The alphabet

You have to start with the alphabet.

You cannot practice Greek conjugation without knowing the alphabet.

Do you remember when the entire world wondered “How do we pronounce Omicron”? The New York Times even wrote an article about it. Well, almost the entire world was wondering, because we Greeks knew very well how to pronounce it.

Omicron is just a letter of the Greek alphabet. So are Alpha and Delta. You’re probably already familiar with a few letters of the Greek alphabet. However, it is very important to sit down and study the entire thing before you move further.

Unlike Romance languages, Greek has its own alphabet.

Letter

Sound

as in

Α α

ah

father

Β β

v

volt

Γ γ

w

why
(only the very first past before rolling the lips)

Δ δ

th

that

Ε ε

eh

hell

Ζ ζ

z

zoo

Η η

ee

see

Θ θ

th

thick

Ι ι

ee

see

Κ κ

k

crystal

Λ λ

l

love

Μ μ

m

man

Ν ν

n

night

Ξ ξ

x

fax

Ο ο

o

The first part of the vowel in soul before moving to the “w” sound

Π π

p

past

Ρ ρ

r (tapped)

cry
(but with a single roll of the tongue)

Σ σ
(or ς at the end of a word)

s

serious

Τ τ

t

time

Υ υ

ee

see

Φ φ

f

fox

Χ χ

kh

Loch Ness

(like a heavy h)

Ψ ψ

ps

cyclops

Ω ω

o

The first part of the vowel in soul before moving to the “w” sound

Despite its many similarities with the Latin alphabet, it is something you need to master early on. The good news is that chances are that most of the new letters you’ll encounter describe sounds that aren’t that foreign to you after all. Of course, it all depends on what languages you speak already, but trust that you’ll see the connection in one way or another.

For example, the letter Δ (or δ, the lowercase version) describes the th sound in the word that.

While Θ (or θ in lowercase) is the th sound in think.

Once you’ve learned the alphabet, you’ll be almost capable of reading every single Greek word. For the most part, in Greek, what is written on the page directly corresponds to a specific sound.

Albeit, Greek does have major exceptions to this rule, but it’s a quite good rule of thumb to start with when working to improve Greek vocabulary and listening skills.

Digraphs

Alright. The alphabet alone is almost enough to be able to read most words. The reality is that you also need to learn the digraphs.

Digraphs are two letters that are combined and pronounced as a single sound.

Greek digraphs – Vowels

Digraph

Sound

as in

αι

eh

bed

ει

ee

feet

οι

ee

(same as ει)

υι

ee

(same as ει)

ου

oo

moon

αυ

ahf
(if followed be unvoiced consonant)

ahv
(if followed be voiced consonant or vowel)

falafel

guava

ευ

ehf
(if followed be unvoiced consonant)

ehv
(if followed be voiced consonant** or vowel)

hefty

beverage

**Voiced consonants: β, γ, δ, ζ, λ, μ, ν, ρ (+ μπ, ντ, γκ, γγ)**

Greek digraphs – Consonants

Digraph

Sound

as in

μπ

b

book

ντ

d

dog

γκ

g

goat

γγ

g

(same as γκ but never in the beginning or the end of a word)

τζ

dz

cards

τσ

ts

rats

Check out this link for more examples.

Greek vowels with the same sound but different spelling

In Greek, even though phonetically they only use 5 vowels (ah, eh, ee, o, oo), there are multiple ways to spell the “eh,” “ee”, and “o” sounds. This can be particularly confusing when working alone in an effort to improve Greek listening skills.

So, we grouped them below to make them easier to remember.

Vowels

Sound

as in

ε // αι

eh

red

η // ι // υ

ει // οι // υι

ee

seed

ο // ω

o

The first vowel in soul before moving to the “w” sound

Diacritics

As mentioned above, the Greek language, when written, does a lot of the heavy lifting to help you understand how to pronounce what’s on the page. That also includes two symbols that, combined with letters, tell you how to deliver the sounds you see.

Accent symbol and stress

This may seem daunting to speakers of languages that don’t use many symbols that signify how a word is pronounced, other than letters. However, once you master the concept below, it will turn into your biggest ally.

In Greek, each word with more than two syllables has more stress on at least one of the last three syllables, and then an accent mark called τόνος is put over that syllable.

It’s symbolized with  ΄  in writing, and used to signify what syllable the stress falls on.

If that seems like a foreign concept, let’s have a look at the English word “produce.” Out of context, this can have two meanings:

  1. proDUCE, the verb meaning “to make”
  2. PROduce, the noun that describes fruit and vegetables

In Greek, the accent mark would be placed on the vowel in the syllable that has the stress in order to avoid any confusion. So it would look like this:

  1. prodύce for the verb
  2. prόduce for the noun

As a beginner reader who already knows the alphabet and the digraphs, you’ll be able to pronounce most words that come your way!

Remember: learning Greek is an extensive journey, but this is a major battle that you can conquer early on.

Diaeresis

The second and last Modern Greek diacritic is  ¨ and is known as diaeresis or dialytika.

It is actually simpler to use than you think. When you come across a digraph with this over the final ι or υ ( ϊ or ϋ respectively), it instructs you to pronounce both vowels separately instead of as a digraph.

For example, φαΐ instead of being pronounced feh, it’ll be pronounced fah-ee.

Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, you’re in a position to start working on your vocabulary.

In reality, when it comes to learning Greek words, you may already be further ahead than you think…

How To Improve Greek Vocabulary

When it comes to learning and improving vocabulary, this is the most interesting part of the language learning process, at least for Greek, which is one of the richest languages currently in use. It has more than 5 million (!) unique words.

What if I told you that you might already know around 150.000 Greek words?

Greek words used in other languages

As mentioned, many well-known English words have their roots in ancient Greek. For example:

  • The word music comes from the Greek word μουσική, which itself originates from the ancient Greek word for muse, μούσα.

Other examples include:

  • The word sympathy and its Greek equivalent συμπάθεια.
  • The ocean, which originated from the word ωκεανός.
  • The poem, which originated from ποίημα, and I could keep going on and on and on.

And this doesn’t only apply to English, either!

  • The Polish word biotop comes from the Greek βιότοπος (βίος “life” + τόπος “place”).
  • The Spanish idolatría comes from the Greek ειδωλολατρία (είδωλο “icon” + λατρεία “worship”), and the list goes on again.

Now, as you’ll quickly learn, when it comes to Greek, there will always be exceptions to these rules due to the rich history of the language, so you will come across Greek words used in other languages with completely different meanings. For example:

Empathy in English describes the ability of a person to comprehend the feelings of someone else and put themselves in their shoes.

However, the Greek εμπάθεια which is clearly the origin of the word empathy, actually describes feelings of hostility.

Here is an extensive list of Greek words used in English. You can check it out to see how many Greek words you already know and use on an everyday basis.

Foreign words used in Greek

It’s clear that Greek has influenced a large number of languages around the world. At the same time though, as Greeks have been in contact with so many different cultures through the centuries, they in turn gradually borrowed words from other languages. Some of them are used in their original form, but many have been adapted and assimilated into Greek.

For example, παρκάρω /parkaro/ is a Greek verb that means “to park”. In this case, they added the Greek suffix -άρω to the word park turning it into a Greek verb.

There are actually thousands of words borrowed from the Romance languages. Other examples include:

  • Πάρτι /parti/ from the English party.
  • Μπιμπερό /bibero/ from the French word biberon.

There are also some words and phrases that have taken new forms based on how they sound. For example:

  • Πουρμπουάρ /pourbouar/  is a word that means “a tip” (as in extra money).

While there is a Greek word for that as well, φιλοδώρημα /philodorima/, Greeks regularly use the word πουρμπουάρ  which actually comes from the French word pourboire.

Other examples of this phenomenon are σακβουαγιάζ /sakvouagiage/ (sac de voyage), πορτπαγκάζ /portpagaje/ (porte-bagage) and many others. The interesting thing is that Greeks pronounce them as one word, and many just use them in their everyday speech, completely unaware of where they came from.

If you’re looking to improve Greek vocabulary, it would be a fun exercise to search and see what words or phrases from your language have been borrowed into Greek.

How to leverage Clozemaster

If you’d like to test and improve your knowledge of Greek vocabulary, Clozemaster has multiple collections of exercises focusing on the most Greek common words – from the 100 Most Common to the >50,000 Most Common – which can really help get the ball rolling.

You’ll come across words you don’t know. That’s to be expected.

I suggest you first try the multiple choice mode, which is much easier for beginners, and later you can move on to text input.

If you feel you’d like to raise the bar even more, long-text cloze-reading challenges are available as a Pro feature. If you feel you can handle it, go for it!

How To Improve Greek Listening Skills

Many people believe that the Greek language sounds a lot like singing. Greeks indeed do vary their tone a lot when they speak. This combined with a fast speaking tempo makes understanding Greek speakers a bit difficult for beginners.

Now, if you want to improve your Greek listening skills, there are many entertaining ways to practice.

Greek TV/movies

One of the first ways to do so is to watch Greek TV or movies. People on shows and movies tend to speak a bit slower than in casual conversation, as the audience needs to clearly hear what they say.

It is a great opportunity to practice your level of understanding and improve Greek listening skills without spending any extra money on lessons or tutors.

This could be your daily 15 minutes of practice. It might be hard in the beginning, but you’ll notice an improvement in your Greek listening skills after a couple of days of consistent listening practice.

Greek songs

Another easy way to improve your Greek listening skills is to listen to Greek songs, while also looking at the lyrics to follow along. The good thing about songs is that they are short and catchy, making it easy for you to study them over and over again.

It’s useful to have the lyrics because sometimes some words may not be pronounced clearly. Practicing with songs helps you improve your Greek listening skills, as well as your Greek vocabulary, especially if you constantly search for all the new words in every song.

Podcasts

Once you’ve become more proficient, it might be time to take on some Greek podcasts.

There’s a large selection available on numerous platforms. However, this kind of practice for listening skills is better implemented once you have already gained some fluency. The reason is that podcasts have no context. You can’t see the expression of the speaker nor watch their lips to fill in the blanks of what you don’t understand.

You can also use some apps to transcribe Greek speech on your mobile device, such as Live Transcribe by Google for example.

Once you feel ready, Onassis Foundation and Lifo (a free press magazine) have an array of Greek podcasts to choose from on any subject you find interesting. For more information on those, check out the resources section below.

In the beginning, make sure to choose a subject you’re familiar with, so you can pick up on key terms to give you some context.

Use Clozemaster to take it further

The truth is that native speakers can talk very quickly. If you need some help at the beginning, try playing Clozemaster in Listening mode. You can even set the speech speed to half, so that it’s slower and easier to understand.

If you’re already acing the Listening exercises in multiple choice mode and are up for a challenge, you have the option to play them in Transcribe mode, where you’ll get to transcribe the entire sentence based on what you heard.

How to Practice Greek Conjugation and Declension

Conjugation and declension are one of the factors that make Greek seem so difficult to learn.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that even if you make mistakes, chances are you will still get your point across. So, keep working on it, but don’t beat yourself up about it.

There are a few aspects of Greek conjugation and declension that commonly discourage beginners.

Genders

In Greek, all nouns belong to one of three grammatical genders:

  • Masculine,
  • Feminine
  • Neutral

Now, the difficult thing is that many words have a grammatical gender that has nothing to do with a clear distinctive characteristic.

For example:

  • The sky (“o ουρανός”) is masculine.
  • The moon (“η σελήνη”) is feminine.
  • The star (“το αστέρι”) is neutral.

The same goes for adjectives

  • Είναι έξυπνος = He is smart
  • Είναι έξυπνη = She is smart
  • Είναι έξυπνο = It is smart

Below is a list of the definite articles, which often accompany nouns and adjectives, in the nominative case. These are the most-used articles in Greek, and are important as they clearly state the gender of the word that follows.

Singular

Plural

Male

ο

οι

Female

η

οι

Neutral

το

τα

Unfortunately, due to the large volume of suffixes and the many exceptions, it might not be so simple to wrap your head around them.

You see, the noun, adjective, article, particle, and pronoun endings change depending on what purpose they serve in the sentence.

However, this doesn’t happen at random. There are many rules (and exceptions). As this is an extensive topic, we’ll show you a simpler way to get a basic grasp of this concept.

Search for patterns in Greek suffixes

As you learn more and more words, you’ll start noticing patterns. Greek suffixes often reveal the gender of a word, as well as whether it’s a noun, a verb, an adjective, etc. So, while you’re learning, always search for patterns. It’ll save you a lot of effort down the line when you start learning the rules.

Here is a list of common noun suffixes, how frequent they are, and what gender they are associated with.

For example, if a noun ends in -ης, it’s almost definitely male.

Mythology

Another tool is actually learning about Greek mythology.

If you dig deeper, you’ll find that many words have gotten their grammatical genders inspired by ancient stories about gods, natural phenomena, or even humans.

So, if you’re already a big fan of Ancient Greek mythology, this knowledge may come in handy. You could even start reading different myths, which is an entertaining way to familiarize yourself with some of those mythological figures, and help you remember the grammatical gender of Greek words.

Practice with Clozemaster

There are many ways to learn the rules of Greek conjugation and declension.

One such way is to play Clozemaster – filling in the blanks with the correct Greek word will help you get a more intuitive grasp of the correct forms of Greek words as they appear in a complete sentence.

Whether you prefer to play in multiple choice mode for some quick practice, or text input mode for a greater challenge, Clozemaster is a great way to expose yourself to Greek grammar in context.

Best Resources To Learn Greek

No matter what your current goals are, and what challenges you’re facing when learning Greek, there is a wide array of resources out there that you can use to accelerate your progress.

Below, you’ll find a list of some of the best resources to learn Greek available at the moment.

Apps & Websites

YouTube: Learn Greek With Lina

As mentioned before, it is important before starting any kind of practice to learn the Greek alphabet.

This YouTube Creator has an amazing collection of introductory videos for you to get started.

Here is a video about the Greek vowels. They’re grouped together by sound so that it’s easier to memorize.

They’ve even put together a beginner’s playlist, so you don’t have to always search for the next video to watch.

Duolingo

For those few who are not yet familiar with it, Duolingo orders its lessons in different levels of increasing difficulty to help you learn Greek words and use them in short speaking, listening, and writing exercises.

Duolingo is a great tool to familiarize yourself with the basics of the Greek language. Each lesson tests your knowledge of specific words multiple times, and if you fail, it tests you on those words again. Repetition is key, especially when you’re just starting out. It also has a separate section to learn the alphabet and the digraphs with audio!

Duolingo is available on the web, as well as an Android and iOS app.

Clozemaster

Clozemaster helps you improve your vocabulary, listening skills, and conjugation in Greek with full control over the difficulty level. You can practice by filling in the blanks in thousands of Greek sentences in various game modes, including Vocabulary, Listening, and Speaking.

The app allows you to score points, as well as set a daily goal and track your daily streak, making it easy to stick to a daily learning program.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can also purchase the Pro subscription, which gives you unlimited access to all content on Clozemaster, as well as extra features such as custom review intervals for the words you’ve learned.

Helinika

Helinika is a website that has a wide array of resources no matter what Greek skill you want to work on.

On their exercise page, you’ll find a list of listening exercises, Greek-speaking videos with subtitles, and even a podcast! They also have a YouTube channel with lots of interesting content on the Greek language.

Foundalis.com

Foundalis has put together a large amount of material about Modern Greek. Some of it may be rather advanced, though, so maybe bookmark it for later.

However, they also have some more beginner-friendly, such as this list of common Greek phrases (with voice recordings).

Forvo

Forvo is a huge database of words and expressions pronounced by native speakers of the language. Of course, it also supports Greek, and currently features close to 100,000 items pronounced by Greek native speakers. It can be an immensely helpful resource for your speaking and listening practice. If you’re a beginner, be sure to check out their phrasebooks featuring pronunciations of essential Greek words and phrases.

Greekgrammar.eu

If you’re looking to practice Greek conjugation and declension, check out this website for further readings on grammatical rules of modern Greek.

WordReference

A dictionary is a necessary tool when learning a new language. WordReference is very extensive, with precise, thought-out translations and accompanying examples. It also includes the genders of words if you’re ever unsure.

Media

Onassis Foundation

Onassis Foundation is a major cultural giant in Greece. On their website, you can find a list of podcasts which you can stream online. You can also search for them in your podcast app of choice.

MUBI

Mubi is an online streaming service that houses some of the greatest works of European cinema. They even often offer a free trial, so you don’t have to commit before you make sure it works for you. Remember that different locations may have different availability of titles.

Here is a list of Greek films available on the platform.

LiFO

LiFO is a free press magazine that celebrates Athenian and Greek lifestyles and history. You can find their podcasts here – or just search for “Lifo Podcasts” in your podcast app.

Books

There are hundreds of books available to help you practice Greek conjugation or improve Greek vocabulary. These are just a few to use as a comparison to choose something that is available in your region.

Is It All Greek to You, After All?

Now you do have a full picture of what it really means to get to know the Greek language.

If you feel like giving it a shot, save this article, and be sure to start using some of the resources we listed above.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you end up communicating fluently like a native, or if you just manage to learn a few words and sentences. Either way, it will be a fascinating language journey that is definitely worth the try.

Καλή συνέχεια! /kali sinexia/
(= hope everything goes well in anything you do)

Learn Greek faster with Clozemaster 🚀

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Greek.

Take your Greek to the next level. Click here to start practicing with real Greek sentences!

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