Learning a new language is no easy task and Greek is considered hard to learn. Here are some things that you may find challenging when you learn Greek.
Beginners may find it difficult to hear sounds or combinations of consonants and vowels that may not exist in their language. This is a common problem when learning a new language. Gradually, with the guidance of an experienced teacher, who will show you how to place your tongue, so that you can properly articulate, the problem will be resolved.
A good teacher will use vocal exercises, just like speech therapists do with little kids, to help them articulate the sounds they have difficulty. However, there is no need to aim for perfection from the beginning. As you slowly go into deeper parts of the language, with the proper training, your speech will improve.
Different endings of the words
Greek language retains many elements from ancient Greek. This is precisely what makes it difficult. There are complex verb conjugations and noun inclinations, meaning nouns and verbs change form depending on their use, especially their endings.
Here is the verb “γράφω” (write) and the different endings for each person (first, second, third):
Greek: Εγώ γράφ-ω, Εσύ γράφ-εις , Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό γράφ-ει, Εμείς γράφ-ουμε, Εσείς γράφ-ετε, Αυτοί γράφ-ουν
English: I write, You write, He/she/it writes, We write, You write, They write
As you can see, in English the verb “write” remains the same after the “I”, “you”, “we” and “they”. It changes only after the “he/she/it”. However in Greek the ending of the verb “γράφω” are different for each person.
Nouns have different ending depending on their position in a sentence, before or after a verb. For example :
“Ο Γιάννης είναι φίλος μου”.
“Με λένε Γιάννη”.
Γιάννης and Γιάννη is the same noun, but with different endings.
To see more examples from various grammatical forms, please go to the Appendix at the end of the article.
Cases in nouns
Many students complain that while they have spent much time learning the endings of nominative and accusative cases, in the end they do not know when to use each one. This difficulty is more common with English-speaking people or with people speaking languages with no cases. In this situation, the role of an experienced teacher is essential, so as to explain in a very simple and comprehensible way how syntax works, without tiring or disappointing the student with too many details.
The correct placement of intonation in verbs and nouns is difficult for the students, both at the beginning and advanced levels.
Although it may look like a small detail, it’s important to slowly learn the rules from the beginning and gradually become more familiar with their proper use. You also have to keep in mind that there are words in Greek that while they are totally identical to each other, their meaning changes from the placement of the intonation. Example:
γέρος = old man.
γερός = strong, healthy.
Wide variety in expression
You learn to say something in a way and then you realize there are ten other ways to express the same thing. (e.g. Καλημέρα! / Καλημέρα σας! / Καλή σας μέρα! etc). You try to find their difference and you get confused. When you are a beginner, you do not need to learn the full diversity of the Greek language. It is enough to learn just one way to greet and introduce yourself. In time, you will learn the rest.
Too many exceptions to the rules
You are trying so hard to learn a rule only to find out that there are endless exceptions. Again, patience and a good strategy is what you need. Only until you have successfully internalized the rule you will be able to work with the exceptions. We need to know when is the right moment to learn each object individually and not try to discover all the exceptions and details, that may or may not be important, at once.
When learning Greek, you need to be patient and methodical. The proper guidance from an experienced teacher, fully familiar with all these difficulties, will help you overcome them. If sometimes you feel overwhelmed, keep in mind that you are not the first one. Many people before you have tried, persisted and succeeded in speaking Greek fluently.
*According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State, the Greek language can take about twice the time to learn, for an English speaker, than the Italian or French language.
(1) Conjugation of verbs
There are different endings for each tense (Present, Past, Future etc). For example:
Present: ακολουθώ, I follow
Past: ακολούθησα, I followed
Future: θα ακολουθήσω, I will follow
There are different endings for Active/Passive voice. For example:
Active: ακολουθώ, I follow
Passive: ακολουθούμαι, I am followed
There are different endings for Singular/Plural numbers. For example:
Singular: ακολουθώ, I follow
Plural: ακολουθούμε, we follow
There are different endings for Imperative/Subjunctive. For example:
Imperative: ακολούθησε, follow
Subjunctive: να ακολουθήσω, to follow
(2) inclination of nouns and adjectives
Nouns and adjectives have different endings for each case (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, Vocative etc). For example:
Nominative: Αυτός είναι ο φίλος μου, This is my friend
Genitive: Αυτό είναι το αυτοκίνητο του φίλου μου, This is my friend’s car
Accusative: Θέλω να δω τον φίλο μου, I want to see my friend
Vocative: Έλα βρε φίλε μου, Come on my friend
Adjectives have different endings for each gender (Male, Female). For example:
Male: Όμορφος άντρας, Beautiful man
Female: Όμορφη γυναίκα, Beautiful woman
Header image: Pixabay
Vasiliki Baskos is founder of Learn Greek Online. She teaches modern Greek as a foreign language online via Skype since 2012.
She’s also the administrator of Ask Greek, a Q&A forum where people ask questions about the Greek language.