Learning Greek: My Wacky, Willful, and Endlessly Worthwhile Journey

Prefer to LISTEN to my story?

Okay, I promise this is a true story. It’s a story that begins with frustration and concludes with vibrant and everlasting optimism. Wondering how my unapologetic obsession with the Greek language began? Read on!

(You may have heard the beginning of this story before in my s’agapo article.)

A Kid in a Candy Store

It was the year my Greek then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I first started dating. We were out to lunch at a very cute restaurant in San Francisco, and I said to him: “Well, you’ll have to start teaching me Greek.”

My tone was like a kid’s in a candy store- eager with anticipation, awaiting those first bites. Without hesitation, he looked at me and said two sentences in Greek that seemed a bit complicated for a beginner. He failed to offer translation, so I asked him to what he’d just said to me. Deadpan, he said, “Sheep have regurgitating stomachs, and bears hibernate in the winter.” Now, seeing as this email is about the Greek language and not about my choice in husbands, I will stick to the subject.

I learned two things from this experience:

1. I was dating a guy with a unique (we’ll go with it) sense of humor, and

2. He would probably not make a great Greek teacher. (Subject for another time.)

If at First you Don’t Succeed: Try, Try, Try, TRY Again

As our relationship progressed, I spent more and more time around Greek-speaking people, hoping that all the Greek I was hearing would somehow rub off. But, I wasn't getting it.

I listened to Greek songs like an addict. Still didn’t get it.

At one point I thought I had found the magic bullet. An unexpected treasure that exposed itself in my ever-growing Greek world, were the works of the magnificent, recently passed and living Greek poets. With an excellent personal translator at my beck and call, the beauty of the Greek language became increasingly evident to me. Poetry deepened my interest in and growing love for this extraordinary language. To say I was OBSESSED is an understatement. And, I was entirely convinced that either poetry or song were my golden tickets to learning the Greek language.

But alas: My deep dive into poetry and song was not the golden ticket. My love for the language grew and my vocabulary increased but my ability to form a sentence had barely nudged.

After giving birth to our first child, my hopes were raised. My (now-)husband would speak the language to our young child, who quickly picked up what he was saying to her. I, on the other hand, scrapped to pick up a few singular words.

Finally, in 2002, we moved to Greece, and I was sure that now all my language-learning dreams would come true. Greek was being spoken around me all the time, my husband was speaking to our two children in Greek, and our children were attending Greek school. I made conscious efforts to connect with mothers at the school and with any local who'd lend me an ear. Surely the language would come. Do I need to tell you, dear reader, that I still felt stuck?

Being a nerd, it wasn't difficult for me to accept my fate: I just needed to get the books and take the classes. It's just that I'd tried that before (twice, at two different universities) and I didn't experience many lightbulb moments.

So, I tried everything- different books, apps, classes, and private teachers. It always ended in the same place — just slightly ahead of where I had been before.

Although I progressed, either I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say, or I could say something but it was “not me.” My words felt so shallow, and I was never sure I was using the right grammar, anyway. I yearned to connect with Greeks in Greece, in Greek, with a basic knowledge of basic grammar, and without feel self conscious or constantly wondering how to say something "correctly."

Taking Matters into my Own Hands

My turning point came when I began to (1) create my own learning materials and (2) soften my goals.

I focused on the basics of the language, and made sure I was studying topics that were of interest to me (food, environment, gardening, music - in case you're wondering). I let go of trying to write in sentences, and I focused on my words. Understand how they were spelled and what was happening grammatically. I slowed down. I got patient.

I made sure I loved what I was learning and I loved how I was learning.

I started with all of the well-wishing expressions that are so wonderful in this language.

I then turned to Greek in the kitchen (my happy place).

And I finally turned my attention to learning how to write (which includes having a clue about spelling and grammar) and text.

From there, I started to spend more time reading very short texts, like tweets (now x's?) or short comments in social media. And I did not just “read”- I read aloud. It all started to come together like a machine with many components- some of which I had initially ignored, but all that I was now able to use with so much ease and confidence.

FINALLY, my speaking really started to improve. At first, I thought I was making my life more difficult by learning to read, then write. But at the end of the day, slowing down helped me speed up, and it helped me to really speak. Not only that, but it helped my confidence.

(Would you think that knowing how to read, write and text would help you speak? I didn't think so. But it has been a game changer.)

I started to be able to interact with the Greeks with more ease. I felt more like myself, and my lifelong dream to retain Greek really started to materialize.

Let YOUR Journey Begin!

My journey was long and at times, painful- but in the end, it was beyond worth it. I realized that I wanted to use what I learned to teach others. I realized that learning a new language and lifestyle could give me the most fulfilling strength, empowerment, and sense of gratitude that I’d ever felt. I was ready to take my passion to the next level, and couldn’t wait to share it.

This is where my story ends- but where I’d like to help yours to wholly, and truly begin. I’d love to meet you where you are and guide you on this amazing path.

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Hi, I'm Demetra. I am a multi-passionate, life-long teacher working in food, music, and Greek language. I love simplifying the complicated and an unconventional approach to learning, in which fun, clarity and efficiency are the major players.

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