Published in www.thecorfumouse.com in October 2012
So you have decided to live on Corfu, one of the most beautiful islands in the Med, you must admit, and a cosmopolitan one, for sure. People of all origins live on the island nowadays, and all those years of foreign occupation and, most recently, tourist influx have created the need for a lingua franca; English!
Greek people have been blessed to be able to pronounce most languages (almost) accurately, as the Greek language includes most sounds. They are also extremely communicative, by nature, which enables them to get by most communication situations even with little knowledge of the language. And, that’s one reason, why most non-native residents do not really need to speak the local language.
English is spoken everywhere on the island, where it be the local grocery (ok, gestures do help, too) or a public service and most young people are quite fluent. Yet, when speaking English with a Greek, do you ever get the feeling that some communication elements are missed? For some, that may not be a huge problem, for most, though, there is the feeling of ‘not-belonging’, a feeling of being aware that communicating in the native language will automatically ensure a place in the local culture as it will bring down most cultural barriers. And how about the person you are talking to, well I’m sure they would be flattered when you have actually made the effort to speak their language.
‘But it does all sound Greek to me,’ I hear you say. Well, did you know that around 50,000 English words are derived from the Greek language? So, it can’t be all that hard! Words like, hypothesis, empathy, sympathy, drama, maths, bacteria, psychology, fable and thousands more are already part of your everyday vocabulary, anyway!
Did you know?
The Greek language comes a long way; it has been used in the region (and beyond) for at least 34 centuries; Greek was a widely spoken lingua franca in the Mediterranean world and beyond during classical antiquity. The language is spoken by at least 13-15 million people nowadays in Greece, Cyprus, and Greek communities around the world.
Greek is an interesting, even charming language. Learning it involves learning the history and culture of Greece, too. If you have picked up any Greek while on Corfu, I am sure you understand. Learning a language is indeed about learning culture. Take greetings for example, how would you greet a friend, a colleague and a business acquaintance in your country? Would you be expected to do the same in Greek?
Greek is like no other language. There are many words that have been lent to other languages as well as those that have been borrowed, but the actual structure and ‘texture’ of the Greek language is unique. Every word has its own story to tell. It is true that Greek includes words that cannot be translated in any other language ‘filotimo’, ‘palikari’ are two of the most commonly used as an example of such. Greek people also speak fast, they speak loud, they get angry, and their language can be temperamental, too… Knowing when and what to intonate to get your message across as well as what gender each word is can be the cause of confusion.
So you have been persuaded to take up a course in Greek, rather than just picking it up along the way. Any tips there?
An essential ingredient to learning a foreign language, Greek in this case, is motivation; and clearly-set goals. My experience in TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) and research in the field of language learning distinguishes motivation into Intrinsic and Extrinsic; motivation you may have, naturally, and being motivated by external factors. They are both of equal importance. Yes, you do need a drive to learn Greek and that comes hand-in-hand with your goals. ‘I’d love to speak it’, is probably not a good reason to sustain your interest throughout a course; ‘being able to communicate with my in-laws!’ well, that sounds a bit better. Remember to remind yourself of the reason you have chosen to learn it, whether it is intellectual curiosity, employment or even romance!
In addition, your input should be motivational. If your class, teacher or materials are not well-organised, or even fun, you will soon find yourself uninterested and will soon drop any effort.
Try to focus on meaning rather than form, to start with. Your first aim is to have yourself understood and vice versa. Don’t let mistakes put you off. It is often noticed that people who focus on getting everything right (grammatically speaking) lack the confidence to actually speak the language. One of the things I was taught during my M.Ed, and I keep telling my students, was that successful learners are these who are risk-takers, who are not afraid to make mistakes, that is.
Speak! Remember, people would love to hear you speak Greek; they will feel honoured, flattered, that you are speaking their language, even if it’s just an attempt! And they will go all that extra way to help you! If you don’t speak it, it will get rusty plus you are missing a chance for more Greek input which will help you develop. Listen! Listen to Greek radio, watch the news, even if you don’t take in every single word. You’ll soon be familiar with the sound and flow of the language.
Read! Newspapers, ads, subtitles at the cinema, cereal packs!
Basically, don’t give up! It takes around 5 years, according to research, to be able to master a foreign language. Don’t expect too much from yourself or you’ll get frustrated. Have your goals in mind, break them down to smaller, more feasible ones if necessary and take it one step at a time!
One last thing, education is an ongoing process. Learning another language actually helps you keep your mind active and, thus, young (!). You might decide to take an online course, self-study, or ask a more experienced friend of yours to teach you, but when it comes to education, I would suggest trusting someone who is qualified and experienced. Someone who will have all of the above in mind and guide you through this journey, support you and motivate you!