I recently spent a number of hours watching the world go by out of a train window whilst returning from a wonderful holiday on the little Greek island of Skiathos. Whilst daydreaming, I began thinking about which country I have most visited. I very quickly came to the conclusion that it must be either Spain or Italy as I have been lucky enough to enjoy numerous trips to both countries due to studying the languages through to postgraduate level. This then led me to thinking that the country I’ve visited 3rd most is Greece. I love the country almost as much as I love Spain and Italy, yet despite being a linguist, I have not, until now, considered learning the language.
I have been holidaying in Greece since I was 7 years old and have since visited around 10 times. It’s definitely a country I’ll always return to, so a perfect choice for my next foreign language. It is the official language of Greece, one of the 24 official languages of the European Union, and is spoken by about 13 million people in Greece, by about 600,000 of the inhabitants of Cyprus and by another 3 to 4 million Greeks abroad. It is considered one of the hardest languages to learn, yet this won’t put me off, and I’d just love to share with you some of the reasons why I’ve chosen to learn Modern Greek.
‘Why bother, it’s not very useful!’, I’ve heard numerous times, yet ‘useful’ to me, has a very different meaning. When starting my degree, I applied with Advanced Level Spanish, and had the opportunity to begin a second language. I was advised to choose French or German due to the percentage of speakers, employment prospects within Europe etc., yet instead chose Italian, a language which is only spoken by 59 million people in Italy. I had never visited Italy, but heard so many wonderful things about the country, the people, and of course the cuisine! Six years later, I have no regrets, and am incredibly proud to say I can speak one of the most beautiful languages on the planet. People have different reasons for learning a language, but for me the ‘usefulness’ is entirely related to enjoyment, the desire to communicate with the people of that country, and learn about their culture and way of life. Although my Greek currently doesn’t extend much further than kalimera (good morning), efharisto (thank you) and yassas (hello), I loved practising and recently found in Skiathos that the Greeks were absolutely delighted that I tried to speak their lingo.
Did you know that it is estimated that up to 12% of the English vocabulary is of Greek origin? Ancient Greeks made so many contributions to etymology that the chances are, you probably already know some! Many words have been borrowed from Greek in fields like mathematics, astronomy and the sciences and can be found in use in English and other European languages. Examples you probably wouldn’t think of include telephone (tele meaning distant and phone meaning voice), paediatrician (paedi meaning child, iatros meaning doctor) and hippopotamus (hippo meaning horse and potamos meaning river). These are just a few of countless examples where learning one language assists another, as well as leading to a greater understanding of your own language. Furthermore, the ability to read, write and speak a language which has a different alphabet and pronunciation would be valuable on a CV and make you stand out at any job interview.
When I think of Greece, along with incredible scenery and a vibrant history, I also think of their cuisine! I predict that if a random poll were conducted, and people were asked about their favourite European cuisine, Greek would not come up top- perhaps French or Italian would, yet for me, it is wonderful as it very vegetarian-friendly. I don’t know about you, but I love a good Greek salad complete with an entire massive slab of feta on top, fresh peppers stuffed with rice, Dolmades (vine leaves) or the vegetarian version of the Greek speciality- Moussaka!
We live in an era where the internet has facilitated daily life in many thousands of ways, one of which is language learning. Studying languages is now available to anyone at any age, and there are a wide variety of resources available for free. So far, I’ve been self-teaching using the BBC languages site, and am really enjoying their gentle introduction into Modern Greek, yet have started investigating evening courses at local Universities run by the Foreign Language Centres as I prefer a more human-interactive method of language learning. Have I persuaded you to learn Modern Greek, or are there other languages you’d like to learn?