Learning Greek, 2.0 (or “Mamma mia! Here we go again…”): Prologue

About a thousand years ago, I decided to learn Greek. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t get very far on that first attempt and even now, I’m still hovering somewhere between CEFR levels A1 and A2.

Why “unsurprisingly”?

Well…

  • Because laziness. Above all, I just didn’t put in enough effort to actually study the language or to find a teacher suited to my needs and preferences. I did take lessons for several months at a school in Cambridge with a good teacher; but as a language teacher, trainer and linguist myself, I can be quite a demanding student (!), and I just wasn’t invested enough to make the effort. I got busy with other things, couldn’t always attend, and didn’t always do my homework. Mea culpa!!
  • Because levels. The class I attended was quite mixed, containing near-beginners and linguaphobes as well as people like me, i.e. people who already knew the alphabet and, perhaps more significantly, were formally trained language teachers and/or linguists and more curious/motivated about linguistics in general, so picked things up faster than other students. Altogether, the lessons were a bit too easy for me at times and I started to get bored when I did attend, so was less motivated to come when I actually had the time.
  • Because loneliness. Outside of taking actual lessons, I think I knew all along I’d find it difficult to study on my own, especially without being surrounded by Greek every day. I know from experience that I personally learn languages best when I’m immersed and when there’s a teacher and/or fellow learners to interact with and plague with questions. As I said in my previous post (prophetically, as it turns out): “I’ve optimistically titled this post “part 1″…” and “Let’s hope it’s not too long before the next one…”
  • Because life. As I always tell my own students and teacher trainees, we’re people before we’re language learners. We bring our whole selves to the language-learning experience. In the past few years, in addition to wanting to learn Greek, I also moved cities, moved house several times, changed jobs, travelled extensively, went freelance, and went through a sudden bereavement. “Learning another language just for fun” simply slid way down my list of priorities.

Fast forward to September 2019 and I’m now in Athens, and planning to stay here for a couple of months! I have found myself a Greek housemate, forewarned all my local friends that I’ll be practising with (on) them, and this morning I signed up to take a course: three mornings per week, three hours per morning, for 6 weeks.

So here we are. Time to go again. Second attempt. Version 2.0!

As Howard Chen explains, adapting this originally techie term and relating it to his own industry (health care):

“Being 2.0 means embracing something brand new, something different, revolutionary, totally revamped from the old 1.0 that’s just not as good. […] The terminology we use for what software developers call a “major version release” is a popular way to address all things new and cool.”

But he also points out a very important caveat to this “new and cool” way of seeing things:

“The danger with 2.0 lies in its implicit recognition of a dramatic change, in the fact that you simply cannot call something 2.0 without first defining a 1.0 and then defining its shortcomings. The implication is that 1.0 can be fixed with an [sic] packaged solution. It makes a complex process that may otherwise require a gradual transition appear achievable with a simple technological update.”

And I’d agree. After over a decade in ELT and over 15 years in linguistics, I’m certainly not naive enough to think I can just pick up the complex process of learning Greek again simply by signing up to a course, without also changing my behaviour and habits.

I need to make more effort; I need to actually apply what I know to be effective from research and experience; I need to put in the hours (and be patient with myself); and I need to revisit my habits and strategies periodically with a view to iteratively changing and improving them, based on what I’m finding more or less useful to my own lived experience.

As Chen suggests, perhaps perpetual beta is a more useful and realistic metaphor. To paraphrase him one last time:

“The reality is that, like cloud-based technology, [my attempt to learn Greek] doesn’t really have a true “2.0.” [An effective language learning process] is in perpetual beta testing, as new knowledge incrementally accumulates and changes practice patterns.”

I started this post by defining version 1.0 of my Greek learning process and its shortcomings. Now more specifically (and empirically*), I am going to make a few resolutions that should dramatically increase my chances of learning success this time around:

  • Research shows that integrating new with existing knowledge is crucial to learning, so the evening before every lesson, I will revise what I learnt in the previous lesson(s). I will look for patterns and categories and re-organise my notes accordingly into advance organisers; and (as far as possible, given what is reasonably foreseeable from the class timetable and syllabus) I will brainstorm and/or write down what I already know about a given topic/language feature before we study it in class, so that I am primed to process it more effectively during class.
  • I will spend 30 minutes every morning testing myself on what I’ve learned recently, i.e. focusing on remembering previous learning content, not simply re-reading/re-studying it. And the good news is, it doesn’t even matter if I get the answers right; simply testing myself will ultimately improve my memory and promote learning.
  • I will do a little bit every day, rather than just one huge day of study; and I will make sure I get a good night’s sleep every night!

*Follow the hyperlinks in these bullet points if you’re interested in reading about some of the research my resolutions are based on.

Combined with the immersive environment I’m now living in, I hope and expect that these resolutions will lead me to enjoy greater success this time.

I’m also going to share my experiences right here on this blog at the end of every week. I’m very interested to see what sort of methodology my new Greek teacher will use, and just as interested to discover how applicable the course content is to my daily life in Athens!

After my placement test this morning, I was assigned to the Level 2 class. This is the syllabus I was shown:

Greek syllabus (Level 2)

My first impressions?

Grammar, grammar, grammar! And no mention of pronunciation… hmmm…

But I will reserve judgment until my first lesson… or maybe the second…

Stay tuned for more updates, coming soon!

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8 thoughts on “Learning Greek, 2.0 (or “Mamma mia! Here we go again…”): Prologue

  1. I have to say that out of all the countries I’ve lived in, I think the Greeks were the most encouraging I’ve experienced towards someone attempting to speak their language. When I lived in Athens, I’d go to the veg shop on the corner of my street most days and the guy who ran it made it his mission to teach me a new word each time I went in! Hope you have a similar experience 🙂

    1. So far, that’s been my impression too! I’ve already multiple “lessons” in shops, and all my “teachers” have been apparently quite sincere in their enthusiasm to help me learn!

  2. Really looking forward to reading about your progress. What are you planning to use to test yourself each morning? I think you already know that I think Quizlet is amazing, but I’m going to repeat myself: Quizlet is amazing 🙂 Good luck and have fun!

    1. Thanks Sandy! I’m not sure yet how I’m going to test myself. I did think about Quizlet but need to re-familiarise myself with it. For now, I’m going to try and make a lot from a little, using my notebook in various ways… I’ll summarise this week’s attempts in a few days’ time, so watch this space!

    1. Thanks Lizzie! Fingers crossed I can keep up the blogging! After my first lesson today (3 hours) I already had soooo many thoughts and notes… I think there’s a good risk I’ll spend more time writing about learning Greek than actually doing it! Gotta think of a way to manage the balance…

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