Learning Greek, 2.2: Micro-listening skills and strategies

This is the third in a new series of posts about my experiences of learning Greek.

Also, a pre-emptive P.S. (a “pre-script”?) in case youre wondering… Where are all the apostrophes in this blogpost?

Adventures in Greek, episode #509:

The dialogue you are about to read took place all in Greek, in a shop somewhere in Athens in November 2019…

Me: [walks into shop] Hello.

Shop assistant: Hello.

Me: [attempts to browse inconspicuously despite sharing only about 20 square metres and no dividing walls with the shop assistant]

Shop assistant: Would you like any help?

Me: Thanks, Im just looking.

Shop assistant: [something I dont quite catch, sounds more like a statement than a question but she seems to expect a response…]

Me: [making my customary 50/50 guess] No.

…awkward pause…

Me: [belatedly processing the phrase “tell me” and promptly realising that what she had actually said was basically “cool, if you need anything, just let me know! 🙂”] Oops. Yes!! Ahem. Thank you…

Wah wah…

A classroom-related thought

This kind of silly and mildly embarrassing scenario (though less embarrassing than when I tried to leave the shop moments later, couldnt work out how to open the door, and she had to physically get up and come rescue me) really makes me empathise with language students who feel like theyve been studying the L2 for years but still cant understand fluent speakers when they speak quickly, even with apparently clear context. Their top-down skills might be quite good, but when those are not enough, their bottom-up skills sometimes fail to compensate.

In my own example above, it took a moment for my bottom-up skills (recognising individual sounds → recognising how they connect to form distinct words → mapping these onto meaningful items in my burgeoning L2 Greek lexicon) and my top-down skills (using context and co-text to made an educated guess) to cooperate and help me decide what to say next.

Actual footage from inside my brain at the moment of realisation

So how can we help learners develop effective rapid-listening skills?

This feels like a good case for what John Field refers to as “micro-listening”, or practising “individual subskills of listening” and micro-strategies, particularly those aspects of proficient listening that focus on acoustic processing, perception and interpretation (as opposed to more popular, but vaguer, terms like “listening for gist” or “listening for information”).

Heres an example from Fields 1998 ELT Journal article relating the reality of listening to research and classroom practice (p. 116):

Excerpt from page 116 of: Field, J. (1998). Skills and strategies: Towards a new methodology for listening. ELT Journal, 52(2), pp. 110–118.
Excerpt from page 116 of: Field, J. (1998). Skills and strategies: Towards a new methodology for listening. ELT Journal, 52(2), pp. 110–118.

If I could listen to and study several more-or-less common dialogues from shopping experiences in this focused way, I would probably be much better prepared for the next time I find myself in such a situation.

In fact, lets put that to the test. Ill try it right now using a very short section, beginning at 04:25, of Lesson 18 from the Learning Greek podcast created by the Hellenic American Union. Helpfully, they also supply a transcript for every episode, so I can check my answers afterwards.

(What follows was written in real time as I followed the 4 steps suggested above, so you can join me in working my way through them!)

1. Write down as many words as possible from the speech stream. Decide how certain you are about each one. 

1st listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ _______________________.

2nd listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ ___________________ γρήγορα.

3rd listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ _______________ πολύ? γρήγορα.

4th listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ _______________ πολύ γρήγορα.

5th listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ να ____?____ πολύ γρήγορα.

6th listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ να προ?___?____ πολύ γρήγορα.

7th listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ να προ___?____ πολύ γρήγορα.

8th listening: Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ να προχόρισω? πολύ γρήγορα.

Anglicised, for those of you who are not literate in Greek, this is: “Po-po kosmos. Then bor-oh na proh-choh-ree-soh pol-ee gree-gora.”

2. Form guesses as to the ideas which link these words. Make use of your knowledge of the world, the topic of the text, the speaker, the text so far, and similar speech events.

  • My knowledge of the world: Shopping in cities and/or in open-air markets often involves navigating large crowds of slow-moving fellow shoppers.
  • The topic of the text: Visiting the open-air market for fruits and vegetables.
  • The speaker: I havent been following this whole podcast series so I dont really know anything about the speaker, other than that he seems to be an adult male.
  • The text so far:
    • 1st-4th listenings: The first part of the lesson just had a little dialogue of three friends in the supermarket deciding what to buy (a chicken, some fruit and feta—which was on sale, incidentally). [An aside: I actually understood everything in the first part! Woohoo!] But there was no mention of what would come next except that the title of the lesson is “At the supermarket/at the open-air market”, so I would presume the next bit is where the characters are at the open-air market. When it starts, there are 10 seconds of background noise that includes street sounds like car horns and the feint burble of people going about their daily business. But as the sentence Im trying to transcribe is the very first line of the second part of the lesson, I dont have much else to go on.
    • 5th listening: Ive heard my Greek friends say “Πο πο” (Anglicised: “po-po”) in a sort of surprised/disappointed/resigned way, like English “uh-oh” or “oh no…”, so I would guess that what follows this sentence-starter here is something expressing a negative feeling about the situation at hand.
    • 6th-7th listenings: The meaning of this short clip, as far as I can tell, is something like: “Ohhh, there are a lot of people here. I cant [subjunctive-prefacing particle/conjunction thingy, first-person singular verb] very fast.”
    • 8th listening: As theres only one short bit (I think one word) which Im still unsure about, but which appears to be a verb, I would guess it means something like “move forward”. Im confident that I have correctly heard the actual sounds the speaker is producing, but as for meaning, Im just speculating based on context and prior knowledge of other words beginning with “pro-” (like προχθές = “the day before yesterday”) and the verb “to dance” (χορεύω). I think its fair to assume that hes not complaining that theres no space in the market for him to dance into the recent past, and I dont know what other verb it could logically be, so Im sticking with “move forward/get through this crowd”. I may be way off.
  • Similar speech events: Not sure what to say here… I guess a “similar speech event”, if my other guesses are correct, would be “a friend saying something pessimistic while we are out shopping together”?

3. Check your guesses when the section of the text is replayed.

As Im working on my own, without any peer to compare with, I sort of combined this with step 1. But to keep things clear for you (youre welcome) I typed up steps 1 and 2 in parallel.

4. Check your guesses against the next section of the text.

I listened to it once and didnt catch much besides some discussion about buying tomatoes for a Greek salad. And the guy on the fruit and vegetables stall didnt have something, because… something about the afternoon.

I listened again and didnt catch much else except something in the following line which I think was another friend agreeing that he couldnt move at all. I definitely caught a word that sounded like the verb “to walk” and I definitely caught the word καθόλου (“(not) at all”), but nothing else. Πο πο…

(Implied step 5. Check with the tapescript, especially if youre studying without a teacher!)

Well now. It seems I got it mostly right—the tapescript is actually illustrated with a picture of a busy marketplace, and I had heard that following line correctly, about his friend not being able to walk at all.

My answer key. What is that second pic meant to illustrate?

I wrote:

Πο πο κόσμος. Δεν μπορώ να προχόρισω? πολύ γρήγορα.

The correct way to write this is:

Πω πω κόσμος! Δε μπορώ να προχωρήσω πολύ γρήγορα.

Clearly, I still have issues with guessing spellings in Greek. The various possible spellings of those pesky [o] and [i] sounds always trip me up! But actually, my friends here in Athens tell me that these particular mistakes are very common even for Greeks. And after all, its not so surprising or disheartening to still struggle with spelling these vowels, given that Im still only at roughly CEFR A1-A2 level.

I also forgot that even though theres always a final /n/ on the word δεν (pronounced “then”, meaning “not”) when it occurs before the plosive sounds /p t k b d g/, it is not written if the following word begins with a non-plosive consonant (in this case, μ, pronounced /m/).

Otherwise, not a bad effort. Im quite pleased with that, given how little I caught on the first listening.

But… I still dont know what that mystery verb means, and I still couldnt get it from context!


Well, now my experiment is over, I can cheat and look up the word on Google Translate and Linguee. And… drumroll please… apparently, it means “move on”, “proceed”, “go further” etc.! Woohoo! So all that hard work trying to match my bottom-up phonetic decoding and top-down context-based skills paid off.

Pity the sentence I decoded wasnt actually a very common feature of shopping dialogues, so probably wont help me that much in future. But it has boosted my confidence (and vocabulary) very slightly.

Now, if only I can get the next shop assistant whose rapid speech baffles me to repeat herself 8 times and then provide subtitles so I can check whether I correctly guessed what she said…


Field, J. (1998). Skills and strategies: Towards a new methodology for listening. ELT Journal, 52(2), pp. 110–118.

P.S. In case you missed it… What happened to all the apostrophes in this blogpost?

2 thoughts on “Learning Greek, 2.2: Micro-listening skills and strategies

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this and reminding me of this particular strategy from Field’s book – it’s good to be reminded of things from this book, one completely changed my ideas about listening, but is still only making up part of my approach :s

  2. Sometimes if your struggling with the first sentence like I was since it contained a mystery word and breaking it down didn’t help. I would look at the sentence below which did help. So .. “screw the world. I’m not able to move through this very quickly.” Or less literally “ where on earth did all these people come from? I can’t even move right now.”

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.