Learning Greek: The start of our language journey

Learning Greek: The start of our language journey

As with everything we do, we have a picked a country with one of the hardest languages to learn! We never like to make things simple for ourselves and so we are rising to the challenge of learning the beautiful Greek language.

We always joke that we could have picked France as our new home! Heaven knows the language would have been far easier to pick-up and at least we could read it from the beginning. Instead, we quit our life in the UK and moved to Greece. We are now embarking on the daunting journey of mastering a new dialect.

Mr Sidestepping-Normal would be the first to admit that he’s falling behind with his language learning (sorry darling!) Subsequently, for the first time in our relationship, I have become the one who is taking the lead.

Usually I depend on Mr Sidestepping-Normal to be the more dominant of the two of us (only in public of course!) but it’s strange how the tables have turned. I am leaping forward with learning Greek and I have become the one to ask questions and enquire.

Having been here for 10 months, I have a new found confidence that wasn’t there before. Situations that would have made me feel worried and anxious now don’t phase me at all. It has taken a while, but through forcing myself, over and over again out of my comfort zone, I now feel quite comfortable out of my comfort Zone…I mean, my comfort zone is less comfortable than it was…you know what I’m saying, right?

This wasn’t the case from the beginning though. Let me share with you how I have got to the point that I’m at now…

The beginning…

I have had an appreciation for the beauty of the Greek language for a long time. When I was 18, I enrolled myself in evening classes to learn Greek. I sat alongside lots of retired folk, all of us grappling with a new alphabet and complicated grammar, whilst our patient teacher repeated words and phrases to us.

There I was, sandwiched between a retired teacher with a holiday home in the Peloponnese and a woman in her mid 30’s who’d fallen madly in love with a Greek man called Nikos on holiday…She didn’t turn up after the first few lessons so I’m not sure what happened with that whirlwind romance.

After the first year, I enrolled into the second year. The combination of those two years gave me a great grounding in learning Greek and I felt that I had mastered the basics.

Over the next 10 years, I sporadically picked up my Greek books and recapped on the things I had already learned and at one point I invested in a few lessons with a private tutor. Despite my attempts however, I just never seemed to progress and further. I always hit a brick wall. I started to stagnate and get frustrated.

Moving to Greece…

When we finally arrived in Crete to live, I felt a sense of relief that finally I would have the chance to push my language-learning, and progress much further. I launched myself into initiating conversations at any opportunity, whether it was at the till paying for shopping, or with a passing neighbour.
I religiously studied everyday, and had lists of new words written on the fridge. It’s fair to say that I was committed and eager.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you that I started to gain confidence and my vocabulary quickly expanded, right? In fact, the complete opposite happened.

I started to find that although I could begin a basic conversation, I was unable to understand the reply. Most of the language-learning techniques had been focused on learning from a book. I was totally unprepared for anyone to answer me!

“I was totally unprepared for anyone to answer me!”

Consequently, I began to find any excuse not to go out and test my language skills. I would tell myself that; the weather wasn’t right, the time was wrong, I didn’t know enough words yet. Any excuse would do. I wasn’t fussy.

Consequently, I started to feel really anxious about going out, which obviously had an impact on everything. How could I become fluent in a language when it scared me so much? I put more and more pressure on myself to learn at home and avoided any scenario out of my control, which is completely counter intuitive to learning.

To make my frustrations even worse, Mr Sidestepping-Normal put no pressure on himself at all. Admittedly, he was making even less progress than me (sorry again darling!) but he didn’t stress about it. Whilst I spent hours memorising words, he would contentedly watch a film without any guilt.

Everything began to revolve around my anxiety of going out and speaking Greek. This was a really foreign concept for me (excuse the pun!) because I had never struggled with anxiety before. It was completely controlling me. If you haven’t sussed me out yet, I hate being controlled or told what to do.
I was becoming my own worst enemy and I didn’t know how to solve it.

Do something that scares you everyday…

Dora is also struggling with learning Greek!

As with all good solutions, tea and cake in generous quantities really does help. In conjunction with that, a good friend gave me some very wise advice. She told me that you’re supposed to do something that scares you everyday, in order to stop the fear from controlling you. If you can ignore that little voice inside, telling you that you can’t do something, then you have won.

I started by challenging myself to do something scary everyday. Firstly I walked up to the Kafenion in our village and sat with the villagers. Next, I went to the shop and had a conversation half in Greek and half in English with the lady in the little convenience shop. I also went to the bank and asked to withdraw some money.
I couldn’t believe the euphoric feeling I got when I pushed myself into situations that only days before, I had dreaded. The fear of failing began to subside and I started to grasp the meaning of new words. On top of pushing myself when I was out and about, I also started a job.

Where I’m at now…

You can read about my summer jobs in Greece in this post. Needless to say, working in an environment where I am immersed in Greek, forces me to learn. Additionally, because I am being forced to use the language in my everyday life, I have stopped putting pressure on myself to study at home all the time. This means that Mr Sidestepping-Normal and myself can now enjoy time together, without me stressing us both out.

I will keep you informed on my journey to fluency, but I have now got to the point where I am enjoying the process of learning Greek. It’s far slower than I imagined it being, but it’s become a natural and relaxed process. I’m committed to becoming fluent, but I’ve accepted that it’s going to take time. Luckily I have plenty of that.

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16 thoughts on “Learning Greek: The start of our language journey

  1. Interested to know how learning Greek translated to the Cretan dialect. Is it very different? Did you understand Cretan?
    And can you recommend a self learning app or web site?

    1. Hello! When I was learning Greek in the UK, I had a teacher from Athens. When we arrived in the village, I couldn’t understand anything they said to me!

      I am predominantly focused on learning Greek, and as I gain confidence, I’d like to understand Cretan too. It’s so difficult, and I used to be really tough on myself for not learning quick enough. I’ve taken the pressure off, and although it’s a slower process, I’m getting there.

      I did use duo lingo for a while, and it was great. I also used Greekpod 101 (on you tube.)

      Another thing I used to do, is watch trashy tv programmes such as Greece’s got talent on you tube.

      I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m enjoying it.

      Do you live in Crete? How is your language learning going?

  2. Τα Ελληνικά δεν είναι εύκολα, αλλά είναι μια πόλη όμορφη γλώσσα. Μη σταματάς, θα το καταφέρεις!

  3. All the best with learning Greek and with your lives in Crete. I’m really enjoying reading your blog. Having studied and lived in Crete, I know just how lovely Crete is and would love to move back permanently one day. Have a shot of raki for me. 🙂

    1. Hiya! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Crete is such a special place, it sounds like you have very fond memories of your time here. We’ll be sure to have a raki on you! All the best.

  4. We have a house in vamos crete we would love to know where the best place and cheapest to buy fruit and veg

    At the moment we use lidl

    1. Hello! We use our local greengrocer and head into Rethymno for the market as and when. We’re beginning to grow more vegetables, is that something you’d be interested in doing? You can’t beat homegrown produce?

      We only buy fruits and vegetables that are in season as they are cheaper and for us it makes more sense to eat seasonally. We notice a huge difference between the prices of seasonal and out of season produce.

  5. Hi,I’ve just come across your blog and finding it really interesting as, we like you moved from Sussex to Greece. Although we chose Corfu and bought our school age son with us.
    Six years in, we wouldn’t be anywhere else. I giggled whilst reading about learning Greek, totally right, it must be one of the world’s hardest languages to learn. We have Corfiot to contend with too, as well as quite a few Italian words…. certainly make for interesting conversation.

    1. Hi there, We always love to hear of other people that have done the same. Would it be okay to send you an email? I’m always looking for others that have made a similar move to appear on my blog. If it’s okay, I’ll send you some info to explain more?

      1. Yes of course send me an email. It would be lovely to exchange experiences with you. We sometimes sit back and talk about what has happened in the last six years and, quite honestly can not believe how much we’ve packed in.

  6. I think with learning a foreign language, guys’ egos get in the way–gods forbid they should make a mistake and embarrass themselves! I just kept stomping on forward and making a fool of myself and laughing right along with everyone else when I said something hilariously wrong. Keep at it!

    1. You are so right. When we learn a language as a child, we make lots of funny mistakes, yet when we learn a language as an adult, we beat ourselves up about it.

      Thank you, I’m continuing to gradually learn…Siga siga ?

  7. Hi Mr & Mrs sidestepping normal
    I’m intrigued by your journey and courage immersing yourselves in a new culture. You have encouraged me to seriously learn Greek as I am half Greek (Kytherian and Venetian roots).

    1. Hello! Maybe you will find it easier as you have Greek roots. Good luck with it, let me know how you get on.

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