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Greek in 16 Weeks?



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A couple of weeks ago, I booked flights to Greece for early July. I’m flying into Athens where I hope to feast my eyes on Μπριζολάκια (thank you Culinary Backstreets!). I fly out of Crete where I plan to bathe in olive oil and eat Μπουγάτσα (thank you Mr Bourdain!).

Tim FerrissandBenny Lewishave been inspiring me lately. I recently reviewed my success in German and failure in French. Can I learn Greek over the next 16 weeks fast enough to speak with confidence when I arrive? And how do I go about doing that?

DiSSS: Rapid learning
I’ll keep this brief, see here for a more detailed post.

Deconstruction: elements of a language include pronunciation, vocabulary, verb conjugations, sentence construction, reading, writing, listening. For Greek, I’d also add a new alphabet, and typing once loaded on your computer’s language settings

Selection: applying the Pareto principle. One way to do this is to start with the 100 most common words.

Sequencing: this is an important one, involving putting the correct components together. Initially I found this very hard – see below for what I’ve figured out.

Stakes: my objective is to speak with confidence when I arrive – this doesn’t mean I aim to be fluent (around full time work I think that would be tough). I’m hoping my Greek will be somewhere between my current German and French ability. If I fail, I will donate £200 to my anti-charity. If I win, that’s another return flight to Greece in winter.

The plan
Sequencing is one of the hardest bits to get right – and I won’t know I’ve got it right until July! I’ve used Tim Ferriss’ ‘A Bipolar Learning Graph’ in the 4HR Chef, which I think almost fits with my German experience. These planned stages of my learning are based on the graph as follows (I’m using a Gantt Chart to keep track of my progress).

Stage 0: Basic grounding (weeks 1-2)
- Use Memrise to practice the alphabet (big thanks to user somada141 who has put some excellent Greek courses together)
- Learn the top 100 words with my own Memrise course (which unfortunately has no audio)
- Basic language deconstruction

Stage 1: Sugar high (weeks 3-4)
As I post it is the beginning of week 3. This stage will see me with over-inflated confidence as I parrot rote-learned material from Memrise.
- Continue with Memrise for basic phrases, vocab and grammar
- Start speaking with natives (yes, in London!)

Stage 2: Improvising (weeks 5-6)
My confidence will plummet here as my basic rote phrases give way to improvising and my initial attempts to think in the langauge
- Continue with Memrise with more advanced phrases and vocab
- Speak with natives about myself and family, start addressing my most common errors
- Come to grips with phrases like “what is XYZ in Greek?” so I can start to build language within the language

Stage 3: Recovery of confidence (weeks 7-8)
Once I start to take charge of the improve I’ll feel better about my abilities. Similar to the beginnings of my ‘comprehension without response’ second stage in German
- Memrise will be drawing to a close here save for more advanced phrases
- I’ll be compiling my own Memrise courses (for personal use, unless I find a Greek speaker willing to do the audio) on my pet topic: food
- Continue to speak with natives, and compile a one page bio in Greek

Stage 4: Plateau (weeks 9-14)
Confidence will stay flat while my mind continues to absorb more material and advanced grammar use.
- Key part here is to keep talking to natives, about my favourite topics: food and travel
- Around this time I ramp up exposure to native material, radio etc.

Stage 5: Point of inflection (weeks 15-16)
This will be similar to my final stage in German – confidence boom. Around this time I start to gain confidence in my speaking ability, reflecting a plateau of absorption. Key here is to be speaking to natives as much as possible, and exposing myself to native material.

Arrival in Greece (weeks 17-18)
And it’ll be straight off to the food markets.

Someone has told me ‘Greek is a useless language to learn’ as only a small population of the world speaks it. The population fact may be true, but I disagree that it is useless. There are huge Greek expat/migrant communities around the world, and it is in the top 7 languages spoken in Australia for whenever I return home.

Now, I’ve set myself some pretty ambitious targets – aiming to be ‘almost’ fluent before I even set foot in the country. There is a pretty high chance I will not reach my goal. But by pushing myself I will absorb something to build upon for future trips – getting only halfway there will not be in vain. I’d welcome any comments if you have suggestions or think my plan has any serious flaws!

Edit: See here for an update on my progress