“So you speak Greek like fluently now right?”
Ha! My American friends have no idea the depth of what they’ve asked.
I remember being on the phone with my little sister the other day when the home phone rang with an unfamiliar number…
Alex wasn’t home to answer in Greek.
So, it was my turn.
I just passed my Greek II midterm at uni, so I got this. I think.
I answer “Nai?” to only recognize the words, “O Alexandros… eki?” which means, “Alex… there?” Yes… I know what they want! It’s an internal victory. So, I answer… “O Alex den einai edo. Ala, O Alex ehei kinito… telephono afto.” Which, more or less, means something like, “Alex isn’t here, but Alex has cell-phone… call this.” Which they then respond with… God knows what.
I get an E for effort struggling to pick apart what they’ve said, only to get a slower version of everything I didn’t get before. Overwhelmed, I say the thing I know best… “Eh… Signomi, den milaw Ellinika polli kala. Den katalava. (Sorry, I don’t speak Greek very well. I didn’t understand).” Which is usually responded with “Edaxi, edaxi (okay, okay),” and the phone clicks.
When I grab my cell-phone to continue the conversation with my sister, she is usually in awe. “Oh my God you sounded so cool. You speak Greek so well.”
She has no idea how entirely dysfunctional the conversation actually went… and I respond with “It’s really not that good. But I try”. And I let her think I actually am as cool as I sounded.
But I wasn’t lying when I said I try. I really do. Although, learning Greek feels like one of those things I will never stop learning… which sounds romantic, but it can be irritating as heck.
It’s considered to be one of the top hardest languages to learn in the world (just directly under Arabic and Mandarin). To give you an idea, in my Greek II language class, we are only learning present simple and continuous, and future simple and continuous tenses. Why? Because the past simple and continuous tenses, (as well as two other tenses that I’m having a hard time translating) are in Greek III… due to the fact that for ONE VERB in ONE TENSE, between first, second and third person, formal and informal, feminine, masculine and neutral, there are about eight variations. When you add the rest of the additional tenses, in total, one verb has approximately, forty-eight variations. ONE VERB. It’s insane.
BUT… despite the difficulties, it is hugely part of the experience. Which is what I signed up for moving here. I’ve grown to enjoy the little victories of correctly telling a taxi driver how to get to my house, ordering a coffee exactly how I want it instead of defaulting to the rehearsed “Ena kafe, parakalo (one coffee, please)”; and asking my Greek friends what they did this weekend and actually understanding thirty percent of their response (yes, thirty-percent is a victory).
One thing I’ve learned with this… you learn to embrace when you screw up royally. Therefore, not taking yourself too seriously.
I remember trying to ask a friend of ours how many sisters he had in Greek “Pos adelfi esai?” Which in Greek, essentially means, “How gay are you?” It was another E for effort attempt to directly translate from English to Greek; but in these cases, context is your worst enemy. But hey, it was so damn funny we still laugh about it.
I often get laughed at here for my attempts gone wrong. But what I love about Greeks, as I mentioned in my Lesson in Culture post, is that they are so supportive of your efforts. They truly do love to hear foreigners make a genuine effort to speak their language. I consider myself lucky for this.
Another thing is that when you began to understand the context of another language… you can then began to understand so much of the culture. It’s hard to explain.. but I used to get kind of pissed when people here would translate from Greek to English “Re… Are you trying to make me crazy??” No, I’m just asking a damn question asshole. Because with this phrase in particular, when it’s directly translated into English, sounds kind of rude. But, after being here a bit, I now understand that the same phrase in Greek would be silly to get offended over. And though it’s not translated too entirely different, this is another case where context, makes a huge difference in meaning. It’s one of the best practices of keeping yourself open minded.
So, in answer to the question if I speak Greek fluently now after seven months here, HELL NO. But, I have learned quite a lot and more than just an increased vocabulary list.