“It’s all Greek to me,” they say. Well, Ancient Greek quite literally is.
Anyone who wants to learn a foreign and ancient language must be interested in the ancient classical Athenian philosophers’ old writings or want to impress their peers with their linguistic capabilities.
Regardless of your motivations, you must be quite brave to tackle such a daunting challenge.
Your efforts are commendable, but how will you start this journey? Luckily for you, the process can be quite simple – the hard part is keeping yourself motivated and sticking to your language learning plan.
Certainly, the process explained below as to how one would go about learning Ancient Greek on their own will aid you in reaching your language learning goals.
What To Prepare Before Learning Ancient Greek On Your Own?
Teaching yourself any language is near impossible without the necessary learning resources. The exception is learning while immersed in a country with native speakers of your target language (staying in Bordeaux to learn French, for instance).
However, finding an Ancient Greek community in this period will be difficult. Therefore, you should gather some resources to aid your learning.
Textbooks For Learning Ancient Greek
Textbooks, though not always the most enjoyable manner of learning, certainly contain a wealth of information. They will provide the depth you need to understand a facet of Ancient Greek and are always a great point of reference.
Some textbooks will also provide you with language exercises. Snoop around for the books that would best fit your needs.
Here are a few textbooks for learning Ancient Greek:
- Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers
- Introduction to Attic Greek by Donald J. Mastronarde
- Greek: An Intensive Course by Hardy Hansen
- Not textbooks per se, but the works of Plato, Aristotle, and other Classical philosophers will contain a lot of helpful vocabulary and aid as reading practice.
Online Resources For Learning Ancient Greek
The internet holds an immense wealth of knowledge for those willing to put in the effort and teach themselves something. For beginner learners, there is a subreddit called r/IntroAncientGreek, setting out in lesson format the basics you need to get started on your language learning journey.
Here is a list of additional online resources that is sure to help:
- AtticGreek.org is a website dedicated to supplementing the textbook by Donald Mastronarde. It contains everything from pronunciation guides and practice to conjugation practice and everything in between.
- Anki is a flashcard application that cannot get enough praise in the language learning community. You are sure to find dedicated decks online, or you can create your own.
- The University of Chicago compiled a list of Ancient Greek handouts in PDF format. These are really helpful summaries – great for putting up on a wall or revision.
- YouTube will naturally have many lectures for you to watch on many topics regarding Ancient Greece. Check it out!
In addition, looking for Ancient Greek podcasts on your streaming service of choice may be a smart idea. Listening practice is invaluable.
You can collect all of these resources before or after starting your journey, but we recommend having a few on hand once you learn Ancient Greek.
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1. Become Acquainted With The Greek Alphabet
Teaching yourself a language like Ancient Greek becomes especially daunting because it’s written in an entirely different script.
Well, that is partly true. Unlike the Japanese or Mandarin writing style, the Ancient Greek alphabet shares many similarities to the Roman alphabet.
Learning the alphabet is recommended before learning the respective language to avoid dependence on Roman letters at later stages in the learning process.
Diving into the deep end and learning words written in the source script will help with memory retention when you eventually start reading Ancient Greek texts.
Furthermore, one of the best ways to acquire any new language is through immersion – a process wherein you surround yourself constantly with objects, sounds, and readings related to the target language.
Learning the Ancient Greek alphabet is another step in creating your own little Athens.
2. Learn The Diphthongs And Accents In Ancient Greek
Diphthongs are an essential part of most European languages, and equally so in Ancient Greek. Getting familiar with the diphthongs found in Ancient Greek will aid your reading ability, as you will start to notice the patterns in writing.
It will also aid your speaking since most Ancient Greek vocabulary contains at least one diphthong.
Accents, or diacritics, are also a big part of Ancient Greek writing, and they give you an indication of the type of pronunciation a word demands, whether it be concerning tone, stress, or accent.
Diacritics (derived from the Greek word diakritikos) are usually in the form of a tiny line or dot on top or beneath a letter, such as the one found on the “e” of the French word “cliché.”
3. Recite The Alphabet And Practice Pronunciation
The next step in the process is reciting the alphabet, as you had to do when you were taught your ABCs. Visualize the letter you are saying, as this will help you retain the knowledge you picked up through practice.
Furthermore, recite the alphabet in the way one would do the ABCs (e.g., alpha for α or beta for β) as well as reciting it the way it would usually be pronounced in a word (e.g., “ah” for α).
Once you have memorized the alphabet and are confident enough to read some basic words, look for some online supplements – something where a word is displayed, and someone gives the pronunciation after.
Read the word and judge yourself based on how close you got to the correct pronunciation.
This method is a fun exercise that will get your mouth acquainted with making the right shapes.
4. Start Reading A Textbook And Follow Their Curriculum
Pick your textbook(s) of choice and get to reading! The more attentively you read the textbook, the more information you retain.
Although it isn’t always the most stimulating way to learn a language, many learners will attest to its effectiveness. In essence, you are laying the foundation for the future of your language learning journey.
Sometimes you may feel like you are learning parts of a language you will never remember, but a flame may flicker when it comes up in a future reading.
Going back to the textbook in instances like this will establish stronger neural pathways, and eventually, the language rules will become second nature to your brain.
5. Memorize The Most Basic Ancient Greek Vocabulary
Here is the perfect opportunity to put your Anki flashcards to use. Download the app (or any other flashcards app of your choice) with a corresponding deck of flashcards and begin running through them daily.
We recommend getting a smaller deck at first (around 200 words) before scaling up to something bigger to not overwhelm yourself and cause burnout. Get confident with the basic 200 words first.
The concept of learning through spaced repetition is great about the Anki app, especially concerning language learning (though it can apply to numerous fields).
Spaced repetition in this sense means that the more you get a certain word right, the less likely you are to see it in the future.
If you keep getting a word wrong, that word will come up in the deck more often until you start getting it right.
6. Familiarize Yourself With The Parts Of Speech
Even though you may have noticed all of the grammatical aspects and parts of speech in your readings throughout the textbook, it is essential to solidify your understanding of this knowledge.
Therefore, we recommend that you read through alternative sources on the same topics.
Follow this process with everything from nouns, articles, adjectives and adverbs, pronouns, and so forth. Hearing another explanation on a topic is all you need to finally snap what was meant in the first place.
It’s best to use online tutorials or videos since these are often written or made in a less academic language than your standard textbook. The lack of jargon will bring a refreshing take to the table.
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7. Get Used To The Sentence Structure In Ancient Greek
The word order used to make sentences in Ancient Greek is quite a difficult part of the language. Ancient Greek is believed to have a free word order, but it is a little more complicated than that in most instances.
This order is especially contrasting in a language such as English, where the sentence structure usually follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) order.
Unlike English, Greek uses the inflections of endings of different nouns to derive the function and consequential meaning of a word in a sentence. In English, it is generally the position of the word in the sentence that serves this goal.
8. Learn The Basics Of Verb Conjugations
The interesting thing about Ancient Greek sentence structure is that a verb can be a whole sentence. This rule goes because Greek verbs alone express five important pieces of information: the person(s), singular or plural, time, mood, and voice.
Consequently, understanding how verbs are put together will boost your Ancient Greek to new heights as you can make many inferences from a single word.
Furthermore, verbs are used in almost every single sentence of a language; therefore, you cannot survive without knowing their basic conjugations.
9. Start Putting Basic Sentences Together
One of the greatest tips anyone can receive in language learning is that you need to write! Reading is extremely helpful in helping your brain absorb and retain information, but you need to flex your brain muscles when you start writing in another language.
Practice writing the Greek alphabet first if you haven’t done that already. After that, you can proceed to write sentences in Greek.
Write basic sentences about your day or whatever else comes to mind. Be mindful of the language’s grammatical aspects rather than the vocabulary. Spelling, however, should also be of great importance here.
If you know someone who knows Ancient Greek (likely a Classicist at a university) willing to correct your writing, that will save you a lot of effort.
Sometimes, though, the more tedious manner of correcting your own mistakes is more rewarding. Take the time to read through what you wrote and look up what you need to check on the internet (or in your textbook).
10. Start Reading Or Listening To Ancient Greek Literature
Here comes the fun part of the language learning process (and likely the reason you studied Ancient Greek in the first place).
Find your book of choice and start reading it page for page, looking up words you know and relishing that you may recognize some.
Once again, keep special focus on the grammatical aspects of the target text. This exercise is an opportunity to see all the rules you’ve learned so far in quick successive action.
Your reading will start tediously, and it will feel like everything is happening at a snail’s pace, but as your ability and confidence improve, so will the enjoyability of the exercise.
Listening practice is also extremely important in language acquisition. Use a podcast on Ancient Greek literature, philosophy, mythology, or other aspects of their civilization that you find interesting to aid your learning.
The fun part about this is that you are learning more than just language! Stimulating your brain with interesting facts while trying to absorb vocabulary will help it stick better.
11. Keep Practicing And Filling The Gaps In Your Knowledge
By this point in your journey, you must have some idea of where your Ancient Greek language ability lies. You should also know your greatest strengths (the vocabulary you’re most likely to repeat, tenses or voices you usually talk in, etc.) and, therefore, what your weaknesses are.
Try and spot these weaknesses and find extra time to practice them specifically until you’ve achieved some mastery.
Find yourself a language partner. Websites/apps such as Tandem are great for connecting like-minded language learners worldwide.
With no sign-up fees and an extensive list of built-in tools (translating and correcting others’ mistakes, for instance), you are sure to make a lot of progress while having fun chatting with someone. What’s more, Tandem supports Ancient Greek!
If you feel like you cannot improve your studies alone anymore, try signing up for an online course or enrolling at a university. There are sure to be many tutors willing to aid you in your studies as well (at a fee, that is).
Complete the exercises in the textbooks and the ones included in the online resources. These are immensely helpful in keeping your mind active and engaged. Furthermore, they are a great measure of your progress.
As you gain more and more confidence, you should start thinking in Greek automatically.
If this does not happen out of nature for you, then you should consider trying to do it actively. Say your actions out loud in Greek or try and think about abstract concepts in the target language.
Many language learners have testimonies of how they have dreamt in their target language several times throughout their language learning journey.
Although they couldn’t necessarily remember the specifics of what they said, this is an exciting concept that shows that the target language is present in their underlying thinking. Imagine dreaming in Ancient Greek!
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The steps mentioned above will help you understand Ancient Greek over time. Starting from the Greek alphabet (almost the only step we recommend should happen in order), you will progress through this journey with ups and downs.
The important part is to stay motivated and remember why you chose to study Ancient Greek. After that, retaining vocabulary and grammar rules should be breezy.