Today’s headline translates to “how’s school?” And to that, we say, pretty darn good. (And thanks for asking!).
The kids are a month into their Greek school. They have some friends, they’re playing Basket(ball) and they swim twice a week as an extracurricular activity but it’s during the school day. They love riding the bus, eating lunch outside and computer class, and this week each had a field trip.
Peter is picking up Greek quite well. The other day I asked him to come to me and he responded in Greek. The child always has a song in his head and lately they seem to be little Greek songs he’s learned in school. His pronunciation is near-perfect … he says his friends’ names with all the right accents and the exact right letter sounds. He also hollars “pou pas?!” (where are you going?!) at passing drivers who go too fast and “fige” (scram) at anyone bothering him.
Michael’s work is more difficult, but he works hard and rarely complains. He’s got at least an hour and half of homework a night for Greek language — spelling, reading, writing — and this is after three hours of it in school. He’s also got math and English homework most nights too. His penmanship is quite handsome and he does a nice job forming his letters. He seems not to be confused by them like I am. It was very interesting watching him start to learn — Kyria Elena taught him all the letter sounds and how to read words before he learned any of alphabet or the names of the letters. Within a couple of days he had all the lsounds and all of the accents down and was reading like a champ — Elena said it didn’t matter that he didn’t know the meanings of the words, it was more important that he could sound them out. The alphabet came this week along with verb declinations. More on verbs later. He is quite proud this week for being given a ‘student of the week’ badge in English. And math is just fine — most of what they’re doing now are things he learned in first grade; the challenge of course is that the directions and problems are all in Greek. But between Google translate, Papou and Kyria Mamika’s explanations before he leaves school, it’s going just fine.
Demetri and I started Greek language school October 2. We’re commuting to Maroussi, a city on the north side of Athens. It’s a hike — about 90 minutes by train. But, we have the time, we get to be together and it’s fun watching all the Athenian commuters negotiate the Metro and the busy downtown stations. Demetri has taken two intensive language courses with this school — both in the summer on Greek islands — and he really enjoyed the teaching staff and how they approach the language. I feel το ίδιο, the same. I’m the only American in a class of 5 and all of the others speak at least two languages, so I feel like a total slacker. Demetri is in the advanced class and he’s got private lessons.
Greek isn’t easy. The alphabet is confusing. In July, I asked Demetri what sound the o with the feet (Ω) makes. All of you who went to large universities with fraternities and sororities are already ahead of me because you likely know the alphabet. I had to start there … and I used toddler letter books to semi-teach myself the alphabet over the summer. Papou helped. I wrote down expressions phonetically (in English) that I used often but now that I’m in school I can see that something I thought was one word is actually three. Demetri is experiencing the same thing with things he’s known how to say all his life. Keeping the letters straight (there are 5 letters or letter combinations for the long ‘e’ sound, for example) is one thing, and the verb declinations are something else entirely. Papou tells me that you don’t have to use pronouns because the verb’s ending tells you what the person and tense is. Kostas, my Greek teacher, says the same about pronouns being extraneous. But Kyria Elena is teaching Michael the verbs with the pronouns, which makes sense for overall knowledge. Michael and I have been working this week on conjugating ‘be’ and ‘have.’ He also got some kid-typical verbs like cut, run and play, and I’m working on drink, do and live. Demetri wins the verb prize — he’s stuck in conjugation hell. While Michael and I are working on present tense only, Demetri is in past, future, present, past perfect, future perfect … and so on. He says the more he learns the more he realizes he doesn’t know. His class notes have mostly Greek letters with notes to himself in English. I haven’t been able to switch my brain to think in Greek (and I don’t know enough) so my notes are Greeklish – Latin letters to make Greek sounds.
I have always giggled at the word ‘Greeklish.’ I tend to use it when I use the greek word I know and the rest in English (“Kalimera, may I please have dio koulouri with tyri? Gia sas. Tha ithala chocolate milkshake?”). But it also means using the Latin alphabet in Greek words, like in my notes from class. This habit, being employed by a lot of young people in general, is becoming a big problem. They’re choosing not to spell correctly and it’s ending up bastardizing the language. So a word might end with an η (ita) but that letter is replaced by an ι (iota — it’s an i but there’s no dot, which as an aside, is THE hardest habit for me to break) in a text or an email. You have to know how to spell to get the whole language right — because if you don’t know Vouliagmeni actually ends in an η (Βουλιαγμένη), you’ll have the wrong article in front of it and it looks neutral but it’s really feminine. I forgot to mention all nouns have genders too.
Some say that Greece will eventually move to a Latin alphabet. Turkey has. Demetri is seeing movement already in articles and publications where the Latin ‘m’ is being used instead of μ, but I’m sure it will be many years before Greece lets go of its alphabet that was invented in 800 BC.
But, it’s fun to be learning it. I attempted to read an email from school today before automatically pasting it into Google translate. Not there yet. I still predict Michael and Peter will be speaking it with ease by Christmas.