Of all the goals we had when we came to Greece, the biggest was to learn the language. I’ve written a lot about the kids and their command of Greek. Demetri and I held our own too, and that is all thanks to Omilo, an Athens-based language and culture school. For almost six months, two days a week, Demetri and I commuted to Omilo’s office in Maroussi, a north suburb. Demetri found the school in 2016 and took two week-long intensive classes in 2016 and 2017. That’s Omilo’s secret sauce: they attract students with a course on one of the beautiful Greek islands or in lovely Nafplio at Easter time. How can you not love it?
We loved going to school and loved learning Greek. My little beginner group and our lessons were the highlight for me from October to April. Demetri was in a different class, as he’s been hearing Greek his whole life and had taken 40 hours of classes already. The kids and I had to start with letter sounds. My class was five: Xion from South Korea, Barbara from Germany, Lucy from China, Diane from London and me.
Demetri, witty in both English and Greek, jokes that we speak two languages: English and American. I was humbled by my classmates who were all learning their fourth or fifth language IN a foreign language. Sometimes I found myself listening to them ask a question in English and wondering how their minds could so easily think and switch between their native language and these other languages. They made it look so easy.
Our teacher was the immensely talented, ever patient Konstantinos, who has a great sense of humor, fantastic sound effects and spot-on sign language. He taught in a way that made it fun, even when it was difficult. The Omilo ‘method’ is terrific: lots of interactive talking where we learned, and repeated and built from the base, reading and learning from the textbook chapters, homework that was fun, and flash cards to give us the visuals of what we were talking about. Everything Omilo teaches from start to finish is incredibly useful for everyday life: clothes, food, transportation, shopping, travel, and directions. We also read short stories about different parts of Greece and studied the map. It was in class that I learned about Meteora.
I can say with some confidence that my Greek is now good enough to be ‘transactional,’ though the more I learned the more difficult it was and the more I realized how much there is still to go. After 6-8 weeks in school, I felt comfortable talking to someone supermarket, the bakery and asking a basic question of Kyria Soula or Kyrie Aleko (school bus; see photo) about something for school. I didn’t always understand the answer. One morning over breakfast, Peter made me practice and repeat what he wanted me to say to Kyria Soula. One day in March, the girls from class (Xion left in December) met near Syntagma for coffee and language practice when some Indian tourists asked if we knew where the tourist police was. We had just had the lesson about directions that week, so I was able to ask the staff of the nearby deli … and to my delight I understood what they said and helped the folks outside.
One March day, though, was the icing on the cake for my studies. Shortly after we started the lessons for future tense, I went to school to pay the remainder of the boys’ basketball bill. I walked in, greeted the very kind Kyria Vagia at the front desk and said, «Θα ηθηλα να πληρωσω το λογαριασμο για τον μπασκετ, παρακαλο.» The school staff had always been gracious and patient with my English, but on this day, Kyria Xenia, the Δημοτικο secretary hugged me and said I spoke Greek so well and how last summer I knew NOTHING. NOTHING! NOTHING! (Yep, three times. It was so funny). And then she took me into the accounting office and told Kyria Chrysanthi, the accountant, the same thing and asked me to repeat my payment request. I felt ten feet tall and it was all because of Konstantinos. They wanted to know where I had studied the language and learned so fast and I was only happy to sing the praises of Omilo.
I am already plotting my next Greek lessons, because I’m just dying to learn the past tense of verbs. As Diane so aptly put it: we (humans) really spent more time talking about what we have done rather than what we’re going to do. Past tense enables conversation. But until we can be Omilo students again, Demetri and I will avidly read the Omilo newsletter and blog, published in Greek and English.