With the school year ended (finally!), rather than give you an over view of my classes, I thought I would share my experience learning ancient Greek. This language course was both the most exciting part of the school year and the most work-intensive. Since many magical and esoteric texts are composed in this language, those of you considering picking up Greek might wish to take my experience into consideration.
I originally planned to take this course last year. But since the 2010-2011 school year was my first year back at university after a ten-year hiatus, I (wisely) decided against it. Though I was mentally prepared to take the course this year, I will say that if you aren’t fully committed to learning the language, your best bet is to wait until you are. I say this based from observing my classmates (about half dropped out) as well as on my own experience.
To be honest, despite feeling ready to tackle Greek, I was somewhat naïve about what the course would entail. I figured my professor would teach the course, and I, the student, would learn the material. Piece of cake. To paraphrase my old karate sensei, I thought I could “just show up” and things would fall into place. That was not to be. I had some indication of this when I purchased the book and the first lesson was entirely in Greek characters. Seriously, This is the first page that isn’t a table of contents: I turned to The Husband and said, “Surely, the professor will teach us a whole bunch of things before we get into this stuff.” I mean, look at that page. It’s completely unintelligible. Our first class, the teacher gave us the alphabet, went over what the letters sounded like and said, “Learn the alphabet over the weekend and translate the first reading.” (Yes, that one up there.) In other words, figure out that big mess of text. Um, sure.
Personally, I was torn. I really, really wanted to learn Greek, if for no other reason than for grad school. On the other hand, these were some massive expectations. This is the point where I realized that learning ancient Greek would require more than showing up for class and doing the exercises. It would require work. Steady, regular, brain punishing work.
Rather than give up the first day (believe me I thought about—if only for a second), I decided to double down and attack this monster. It took me a half-hour to read aloud the first reading, and probably an hour to translate it. This alone is enough to defeat your ego—struggling with your own voice to maneuver through a passage where every word is a stumbling block in terms of both meaning and pronunciation is killer. But it can be done. Obviously, or I’d be writing you about something else right now. Probably about donuts or other snack food. Mmmm…snack food.
ιου, ιου! Test scores from L-R: 98.5%, 96.5%, 99%, 103.6% (!!!), 100%
My personal goal for the course was not just to do well, but to really master what we were learning. To accomplish this, I put in over an hour of study time each day, including weekends and when I was sick. Often, I put in two hours. But rarely—Rarely!—less than one. As the class made its way through the readings, what started out as a small stack of flash cards to learn the alphabet, turned into pile and piles of 4″x6″ index cards scrawled with the latest vocabulary and grammatical notes. If you are considering taking Greek, I suggest getting “interactive” with it. Make cards. Make your own grammar book. Practice out loud translating readings and learning new terms and word styles. Get a notebook and decline a noun several times in a row. Ditto for verb endings. And then do it again the next day. Studying in this way really forces you to learn the material, as opposed to just glancing through the book and forgetting it later. Plus, you’ll get a good sense of where your strengths are and what areas need more work.
By the end of the semester I was averaging 100% on my tests (for real!), and earned an A+ for the course. But it was not without a ton of hard work and regular practice. That said, I found this class the most rewarding of my courses because I was able to see my progress and tangibly realize the results of my efforts. The only downside is that, even after a year, we’re only about half-way through the basic grammar, which means my comprehension is still severely limited. Also, since it is a dead language, I can’t do things like go to Greek Town and order a beer. Which is important. I can order a beer in three languages. Αncient Greek, however, is not one of them.*
I highly recommended learning ancient Greek. If you’re up for a challenge and enjoy working hard and learning new things, you will love it.
*If you know how to order a beer in ancient Greek, help a sister out and post in the comments below!