Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I really do want to learn Greek. It's made challenging in general here by the fact that virtually everybody speaks English. (Most of the people I've met who don't speak English don't speak Greek, either, or at least, not more than I do.) Added to that the fact that I'm surrounded by English-speakers (and one German-speaker) and don't really get out much, and it's kind of amazing that I've learned any Greek at all.

Before we moved to Cyprus I did a few lessons on-line, which meant that when we arrived, I could point to a table and say with confidence in Greek, "This is a table!" and to a window and say, "That is a window!" But not a whole lot more. I learned the alphabet from a book and learned some greetings and a few more nouns from Greek speakers at Tots and Co.. After we'd been here for a few months, we took four or five private lessons as a family, but that wasn't really effective for me, as I was already "so far ahead" of the others, nor for the others, because they weren't that interested, and although it wasn't too expensive for what we were getting, it wasn't too good for our budget.

Finally, in October of our first year here (so nine months after moving to Cyprus), I was able to start a beginning Greek course subsidized by the government. An hour and a half each lesson, once a week, from October to May, excluding all sorts of holidays and of course Christmas and Easter vacations of two weeks each, so I think about 25 lessons, in all. I missed the first two classes because I was sick, but as the first six or so weeks were spent learning to read, that didn't matter. Then I missed five lessons while we were in the U.S. and Germany for my parents' anniversary (and my brother's wedding and a bunch of birthdays and visiting lots and lots and LOTS of people), but it turned out to be disappointingly easy to catch up. (Disappointing because it meant that the class was moving VERY slowly.) At the end of the class I got a lovely certificate that I can read out loud but don't understand, which says, I assume, that I completed the first level of Greek.

Then in September I got the news that there were going to be new classes starting, sponsered by the European Union, and that they would be completely free of charge. (The previous class was something like €45, which for 25-ish lessons isn't bad, but free is of course nicer!) Andrea and I went to sign up, with the idea that at least from October until the end of March, she'd be available to babysit during my class. They weren't sure exactly when the classes would start, and we waited and waited. I wasn't sure I'd be able to manage the second level class anyway, as I was going to miss another five weeks with yet another trip to the U.S. (this time for my sister's wedding and my mother's birthday and Thanksgiving and visiting lots, but not lots and LOTS, of people). However, the classes didn't start and didn't start.

At the end of December I finally decided to get serious with the free, on-line Greek course, and talked Marie and Jörn into joining me. We didn't do too badly at first, doing the first three lessons in the last three days of December, and finishing the first 15 lessons by the end of January. We only managed five lessons in the whole month of February, and then the speakers quit working. I got new speakers for my birthday, but we've only listened twice this month, and one of those times was repeating lesson 20. So no longer quite so impressive, although we are pleased to be able to recognize some improvement.

And now, on Monday, the 28th of March, a mere six months after registering for the free program, I received a text message telling me to appear at a certain school on Wednesday, the 30th of March, at 7:30 p.m., to discuss times for the class and to take a placement test. So, this evening, I showed up. The good thing was that the teacher spoke almost entirely in Greek. The problem was that it was veryveryfastandIhardlyunderstoodaword. Nobody else understood either, though, so she did finally explain the paperwork in English. And then she gave us the test paper. No explanations, nothing in any language except Greek. Which I do think is good, but MAN was that difficult!! I'm really hoping that the idea of this test was not to ace it, but to be able to do enough of it to be in the level 2 course. If I have to go back to the beginning course and spend another month reviewing the alphabet, I know that I won't even bother.

Most of the test was matching or multiple choice, and it wasn't made in such a way that it was possible to fill in the answers without understanding anything. (That is why I don't speak any French although I got an A in the one semester of French I took in college: the tests were, first of all, anything but comprehensive, and second, had all the answers within them. So, for example, if one question said to translate "The cat is in the box" into French, another page was sure to have a picture of a cat in a box to match up to the sentence "The cat is in the box." With no motivation to study, I spent the whole semester in the back of the class chatting in Spanish with an exchange student from Spain, who also got an A and also didn't learn any French.) One section was someone describing his house, and then there was a list of statements that we had to mark as true or false. But, for example, where in the paragraph it said "the kitchen is large", the statement referring to the kitchen said "the kitchen is not small." So far so good. (Or not...I left some blank, rather than guess wildly, since the point wasn't to try to get a high score, but show what I actually know.)

The last section, however, was an essay question. Always my favorite in high school, because, depending on the teacher, I could sometimes waffle on for ages and never answer the question but still get a good grade because at least what I wrote was semi-coherent and spelled correctly, etc. (That didn't work with EVERY teacher, but I certainly knew with which ones.) But that was in ENGLISH! For this one, there were two choices. At least it was easy to decide, because I didn't understand at all what the first choice was. The second one, however, was to write a letter to a friend telling about what I do on the weekend. 80 to 100 words. After I'd written everything I could think of (carefully starting with "How are you? I'm fine!" so as to get in four words ("how are you" is only two words in Greek), I counted up, and I only had 43 words!

Then as I started to write again, my cell phone rang. I could just barely hear Marie's voice telling me that Elisabeth was NOT happy, which was pretty obvious, since that was the reason I couldn't hear Marie. I suggested that Jörn bring her to me, and sat down to write some more, this time looking through the reading comprehension questions to get some more ideas of verbs to use, and adding in some things I don't do. I was getting close to finished when I heard some wailing, and Jörn walked in with Elisabeth. She was not interested in nursing, she was just plain furious with me. After she yelled in my face for a minute or two (yes, I did go outside with her for the sake of the other students!), she quieted down, and just sat on my lap while I finished up.

The classes start next week, twice a week. A couple of friends have said that they're willing to babysit if Jörn isn't here, but I'm not sure what to do with Elisabeth either way. If we'd started last autumn, she would have been sleeping most of the time and not mobile anyway, and everyone would have been used to her by the time she got a little more active, but taking her with me starting now would probably be a huge distraction. I'm thinking of taking Marie with me, to go out with Elisabeth when she wants to play, but then Jörn (or a babysitter) has to put the little ones to bed without Marie's help, which isn't much fun.

I really do want to learn Greek, but I'm not willing to make Elisabeth miserable with it. We'll see how it goes...

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