Tuesday, November 18, 2008

learning a language...

Well, almost 2 months have gone by since my time in Greece began. It’s hard to believe. I was reflecting on my first few days here and how nervous I was walking around the city having practically no knowledge of the language and no idea what the layout was. For those of you who know me well enough, you also know that my sense of direction isn’t much to call home about. So, my first few days were spent looking at maps, trying as hard as possible to ingrain street names, directions, and locations into my brain as much as possible. Thessaloniki is really quite easy to navigate though, thankfully, and everything is pretty straight forward, especially here in the center.

Many people here (especially students) speak English...for better or for worse (for better at first, for worse when you want to speak Greek with them but they get impatient and switch to English).

I have made friends with some really wonderful Greek students. Besides the fact that they are all-around great people, they are also very patient with my current child-like speaking abilities and are willing to converse with me and correct me all at once. This is a real blessing, because I was finding it difficult to jump on opportunities to speak Greek, especially at first, when people would always want to switch to English. I’ve contemplated the idea of, at some point just saying, in response to their immediate switch to English, ῾Δεν μιλἀω αγγλικἀ. Μιλάω μονο γαλλικἀ῾ (i.e. “I don’t speak english. I only speak French...which is not true...so if they actually spoke french, I’d have to claim muteness or something...Δεν μιλἀω καθόλου...I don’t speak AT ALL :)).

I have also started assisting at the reader’s stand for orthros at St. George’s (below me). It’s a lot of fun because I can learn Greek and a little byzantine chant all at once. It is strange to assist in a language that is foreign (although less and less so everyday). As of now, I read the Trisagion Prayers (Holy God...etc) the petitions (Lord have mercy etc) and some other short prayers. Slowly but surely I’m learning some of the longer prayers and tones. What a process though. I was telling someone the other day that it’s like opening up door and finding a whole other world on the other side. It’s actually much more exciting than I anticipated, even just to come across new words that will help beef up my vocabulary etc. It’s also a GREAT lesson in patience. One that I fail at regularly. There are some days when I feel like I am learning absolutely nothing, and others when I feel like everything is going so fast.

At the church, the chanter is a very nice elderly man named Nicholas. We’ve begun having rather long chats after church. He only speaks broken English, so it’s a perfect situation, because we speak mostly in Greek, but when I don’t understand a word, he will use a combination of English, Greek and complex hand gestures to explain it to me. He’s also very patient, and one of the few elderly Greeks that I have met who will actually speak clearly, slowly and didactically. It occurred to me that most Greeks from the older generations are definitely not as acclimated to the increasing globalization that the younger generations (esp in America) experience...where it’s common to have to speak slowly to a foreigner etc.

Anywho, all in all it’s pretty surreal that in two months I went from having virtually no understanding of modern Greek (and a bit of background in ancient Greek) to where I am now, albeit a FAR shot from being anywhere close to comfortable/fluent. Still a long ways to go, but I’m learning (and was told by a very nice priest here) that like many things, it’s as much about the process as it is about the result.

For any of you polyglots out there. If you have any tidbits of advice to throw my way, I’d certainly appreciate it. I’ve gotten some great advice thus far, which has REALLY been helpful, but I can always use more.

Ok, hope all is well with everyone!

with love in Christ,

1 comment:

Aaron Friar said...

That's great about your conversations with Nicholas the Greek chanter. I remember my first conversations like this in Russia.

It was incredibly satisfying just putting a few simple sentences together. And another world... definitely. Much different experiencing a culture through translation and experiencing it direct.