* Prices may differ from that shown
As a regular visitor to Cyprus, I used to lazily rely on the fact that most Cypriots speak fairly good English, so apart from the usual niceties ("Good morning", "Thank You", "Please" etc.) I never really made much of an effort to get my head around the complexities of Greek language. However, because I have a vaguely Mediterranean look about me, my polite efforts at pleasantries usually resulted in a delighted riposte of quick-fire local lingo which I had no hope of keeping up with, never mind understanding.
I was a little fed up of trotting out the necessary but embarrassing line that always followed such aborted exchanges - "Milateh Anglika?" ("Do you speak English?"), so, in a fit of optimism, I decided a little self-improvement was in order. Determined to learn enough to hold at least one round of a conversation in Greek, I cast about for an effortless way to learn the basics.
After trying (and discarding) a series of cheap and cheerful traditional language CD's that didn't hold my interest, I stumbled upon the Earworms Musical Brain Trainer (MBT) series on Amazon. Intrigued by the different learning style promised in the description, I ordered Rapid Greek: Volume 1 from Amazon.co.uk for a very reasonable £9.74 (RRP £14.99).
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Earworms MBT marries memorable, specially composed rhythmic music with Greek vocabulary and phrases which are repeated in both Greek and English a few times. The CD aims to teach you around 200 essential words and phrases by using memory hooks (ex. the Greek word for "excuse me" - "me seehoreeteh" - can be remembered as "messy oil heater") and sound patterns in the music to anchor them in your long-term memory. It is supposed to be an "effortless and enjoyable" way of learning.
The two voice "actors" on the CD are a native English speaker (Andrew) and a native Greek speaker (Maria). The latter helps you to hear and pick up the native accent naturally. The CD is supported by a substantial booklet which is essential reading, providing the English phrase, its Greek equivalent in phonetic English, and also in the Greek alphabet to help familiarise the user with reading Greek text as well.
The instructions suggest that you listen to the whole album in one go the first time you get it to "tune in" to the sounds of the language. It then suggests you listen to it several times over a period of one or two weeks, actively speaking the words out loud to practice the pronunciation, followed by a review listen once a week or so to keep it fresh in your mind. Like any learning, the memory will fade unless it is exercised regularly.
The CD-ROM can be downloaded to your PC and on to your MP3 player. I can plug my iPod into my car stereo system, so I mainly listened to the lessons on my way to and from work. The Greek accent can sometimes be hard to understand, so I often checked how it was written in the booklet when I got to my destination.
WHAT'S ON THE CD?
There are two separate volumes (Volume 2 is purchased separately) with the first one (Volume 1) concentrating on the more basic words and phrases such as asking for things, ordering food, numbers and days, directions, where and what time, dealing with emergencies and useful phrases in and around the airport. The second volume concentrates more on social interactions.
DOES IT WORK?
I tended to dip into and out of the CD instead of listening to the whole thing in one sitting, and utilised the shuffle function on my iPod to rotate the lessons around to mix things up a bit. As a result, I listened to some modules more than others. After the first few listens, the words and phrases really started to stick in my head and, as I got my tongue around the pronunciation, I quite enjoyed repeating the phrases back to myself in my car.
After two months of listening to the CD on and off, we went to Cyprus on holiday, and I was really keen to try out my new found knowledge. We usually go to the same taverna on our first night, and when the waiter came and greeted us, I launched into the local lingo, saying "I would like a mineral water with ice and lemon please."
My confidence drained away when I saw the blank look on his face - thinking I had said something either terrible or insulting by accident. So I felt a curious combination of relief and disappointment when he answered "I am sorry, I am from Romania. I don't speak Greek."
That little episode aside, the CD served me very well over the course of the holiday and by the end of it, I was having basic conversations with the Greek neighbours in our holiday complex. They loved that I was trying to learn and encouraged me at every opportunity, - usually over "ena café elleniki - sketo parakalo" ("a Greek coffee without sugar please...")
The marketing blurb on the CD-ROMpromises an enjoyable and effortless experience, but as with all learning, you will get more out of it the more you put into it. The teaching method worked well with my preferred learning style, and I did find the use of music and memory hooks as a useful way of retaining what I had learned. In short, it's a fun and different way of enhancing your holiday experience, especially if, like me, you don't really like text-based language teaching, and at the sub-£10 price point, its certainly great value for money.
FULL TRACK LISTING
1. I would like... (5:32)
2. To order (5:34)
3. Have you got...? (8:23)
4. To the airport (7:03)
5. Numbers and days (7:11)
6. Is there...? (5:15)
7. Directions (8:54)
8. Where & what time? (7:42)
9. Problems, problems! (5:51)
10. Time to go (4:22)
© Hishyeness 2009
This Greek language tutorial CD sets out to teach over 200 essential Greek words by rhythmically repeating words and brief sentences to a background of gentle guitar music with gentle drum accompaniment.
The CD begins by telling us 'close your eyes and relax. In four hours we'll be relaxing next to the Mediterranean'... The CD then goes on to teach essential phrases by anchoring them to memory with specially composed melodies.
The CD is presented in a DVD sized plastic box with a headphone wearing sillhouette pictured on the front, apparently relaxing whilst enjoying this 'revolutionary new learning technique" which the cover claims is "effortless and enjoyable"
200+ essential words and phrases are taught by listening to a language lesson delivered by a female Greek speaker to an English male learner. She says a phrase and he repeates it back. The phrase may be broken down into individual words or may be repeated several times to aid the learner in pronunciation and understanding.
The CD is broken into 10 sections:
'I would like....' Introduces us to please, thank you and the basics of ordering tea, coffee, food and beer (always essential!)
'To order...' introduces more beverages (wine - red and white!) and food (bread, olives, salad) and explains how to ask for items in the quantities sold in Greece (half a kilo of wine!).
'Have you got...?' teaches how to ask more questions relating to eating (have you got a table for two? Vegetarian food? the bill?)as well as the likely responses ("yes of course", "no sorry")
'To the Airport...' teaches phrases relating to travel, taxis and airports.
'Numbers and Days...' is self-explanatory and just involves repeating numbers or days over and over. This section does provide some useful tips on remembering the words as it describes a viualisation technique (remember theo for 'two' by picturing yourself bowing down to a large number two - imagine what you will for that one!!)
'Is there...?' includes how to ask if there are various services 'near here' (Is there a shoe shop near here?)
'Directions...' teaches 'Hello' and how to ask for directions (e.g. to the beach)
'Where, What time...?' includes phrases for purchasing bus tickets, how to ask the time and understand the response.
'Problems, problems...' With the TV, the Fridge.... how to report and solve problems during your stay.
'Time to go...' is a short recap of the CD content with a few more common phrases (see you later).
The Greek teacher regularly 'tests' the learner and this adds further repetition of the words and phrases taught in each section.
The CD is supported by a pamphlet which sets out each phrase used on the CD. The phrases are spelt out phonetically, particularly useful as the Greek alphabet is very different to the English one. The phonetical spelling is particularly useful as Greek is spoken quite rapidly on the CD and it is sometimes difficult to make out whether a p or b has been sounded or a t or d. The pamphlet can be used to check your pronunciation.
This method of teaching language aims to anchor phrases into long-term memory by using repetition and rhythm. The repetition certainly works, but after a while the music drove me crackers. It is noticeable throughout the CD, not like background or elevator music. Sometimes the music was so loud it totally distracted me from what was being said. The music itself is difficult to describe, there are some tracks with violin as the primary instrument and these sound like they want to be traditional Irish music, or in one particularly awful case a dreadful impression of American country. I found these tracks alot more irritating than those with just light acoustic guitar playing. The words are not repeated in rhythm with the music, the music is simply there in place of silence... very bizarre!
Greek is a difficult language to learn. The alphabet differs to that used in English writing, and the sentence structure is different too. For these reasons I have found this CD very useful. I haven't learnt all 200+ phrases in the couple of months that I've been using the CD, but I'm getting there. I listen to the CD in my car while travelling to and from work and in the kitchen whilst preparing food and although I cannot hold a conversation in Greek, I will be able to order food, use public transport and speak a little social Greek in time for my Cypriot holiday next summer. The four hours of learning implied by the CD introduction is a little ambitous in terms of the time required to learn all the phrases!
Overall, this is a good way to learn some 'get by' Greek. But be prepared for the background music to drive you nuts.
Volume 1. is your survival kit of immediately useful words and phrases for your visit abroad, listen a few times to be able to ask for a table in a restaurant, order food and drink, take a taxi, rent a car, buy tickets, deal with money, numbers, times and days, ask for directions, deal with typical problems, hold a simple conversation and more.