Although experts differ on whether it is better to learn to read or to speak first, I will put reading first because that is what we did. But, you don't need to master reading in order to learn conversational Greek - in fact, as many Greek Toddlers can readily demonstrate, you don't need to be able to read at all to hold a conversation in Greek! So, don't get bogged down in reading - do a little each day along with Conversation and Vocabulary, and the skills will grow together. As you work on Conversational Greek (with audio AND a text) you'll get confirmation that you're sounding out the words correctly.
The good news - it is very easy to learn the basic reading of Greek! The alphabet does look a little daunting at first - probably because we're accustomed to seeing Greek letters in academic places, like Math class and University clubs. But unlike English (and more like Spanish), Greek pronunciation is quite consistent. If you learn the basic sound of each letter, and then a handful of diphthongs and digraphs (letter combinations) and you can easily figure out how to read any Greek word you encounter. You will have to practice to become a smooth reader, as in any language, but starting basic reading doesn't have to scare you!
First, you can go to the following site, and find a few FREE charts that have the sounds for each letter and combination of letters. (note, I have not used the paid lessons on this site - I only found the free ones to recommend)
How to Sound Out Greek
Here's a nice Greek Alphabet song, using modern pronunciation (see note at bottom of post)
You might also like to check out the Greekpod videos on YouTube that are titled "Learn to Read and Write Greek" Like this one:
Then, you need to find some easy text to practice reading. Of course, you COULD start with a page from on Online Greek Bible - but that is going to be waaayyyy too scary for most students.
Instead, I recommend using one of the same basic reading texts used in Greek Elementary Schools for children who are just learning to read. The link is below. Use the navigation buttons at the top to get from page to page. If you find something that is too hard, flip past it (each lesson is structured by letter from easy to hard - all you need to do is learn to read that letter, then skip to the next letter : )
Greek First Grade Reading Book
(This site has ALL the Greek Textbooks for Greek Public schools - but you have to know how to navigate it in Greek. I found it thanks to this blog )
I did not use the exact book linked with my daughter, but used a very similar hard copy of the classic Greek Primer that was a gift to us, and another I bought while traveling. I later found the above linked one for FREE! : )
If, while you're reading, you encounter a word you don't know, you can simply look it up on Google Translate - it's SO easy! : ) Be warned, Google Translate cannot usually tell you declensions and such, but it can usually give you a basic definition - or at least a close enough word that you can figure it out from there.
As your child's reading progresses, if you are an Orthodox Christian, you might also enjoy these resources which provide a simple lesson in Greek and a very similar (but NOT identical) lesson in English on a variety of religious topics. These are good reading practice, and also a good Christian education:
Pantanassa Monastery Lessons
That's it! With these few resources, you're ready to start!
BUT - a side note:
Before you teach reading, you will have to decide WHICH pronunciation method to teach.
There are two choices, "Modern Greek," or "Erasmian Greek."
I strongly favor Modern, and here's why:
Modern Greek pronunciation is used by Native Speakers of Greek. It is the pronunciation style used when the New Testament is read in the Original in Greek Orthodox Churches. We can assume it has changed some from the pronunciation of the time of Christ (as any language might), but it is the most authentic and consistent pronunciation method available.
Erasmian Greek was a pronunciation invented in the 1500's by a Dutch Catholic Priest who had never been to Greece (as far as is recorded of him), and did not speak Greek, but studied it academically. He attempted to re-create how Greek might have been spoken one and a half millennia previously by looking at scholarly documents and looking at such clues as animal sounds or translation into other (also ancient) languages to discern how those languages might have been spoken, and what sound each letter might have made. Needless to say, it was not a precise science, and there were no recordings available to help him. Erasmus himself admitted that his pronunciation system was imperfect. To make matters worse, there is now more than one variety of Erasmian pronuciation! BUT Erasmian pronunciation is the method used in many American and British Universities to study Attic & Koine (Biblical) Greek, so it does has some value in academic circles. It cannot be used in real life conversation anywhere in the world - it is strictly an academic interpretation of the archaic form of the language. If you get confused when you first start studying Greek because there is no letter pronounced "Pie," "Beta," "Delta," "Moo" or "Chai" (as you may have learned to pronounce them Math class or from Fraternity Row)- blame Erasmus!
Personally, I strongly favor Modern Pronunciation. It allows me to move from Church -which uses Biblical or "Koine" Greek - to ordering Coffee in Modern Greek at a local Cafe fairly easily. It is the pronunciation that allows me to understand the reading of the Bible at Church, and continue to improve in my understanding week by week as I hear more. It's the pronunciation that Native Greek Speakers use.
When I first studied Greek, I was unaware of these two Pronunciation methods, and made the mistake of learning Erasmian. Then, I had to unlearn it. Not a fun experience.
One thing you do NOT need to decide before learning to read Greek is whether you will study Biblical (Koine) or Modern Greek. They're both read the same if you use Modern Greek Pronunciation.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Greek Conversation!
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