Intermediate Ancient Greek Study Tips
Last week I recapped my experiences in second-year Greek. This week, I want to provide some tips for getting through the “hardest undergraduate class” the humanities has to offer. Second-year Greek is a bit different than first-year: I found that some of my old study tricks no longer worked, whereas new ones were required to adapt to the relentless onslaught of new material. Intermediate Greek is way more challenging than the beginner level, but it’s totally conquerable with a bit of strategy and discipline.
I offer the following tips so that you can forge ahead fearlessly! Please keep in mind, I am not an educational expert—these suggestions are merely what I found works best for me. You may find that you learn differently, and therefore require a different approach. Fair enough. But for those who have no idea where to begin, here’s my advice…
1. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
Common sense says that adults really aren’t suited for learning languages. I’m here to say that’s not true. I am 38*. By all rights, my feeble brain should only be able to focus on things that involve Angela Lansbury. After all, how can I learn a language when I am busy eating prunes?
Obviously, this theory is hogwash. Really. New research into the plasticity of the brain suggests we can learn new things well into old age. Even languages. Studies have shown that not only can adults learn new languages, in many ways they even have an advantage over their younger counterparts.
So, no excuses! And hey, you can reward yourself with a little Matlock after studying. Win-win.
I spent a lot of time prepping for the upcoming year by familiarizing myself with new material and making vocab cards…for a book we stopped using. Waste of time. I had to start all over from scratch for the new term.
Bottom line: I should have been reviewing. If I had to do it over, I would have focused more on locking down the basics and translation.
3. Study Time
Last year, I studied Greek a minimum of 1.5 hours per day, often two hours Also, I always spent extra time on the weekends. This year, I made sure to do a mandatory 1 hour per day, with extra when time allowed. This, however, is a rough estimate. Some days I only did 30 minutes, and others five hours—hey it all balances out, right?
No it doesn’t.
I found that not concentrating my study time had a negative effect on my ability to learn and retain the material. One hour was simply not enough in an environment where everything seemed brand new. I wish I upped my study discipline from the get-go. Especially when, towards the end of the year, I was putting in 3 hours per day just to keep up.
3. Do it in the Morning!
I try my best to study Greek first thing in the morning. One, my brain hasn’t fully woken up, so it gets hit with a blast of alphabet soup and is forced to figure things out right off the bat. Two, Greek isn’t competing with a lot of other crap for valuable brain power. Three: It’s easy to push off studying the more the day wears on. Getting everything done right away helps to avoid the “I’ll study after work” (or dinner, or whatever) that can be the downfall of many a good intention.
3. Flash cards
Last year, I was a flash card maniac. I maintained this method until the middle of the year, when I became overwhelmed by having to learn three chapters of vocab per week. Looking to minimize some time-consuming prep-work, I dropped the flash cards and turned to the vocab lists in the book.
However, having the definitions right in front of me meant I wasn’t making the effort to memorize the vocab—I was rotely reading it while daydreaming about, I don’t know, being awesome at Greek. Luckily, I righted the ship tout suite and went back to flash cards, which is simply more effective because it’s interactive, even when you’re dozing off.
4. Personal Study Guide
Last year, I started making a personal study guide for the paradigms and material we learned. I found this was an easy way to keep track of the material, as well as provided a simple source for review and drills. I kept doing that this year, but I also began making my own study sheets when the book didn’t fully decline a word, or arranged material in a way that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
Honestly, looking back, I should have just made my own study sheets for all the material. Making them forces you to engage with the material, and I could’ve saved myself some serious heartache with the declination patterns. Still, I highly recommend this technique, as it keeps all your core material in one place without having to hunt through the text book.
Last year, making my own podcasts helped me to learn the principal parts and all sort of other goodies. (Learn how to make your own podcasts here.) This year, there was simply too much material for this method to be effective. Good for vocab and principal parts, but not much else.
Every year I blow through multiple spiral notebooks as I drill paradigms. I find drilling completely essential to learning and retaining material (it also improves your penmanship!). I even make special drill sheets for things like principal parts, where quick recall is essential. You’d be amazed at how fast your brain will assimilate material if its actively thinking about and working with it.
7. The LSJ
In my house, it is not uncommon for the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” to be answered with “Books.” One such gift was the Middle Liddell, the mid-size version of the indisputable authority in Greek dictionaries, the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon. Yes, the font is tiny (Pro-tip: Get a magnifying glass!), but it’s indispensable for those words you can’t figure out or which simply aren’t glossed in the text book.
8. Greek Keyboard Stickers
I wish I got these earlier before bad habits set in! Basically, for ten bucks you can transform your keyboard into a bilingual monstrosity. It’s worth the splurge. Last year, I tried making my own stickers, but they just slid off. These stickers, though, are the real deal. (I got mine here.) If you go this route, start early: no matter how much I look at my newly tricked-out keyboard, I still confuse the θ/υ keys.
9. Have fun with it
Sometimes you need to mix fun and studying. For me, this often took the form of something I call Drunk Greek. It’s exactly what you think it is. A bottle of wine, some incense, and Greek exercises—the ideal Friday night! In my head, I am sailing the wine-faced Mediterranean Sea. In reality, I’m studying!**
Obviously, I don’t recommended doing all your studying tits-up drunk. You probably wouldn’t learn very much doing that. But once in a while, I do suggest letting go and having fun with it. For those who abstain, I also found relaxing music helped me trudge through my study hour without too much stress.
I hope these tips are helpful to those of you in the midst of Greek. For those of you considering undertaking its study, perhaps there are a few ideas here that will help you along. Greek is difficult, but not impossible. With trial and error, you too will figure out the best way to navigate the choppy waters of this ancient language and arrive at your destination in one piece!
*Yes, really. And thank you, I do look good for my age. My secrets are vegetarianism, exercise and witchcraft.
**This is a good pair of sentences for a μεν/δε construction. And, of course, I drink Thelema wine.