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Learning Greek

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #50, 2003.

It's Greek to him.
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Sam Blumenfeld

Many young Christian homeschoolers have decided to learn Greek in order to be able to read the New Testament in its original language. The problem of learning Greek, of course, is that you are not only learning a different language, but also how to read a different alphabet. So the first thing you have to do, is learn the Classical Greek alphabet.

Christians who have read Revelation are acquainted with the phrase spoken by Jesus, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

There are 24 letters in the Classical Greek alphabet. Anyone who has been a member of a sorority or fraternity will be acquainted with some of the letter names. Phi Beta Kappa is a famous learned society. The alphabet names are as follows: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, ksi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega. Memorize these letters names as your first step in learning to read Greek. Print them out and post them somewhere around your room or house where you can see and repeat them frequently. The key to memorization is repetition. Then learn the letter symbols.

Note that the modern Greek alphabet is slightly different from the classical alphabet. For example, in the modern version, beta is veta or vita; delta is thelta; zeta is zita; eta is ita; theta is thita; lambda is lamvtha; tau is taf.

By all means get a good Greek-English dictionary, plus some introductory books. If possible, get hold of a Greek primer, that is, a textbook that teaches Greek children to read Greek. The Greek Embassy in Washington might be able to help you get one. There are also Greek National Tourism Organizations in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

You can get hold of modern Greek newspapers and magazines that use many words in Greek that are similar to words in English. Words like salami, avocado, classical, mechanic, music, theatre, film, history, astronomy, and archeology in Greek sound very much like their English counterparts but are written in the Greek alphabet. Get a lined notebook and make lists of such words in both Greek and English so that you can become familiar with the letters and their sounds.

English and American proper names are often written in Greek to sound just like their pronunciation in English. Thus, you can see how a different alphabet can be used to write English.

The Internet provides a good deal of information about Greek publications. Just type in "Greek newspapers" in your search engine, and you'll get a plethora of web sites to click on. Incidentally, if you live in or near a city with a large Greek-American community, you may be able to find Greek newspapers and magazines. Or you might have dinner at a Greek restaurant and ask the owner how to get hold of Greek papers and periodicals. He may have some back issues, which he will gladly let you have instead of throwing them in the trash.

Once you have mastered the Greek alphabet, then you must learn how the language is pronounced. I found that my local public library has a half-dozen Greek language programs with cassette tapes and books that borrowers can take home. Also, I've noticed several vendors at homeschool conventions that specialize in foreign language programs. They no doubt have audio programs for Greek. Check them out.

There is also the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association in Washington, D.C. They are on the web. They might be able to provide you with information on where to find what you are looking for. Their phone number is 202-232-6300. You might also try nearby college and university libraries that may have Greek resources. Check their catalogs to see if they offer Greek studies. If they do, contact the professors and ask for their suggestions. They may be able to help you obtain the books and publications you need.

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