Many people ask us, ‘’How can I read Greek?’’. What we usually say is that memorizing the sounds of Greek letters makes it easy to read Greek words. The main reason for this is because in the Greek language we pronounce almost all the letters. Silent letters in the Greek language are very rare. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that in the Greek language, while we pronounce almost all the letters, there are combinations, two-letter vowels and consonants, and some other exceptions that you need to know in order to read the language well. That is, the letters in Greek are not only the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet itself but many more. However, as soon as you memorize them, your reading skills will be almost perfect. In this article, we will present the steps you need to take to learn how to read Greek.
1. Memorize the vowels
What usually people do is to memorize the whole alphabet. In my opinion, this is not effective at all. It is much more effective to memorize the vowels first. They are either simple or two-letter vowels. What I mean by saying two-letter vowels is that the vowel is a combination of two other vowels producing just one sound. For example, we have the simple vowel ‘’α’’ (“a” as in bat) and the simple vowel ‘’ι’’ (i as in fatigue). If we put these simple vowels together, they are not one simple vowel anymore but a two letter vowel which has only one sound ‘’αι’’ (e as in pen). So, your goal with the vowels is to memorize both the simple vowels as well as the combinations.
2. Memorize the consonants
The second step is to memorize the Greek consonants. Again, it is very important to memorize both the simple and the two-letter consonants. However, at this time, you don’t memorize just the consonant letters, rather you will memorize them in combination with one Greek vowel. It is much easier to read Greek by separating each word into syllables. So, by putting one consonant together with a vowel you make syllables. In this way, you start reading Greek while you are memorizing the letters. For example, let’s say that you want to memorize the simple vowel ‘’β’’ (v as in voice). A very nice thing to do is to combine it with a vowel and memorize it as a syllable. For example, ‘’βα’’ (va), or ‘’βι’’ (vi). If you do that process, in no time you will start reading simple Greek words without a problem. For example, the word ‘’γάτα’’ (cat) is a very simple Greek word. You have one consonant together with the same vowel twice. In order to read it, you separate the word in two syllables ‘’γα – τα’’. Now, reading the two syllables one after the other you say ‘’cat’’ in Greek.
3. Memorize the exceptions
As in any language, there are some exceptions that you need to know in order to be able to read all the words without a problem. Here we will see the most important exception that you need to be careful of.
The first and most common exception in Greek is when you combine the letters ‘’α’’ or ‘’ε’’ with ‘’υ’’. In this case, the letter ‘’υ’’ changes its sound, and from ‘i’’ as in fatigue’’ it becomes either ‘’f’’ as in ‘’fox’’ or ‘’v’’ as in voice depending on the letter that follows.
As soon as you memorize all the vowels, consonants, and exceptions, you need to learn how to separate the words into syllables. This is a very important step for a beginner because it helps you cut the words into smaller pieces making it easier to read them. Many people who learn Greek see Greek words and they panic because sometimes they are very long. However, if you take the time to separate them into syllables, you can read them without a problem. The most important rule you need to follow to separate the Greek words into syllables is to put a consonant together with a vowel. For example, ‘’τώρα’’ (now) you separate it like: ‘’τώ – ρα’’. However, if a word starts with a vowel, ΄΄έχω’’ then the second vowel gets the consonants and the first one is pronounced alone: ‘’έ – χω’’. It is also very important to remember that we never separate the two-letter vowels and the two-letter consonants. They always have to be pronounced together.
5. Stress system
The last step in the process of reading Greek is the accent mark. All the Greek words take an accent mark on one of the last three syllables, except for the one-syllable words. If you want to read Greek well with the correct intonation you need to emphasize the syllable that has the accent mark. This is even more important in cases where the movement of the accent mark gives a different meaning to a word. For example, the word ‘’άλλα’’ with the accent mark on the first ‘’α’’ means ‘’other’’ whereas the word ‘’αλλά’’ with the accent mark on the second ‘’α’’ it means ‘’but’’. From this one example, you can understand how important it is to emphasize the correct syllable. In relation to the stress system in general, it is important to say that in Greek in some words, you will see two dots above a two letter vowel. For example, ‘’κοροϊδεύω’’. When you see these two dots, it means that you need to read the two-letter vowel as two letters and not one. So, you read ‘’ο’’ and ‘’ι’’ not ‘’οι’’.
So, following these steps, I am sure that you are going to master reading Greek very quickly. If you want us to guide you through this process, you can also check our article on the best way to learn Greek.