We often talk and interchange many wonderful ideas about language learning and how best to do it. Today, though, I would like to tell you my own story about learning Greek. It’s a story of friendship, the real outcomes of my language learning, and the experiences I’ve gained over the time I spent with my italki teacher.
My friend, Alex Rawlings, first steered me toward learning Greek with my italki teacher. He told me that Panos was simply a lovely person and an amazing teacher who’s able to explain anything and will keep me interested in the language at hand. Motivation was just what I needed when it came to learning Greek; so, learning from Panos sounded perfect.
My problem with learning Greek was that I found myself in a love and hate relationship with the language. I had some negative experiences with a previous Greek teacher years ago. That teacher, for some reason, kept telling the class how impossible it would be for us to learn Greek. I also had a few negative experiences while in Greece, which had coloured my view of the language.
Still, I liked the language and the country overall. I recognised that it would be handy for me to get to know Greece better (as I go there regularly) as well as learn more Greek.
Then, in 2015, Alex and I decided to take the Polyglot Conference to Thessaloniki the following year. That was a game changer for me, because I knew I would have needed to improve my Greek and speak it better in order to deal with arrangements on the ground for the conference itself.
Right away, I got all my books together, I searched for Panos on italki, and conveniently booked a lesson with him on the site. Alex was completely right; Panos was simply a pleasure to talk to on Skype -- his kind nature and clear desire to support me in achieving the right results for learning Greek kept me going.
Sometimes, I felt bad for Panos because I was not a great student. My commitments outside of the lessons (such as: work, family life, other language projects, and the mammoth task of organising the Polyglot Conference itself) meant that I had precious little time for homework and additional learning. But, Panos recognised this and adapted his teaching style accordingly. He helped me practise the things I would need to be able to use at the conference in Greece. This was exactly what I needed.
Recognising that sometimes you need to adjust your language goals can really help to take the pressure off the learning process. It also makes you realise what exactly is important to you in learning the language (what you want to get out of learning this language). Adapting your learning needs based on your language goals also allows you to better keep track of your progress, and you can feel when things start to click. Language learning this way definitely is more of a marathon, with ‘water break’ stops to check your progress, rather than a mountain climbing experience where you are afraid to look down, and you struggle to grab the next level up on the rock face.
As my lessons progressed, Panos and I developed a good friendship through the Greek language. This was my biggest achievement during the entire learning process. We shared many laughs throughout my journey. When Panos invited me to his wedding, which was to take place two weeks after the Polyglot Conference, I was honoured to have said that I would go. In fact, we turned it into a little weekend holiday for the family; he invited my wife, my daughter, and even Alex too!
So, we made it to Athens for the wedding and got to see a Greek wedding first hand. It was a new experience for me and my family; it was really quite beautiful. As I watched the wedding ceremony and joined in at the reception, it struck me that languages are not just about words and grammar. Learning a language is about so much more than that. My language learning epiphany, as I met other students that Panos had invited, is that language and the friendships that’s afforded through language are real life bonds and connections that affect us on a personal level.
(Photo: Rose, Alex, Panos, myself & Steven)
In the end, I am grateful to Panos for helping me learn Greek -- and especially giving me the language tools and phrases that I needed in order to organise a successful Polyglot conference. But, most of all, I am thankful for his friendship. Panos gave me a very strong reminder of the biggest thing that we get from learning to communicate in another language. And that reason is we get to find out about other people, their cultures, and traditions. For me, the human connection that we can make through language is priceless.