Don’t Just Read Ancient Greek—Listen, Too!

By Lee Lanzilotta

You can’t learn a language simply from looking at the words on a page. Okay, maybe you can, if you’re far cleverer than I. But most of us need some good ol’ audio input. This is one reason people seek out ‘Spoken’ or ‘Active Method’ Latin and Greek courses. As much as we might want to live on some kind of marvelous philologist commune and while away the hours chatting in Ancient Greek about philosophy in a garden like the Epicureans of yore, we live in the real world. One can only spend so much time with other Ancient Greek speakers. Luckily, in this century we’ve got all kinds of fantastically futuristic machines that can capture people’s voices to be played again and again, allowing them to be heard even after they die. I can only imagine what Socrates would say.

This is extremely useful for language learners. Listening to easy podcasts has really helped me with Italian, for example. I would highly suggest seeking out such resources, especially those made by native speakers, when you begin learning a new modern language. Even ten or twenty minutes a day of listening really helps. Of course, with Classical Greek the situation differs somewhat. For obvious reasons we can’t just summon up the specter of Plato or Xenophon to record their thoughts on the latest Taylor Swift album or whatever in pure, perfect Attic. I don’t personally feel equipped to assess the quality of various Ancient Greek podcasts, of which there are extremely few anyhow. In Latin I had picked up an unattested use of “revera” – a word certain Latin speakers use almost the way Valley Girls use “like”, even though Cicero would never – from people who speak at a fairly advanced level. Naturally I want to avoid doing the same in Greek. While I trust the authenticity of Jenny’s projects and most anything Schola Humanistica produces, in the world of Ancient Language content there’s no real quality control.

That’s why I love audiobooks of real Greek texts, like this one Jenny recently recorded (her audiobook of her own composition, Love Stories in Easy Ancient Greek, is also charming and great for beginners). When I began studying Latin, reading while listening to audiobooks really helped me internalize the language and its pronunciation. I memorized portions of Cicero’s In Catilinam by listening to Daniel Petterson’s audiobooks repeatedly and hope to do the same with Xenophon using Jenny’s recordings. For whatever reason, hearing the words as opposed to just seeing them made reading significantly easier. Once I’ve read a text all the way through, listening to the audio version without the text in front of me also helps me recall what I read and better comprehend it. Even when I can’t entirely understand what I’m listening to, just being able to pick out individual phrases or words helps reinforce what I’ve learned. Learning – for me at least – is a lot easier when I can recall specific sounds. Also, listening is easier in some ways than reading silently. When I try reading for too long, the Greek letters kind of swim together and Ι start to mistake psi for for phi, making the audio particularly crucial in helping me differentiate between letters that look similar or resemble letters in other alphabets.

Plus, audiobooks are convenient. If you download the audio onto your phone, you can listen on the bus or while going about your everyday life to squeeze in a couple more minutes of studying. Being able to jam a quick ten minutes of Greek into one’s busy schedule is a crucial part of making consistent progress.

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