Friday, 15 February 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Lana Penrose

This week’s guest blogger, Lana Penrose, talks us through the intricacies of learning Greek and shares her tips for getting up to speed with mastering a second language.

It’s all Greek to me

As Laurie Anderson once said, ‘Language is a virus’. You may not remember the song or, if you’re anything like me, you may not understand it. If Laurie meant language is a virus in a contagious way, I’m afraid I must disagree. If she meant learning a foreign language can see you bedridden and clambering for a bucket, then I do believe she’s right.

I say this because I lived as an expat in Greece for 5 years, during which time I struggled to learn words like, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘pencil’. I endured hundreds of hours of lessons, devoted much of my spare time to it, bought picture books written for children aged 2-4 and still… nothing.

At this point you may be concluding that I’m a bit of a thicky. Well, I’m not. Not a complete thicky, anyway. It’s just that the language section of my brain had obviously been welded shut during an alien abduction. I therefore despondently watched on as those in my language class picked up Greek as effortlessly as retrieving dirty laundry from the floor. Why? Well, I heard somewhere along the line that if you already have a second language under your belt, you’re inclined to more easily learn another and start talking in tongues and healing the sick.

See, my fellow-pupils already possessed that certain je ne sais quoi, but for me, English is and was my one and only idiom. And of course, Greek isn’t the easiest language to learn in the first place. There’s a whole new alphabet to contend with and syllable output tends to sextuple. (For example, ‘cake shop’ in Greek is ‘zack-a-ro-plas-ti-o’. Cake shop: two syllables. Zackaroplastio: six. I rest my case, Your Honour.)

I therefore had my fair share of absurd conversations over the years. With my limited vocabulary, in Greek I’d attempt to say things like, ‘Political corruption is a highly charged subject right now and I would dearly love to partake in this exchange.’ With my low level of fluency, however, I would instead say something like: ‘Beautiful child upon a rock please my table mister.’

So to ensure you don’t suffer similar humiliation, I hereby bequeath …


1.                   Really, really try to learn the language.
Even though you may not possess the ability to say, ‘Are those sausages fresh?’ nobody can ever berate you for not trying. At the very least, try.
2.                   Observe body language.
Sometimes all you’ve got to go on is another’s expression. If somebody is shaking his or her fist at you, you can safely assume that you shouldn’t have driven through his or her plate-glass window. But different expressions mean different things in different countries. It can take a while to figure out if somebody truly dislikes you.
3.                   Study mime artistry.
Who knew that walking against the wind would be the perfect way to communicate that you’re having problems communicating?
4.                   Adopt a new persona.
When attending local soirees, affect a state of wistfulness and stare off into the distance. In that way, locals will presume you’re an interesting poet and revere you, rather than trying to engage you in conversation.
5.                   Take a vow of silence and pass it off as religious observance.

 Lana Penrose

Lana Penrose is a bestselling author of ‘to hellas and back’ and ‘Kickstart my heart’. She is a former record company promotions manager, music journalist and television producer.

Visit for more details.

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