# How did you learn the greek alphabet?

1. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

I am an undergraduate math and physics major and nowhere in my education did I explicitly study the Greek alphabet. This has recently gotten to be a SEVERE problem as I hit higher mathematics where the use of the greek alphabet is almost more common than the American one. For example, I raise my hand to ask a question about something on the board but then realize I cannot read the equation because I do not know one of the Greek letters.

I have noticed that my fellow math majors have this same problem. It seems to me like at some level of mathematics education, people just start assuming that everyone knows the Greek alphabet even though it is not taught at any stage of mathematics. But maybe that is just my case. Did other people have the Greek alphabet taught to them in junior high or high school or was it just thrown on them beginning in college?

Anyway, today I am going back to elementary school and practicing writing row after row of zeta, xi, chi, etc and trying to recite the whole alphabet from memory.

http://www.wesleyan.edu/classics/greek_resources/writing_guide/writing_guide.html [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
2. May 11, 2008

### Cyrus

Learn it as you use it. Dont waste your time writting rows after row of the letters.

3. May 11, 2008

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
What's the American alphabet? I think you mean the English alphabet.

Anyway, no, one doesn't in general spend time learning the Greek alphabet, one simply picks it up from literature as working through the maths. It doesn't matter what the order of the alphabet it, you just need to recognise the letters. To be honest, only a few get used most of the time: I've never heard of anyone using upsilon, for example.

4. May 11, 2008

### BryanP

You just start picking them up the more you use them.

5. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

Haha, that is embarrassing.

For some reason that hasn't happened for me. :(

6. May 11, 2008

### tiny-tim

Hi ehrenfest!

Just learn the names of the letters … like a speech … so that you can say them really fast.

Then you won't see a $\nu$, for example, and think "that's an n", but not know what to call it.

You can learn how to read them later.

7. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

Is there a song or tune associated with the Greek alphabet like there is for the English one?

8. May 11, 2008

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
Well, it doesn't really matter. It is not a serious problem if you don't remember how to pronounce one of the greek letters in a math class-- it is far more important that you understand the maths or physics. If you're in this situation again, just ask someone what the letter is called!

9. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

Okay, well I have picked up the easy letters like alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, but the hard ones like xi or zeta I need to just practice. Sure I have picked up how to identify xi or a zeta, but I don't know how anyone can just "pick up" how to write a zeta or a xi just by watching other people do it without specifically practicing it. If you can then you learn much differently than me.

Last edited: May 11, 2008
10. May 11, 2008

### tiny-tim

Try a google search for "learning the greek alphabet" +tune!

Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
11. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

Let's see if I got them:

$$\alpha \beta \gamma \delta \epsilon \zeta \eta \theta \iota \kappa \lambda \mu \nu \xi \omicron \pi \rho \sigma \tau \upsilon \phi \chi \psi \omega$$

Yay!

12. May 11, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

One can learn an alphabet and language the same way one learns the alphabet and language to which one is native.

Learn by doing.

Here is another resource in addition to the one tiny-tim cited.
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/greek.htm

13. May 11, 2008

### Kurdt

Staff Emeritus
I thought the English alphabet was the Latin alphabet :tongue:.

I just learned as I went along. I never made a conscious effort to sit and memorise it.

14. May 11, 2008

### ehrenfest

Not if you start learning after the critical language acquisition period which is something like <12 years.

15. May 11, 2008

### Kurdt

Staff Emeritus
Thats not particularly true. My friend is a linguist and uses this as a teaching technique and it works very well. I think most governments use the total immersion technique to teach their employees a language in a short period of time.

16. May 11, 2008

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
You learn the Greek alphabet by going to frat parties.

I learned all the capital Greek letters somewhere in middle school or high school, but can't really remember when or where...just remember having to learn them for something along the way. The lowercase letters were stranger to learn (and yes, some of them look like a random squiggle). But, like others here, I just learned the ones I needed as I went. A new letter was never introduced without a professor actually saying it, so it was easy to associate the strange sound coming out of his or her mouth with the equally strange squiggle appearing on the board, and voila! I learned a new Greek letter. Sometimes I needed to look up a letter in print to write it correctly, since some of my professors' penmanship was equally bad in English and Greek, but it's just matching patterns.

17. May 11, 2008

### BryanP

Bleh to frat parties :yuck:

18. May 11, 2008

### Chi Meson

I first learned them from the Star Trek "Star Fleet Technical Manual." (I was 10 when it was released; I think I was required by law to get it). It was one of two standard alphabets of the "Federation." It was my father who recognized it as Greek, and I just learned them. In Junior High, when I was bored (which was most of the time) I'd take notes phonetically written in Greek letters.

19. May 11, 2008