Of all European languages, studies show that Greek is among the most difficult not only for native English speakers but for those who speak Latin-based languages as well. This can be partially explained, as Greek is not related to any other Indo-European languages, despite Greece’s geographical proximity and its importance throughout world history.
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Is Greek a Hard Language To Learn?
Greek presents a particular challenge in that some letters of its alphabet look similar to English letters, but they are not pronounced the same. For example, ‘P’ and the Greek ‘P.’ Greek’s ‘P’ or rho is closer to the English ‘R’ sound. Greek’s “B” or beta sounds more like a /v/ than English’s “B.” Moreover, the Greek letters “Θ / θ” (theta) and “Δ / δ” (delta) sound to an English native speaker very similar to each other, like our “th.”
We’ve put together a small, yet effective guide to help you along. Learning to say a few words like ‘good morning, thank you’, and ‘please’ is always a nice gesture and act of kindness when travelling anywhere in the world and the Greeks do appreciate the effort, however good or bad the effort.
Greeks know that their language is hard, so they don’t expect you to master it at all. And while you will find many locals who speak English, Greeks (and anyone for that matter) always appreciate it when you try to speak their native language, even if it is just saying a few words.
Basic Greek Words and Phrases
Hello: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
The less formal way to say “Hi” would just be “Γεια” (Yah). If addressing a group, say “YAH-sas”.
Nice to meet you: Χάρηκα πολύ (HA-ree-ka po-LEE)
How are you?: Tι κανείς (tee-KAH-nis)?
Good morning: Καλημέρα (kah-lee-MER-ah)
You would say this greeting up until noon, and then for the rest of the day, you can use “Γεια” (yah) as the standard greeting.
Good afternoon/evening: Καλησπέρα (kah-lee-SPER-ah)
You can use it when you believe it is too late for ‘kaliméra,’ such as after 4-5 p.m.
Goodnight: Καληνύχτα (kah-lee-NEEKH-tah)
Say this when going to bed.
Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
Effkharistoe is the first word that any courteous traveler will wish to learn, and it will make people smile.
Please/You’re welcome: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE)
In Greek, the word for “please” and “you’re welcome” is the same, making it all the more easy to learn. It’s polite to say “para-kah-LOE” after asking for directions or the price of something. It can even be used to mean “I beg your pardon?” or “Huh?” when you’ve misunderstood or want someone to repeat something.
Cheers – Yiá mas – Γεια μας
Assume you’ve ordered meals and beverages in a Greek taverna and it’s now time to raise your glasses and shout ‘cheers.’ That is referred to as ‘yiámas’ or ‘yiá mas’, which means ‘to our health’.
My name is… : Με λένε (may LEH-neh)…
What is your name?: πως σε λένε? (pos-oh LEH-neh)
Goodbye: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
See/Talk to you later: Τα λέμε (tah-LEH-meh)
You may hear people ending their conversations with this phrase as well.
Yes: Ναί (neh); No: όχι (OH-hee)
Be careful not to confuse yes and no — it’s easy to mistakenly associate “neh” with “no” in English, and “oh-hee” with “okay” when in fact it’s just the opposite! An easy mnemonic is to remember that they’re actually the inverse of what you would initially think.
Excuse me/Sorry: Συγνώμη (See-GHNO-mee)
Say this to get someone’s attention, ask to pass by someone, or apologize if you’ve bumped into someone.
Common Greek Phrases Travelers Should Know
Where is the bathroom?: Πού είναι η τουαλέτα (Poh-EE-nay ee tua-LEH-tah)?
Helpful hint: “Poh-EE-nay” means “Where is?” so you can ask for help with locating something by saying this while pointing to a specific location in your guidebook or on a map.
Do you speak English?: Μιλάτε αγγλικά (Mee-LAH-teh ag-li-KAH)?
Cheers!: Στην υγειά μας! (STIN-eh YAH-mas)
This literally means “To our health!” If addressing a group of people not including yourself, say “STIN-eh YAH-sas,” which means “To your health!”
Bottoms up!: Ασπρο πάτο (AHS-pro PAH-toh)
Meaning literally “white bottom,” if you use this with a new Greek acquaintance, you’ll be sure to impress.
How much is it?: Πόσο κάνει αυτό (POH-soh KAH-nee af-TOH)?
You can get by with asking “POH-soh KAH-nee” (How much?). Adding the “af-TOH” just means “How much is it?”
I don’t understand: Δεν καταλαβαίνω (Then Kah-tah-lah-VEH-noh)
The Main Question Words
Asking for Directions
- Pou mporo na vro – Where can I find…
- Pou ine to – Where is the…
- Pos pao sto – How can I get to…
- Boreeteh na meh voytheeseteh – Can you help me?
- Tha ithela na pao – I would like to go to…
- Poso kanee? – How much is this