Learning Greek

If you have ever managed to learn a language other than that of your native land, I applaud you, I really do. I have never been what you would call academic, I struggled with Maths and Science at school and I could never really grasp the concept of “studying” and after sitting through hours of French lessons from the age of 9 my response to any question is still Je m’appelle Emily, J’habite England!  I’ve never quite made it beyond the point of hello, how are you? And, can I have a beer please.  So, it’s looking increasingly unlikely I will ever become an international translator to the emperor of Japan.  

I do, however make a point of always knowing how to say thank you and please in the language of the country that I happen to find myself in.  I also believe it can come in very useful to know how to apologise.  For example, when you are making a complete hash of asking for directions or have accidentally reversed your hire car into a fellow road users’ vehicle whilst on holiday in Italy, a sincere Scusami! before you make a hasty get away, should avert a potentially awkward situation and a lot of arm waving from a rather disgruntled fellow motorist.

The Struggles

Greek, is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn.  Fact.  I’m not even kidding.  When your Greek friends who have spoken it since birth tell you it’s confusing you know you’re in trouble.  One person will tell you to pronounce a word in a certain way, the next will tell you another and the third! Well he might not believe what your saying is even a word at all!  So, you may not be surprised to learn that after 4 years my Greek is still pretty limited.  However, last year I challenged myself to be able to visit my local butchers and order entirely in Greek before the end of the summer.  Which, I am very proud to say I did and can now purchase all manner of meats and sausages.  Unfortunately, this then presents a whole new level of language related issues.  For example, the person with whom you have just highly impressed with your knowledge and prose will now assume that you are fluent in their native tongue and begin to talk incessantly and very quickly at you whilst you nod and try to make appropriate noises and laugh in all the right places.  This will continue until they finally come to their unknown conclusion and you can say a cheery Yassas before legging it out the door to safety.

So, unless you’re planning on hiring a forklift whilst on holiday then learning the basics in Greek will most likely do the job.  Here’s a few words and simple phrases that I have found useful over the years and a few helpful things to know.

Saying Hello and Goodbye

There are two ways to say hello and goodbye in Greek.  The formal and the Informal way.  The formal being Yassas, should be used when addressing someone you are unfamiliar with or have never met.  It should especially be used when speaking to the authorities, in case that’s a usual occurrence on your vacations it’s good to know and usually when speaking to older people as a sign of respect for their generation.  Yasou, is used when meeting friends and people you know.  Both are used in the same way when saying goodbye.

How are you?

Again, when asking someone how they are there is the informal and formal way.  Ti Kanite is the formal way of asking how someone is and Ti Kanis is the informal way.  Once you become accustomed to the language you will notice people using the phrase Kala esi which is a relaxed way of greeting a friend and asking how they are. Alright mate?!

Thank You!

Saying thank you in Greek is pretty straight forward. Efcharistó (ehf-khahr-ee-stoh) is used for a general thanks and efcharistó polý when saying thank you very much. Polý meaning very. Simple!

A few essentials to get you by

  • Yes: Naĺ (neh)
  • No: Óchi (oh-khee)
  • Good: Kala (kha-lah)
  • Sorry: Sygnómi (see-ghnoh-mee)
  • Good Morning: Kaliméra (kali-mehra)
  • Good Afternoon: Kalispera (kali-spehra)
  • Good Night: Kalinychta (kali-niktah)
  • Please & You’re Welcome: Parakaló (pah-rah-kah-loh)
  • I Would Like: Tha ĺthela (thah-ee-theh-lah)
  • Beer: Býra (bee-rah)
  • Coffee: Kafés (kah-feh)
  • Water: Neró (neh-roh)
  • White Wine: Lefkó Krasĺ (lehf-koh krah-see)
  • Red Wine: Kókkino Krasĺ (koh-kee-noh krah-see)
  • Cheers!: Stin ygeiá sas (steen ee-ghiah sahs) or it’s much easier just to say Yamas!

So, there you have it.  My super simple and basic guide to surviving the Greek language. I hope that where ever you are, with a little confidence and a phrase book to hand, you’ll give it ago. And don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Even if, as my Nana did on her first trip to Skiathos, you spend the whole week greeting people with a cheery Calimari! Instead of the more commonly used Kalimeara… The rewards outweigh the pink cheeks of embarrassment. I wish you luck in all your future endeavours into lands and languages unknown and remember, if all else fails, just say it with an accent like my Dad does.