It was once the lingua franca in the Middle East during its colonisation under Alexander the Great and, along with Latin, forms the basis of many modern European languages. Modern Greek is actually a southern dialect now spoken by most Greeks, although in some parts of the country dialects and languages such as Turkish and Albanian are spoken.
English is widely spoken in resorts and major cities in Greece; many Greeks have lived and worked in English-speaking countries (particularly Australia), English is widely taught in schools and many people live off the fruits of tourism. However, it isn’t so easy to find someone who speaks English in remote areas, particularly on the mainland, and outside the holiday season many locals in resort areas revert to speaking Greek only!
Unfortunately, many residents (particularly the British) make very little effort to learn more than a few words of Greek and live life as if they were on a brief holiday. For anyone living in Greece, learning Greek shouldn’t be seen as an option, but as a necessity, particularly if you’re going to run a business.
If you’re a retiree, it’s important to make an effort to learn at least the rudiments of Greek so that you can understand your bills, use the telephone, deal with servicemen and communicate with your local town hall (plus performing a myriad of other ‘daily’ chores). If you don’t learn Greek, you’ll often be frustrated in your communications and will be constantly calling on friends and acquaintances to assist you, or even paying people to do jobs you could easily do yourself.
The most important reason to learn Greek is that in an emergency it could save your life or that of a loved one! Learning Greek also helps you appreciate the Greek way of life and make the most of your time in the country, and opens many doors that remain firmly closed to resident ‘tourists’.
Greek is a difficult language to learn, added to which is the problem of an entirely different alphabet, although in practice this can be mastered ‘relatively easily’. The alphabet has 24 letters as well as 12 combinations and diphthongs, and if you can master it you’ll find speaking the language easier as well as being able to understand signs and notices. The key to speaking and understanding Greek is the stress placed on particular letters, which, when put in the wrong place, can change the meaning completely!
Greek grammar also has its difficulties, particularly verbs, but it’s easy to acquire a rudimentary understanding of how the language works. ‘All’ that’s required is a little hard work and some help and perseverance, particularly if you only have English-speaking friends and colleagues. You won’t just ‘pick it up’ (only young children are blessed with that advantage), but must make a real effort to learn. Fortunately the Greeks are tolerant of foreigners’ tortured attempts to speak their language and any effort is appreciated, although you may find that they reply in English. Note that your business and social enjoyment and success in Greece may be directly related to the degree to which you master Greek.