Language questions for Greece

Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:31 AM
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Language questions for Greece

I'm doing a little bit of preliminary research on my vacation (late summer, most likely between August and September) and hashing out some ideas.

I'm really interested in seeing Greece and the Cyclades, but I'm concerned about the language barrier (if there is one). I speak a little bit of French (badly) and don't pick up on languages very quickly. Any insights from people who have been to Greece before?
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:33 AM
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At the very least, learn the Cyrillic alphabet or you won't be able to read signs.

Get some language tapes.

If Greek is too daunting, learn some German. I found almost every Greek knows enough German for at least a helpful conversation.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:34 AM
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Before I went I got the BBC Greek language tapes/book. There are 10 lessons to practise saying essential things (greetings, tickets, restaurants/hotels, family). When I got there realised all the Greeks dealing with tourists speak very good English.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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You are unlikely to have any problem not speaking any Greek in the Cyclades. It's most touristed part of the Greek islands and everyone you are likely to meet in normal tourist itinerary will speak good English or understand enough to communicate. I've found a knowledge of Greek is only useful if you want to strike up a conversation with an old widow in the black!
BTW, the Greeks use Greek alphabet (á,â,ã,ä,å,æ etc), not Cyrillic scripts.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:52 AM
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I agree that you will get by just fine in the touristy areas of Greece without speaking Greek. However, as has been suggested by others, it wouldn't hurt to get a little phrasebook to help you learn a few words and sentences. You never know! But it's not a necessity.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:53 AM
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I found a huge difference in the language situation in Greece between the mid 1970s, when I first visited, and 1998, when I most recently visited. In 1998, I found that English was very widely known in Athens, Santorini, and even in western Crete, and it seemed to be the most widely used foreign language.

In 1975, there were some people who spoke English, but the vast majority did not. I went with a friend, and between us we knew French (both), Italian (me) and German (my friend) and were prepared to use them if needed, but we got along using a combination of English and very few simple bits of Greek (me). I was really glad I had made the effort to learn the alphabet (Greek alphabet, which is not the same as Cyrillic, which, however, is partly based on the Greek alphabet and has many similarities) and how to construct some simple sentences ("where is..." being the most important!) and to learn some common words for foods and types of structures and places and numbers and miscellaneous other things. When I got there I listened really carefully, so I could match up the spoken pronunciation with what I'd learned from the book.

While I would still make the effort to learn at least a tiny bit of Greek today just because I enjoy it and I think it's a good idea, it is probably not essential to know any Greek if you are going to the more popular islands, especially in high season when they are all ready for tourists. So learn some if you can, but if you can't, don't worry, so long as you're not going off alone to remote places.

The book I used to teach myself a little Greek was Greek Made Easy by George C. Divry. I studied it for about three weeks before I left for my trip and found it easy to follow. I still remembered some of what I'd learned way back in the 70s when I returned in 1998. I have no idea whether that book still in print. I got it over 30 years ago, I think in Rizzoli Books in NYC. There are plenty of other books, though.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:56 AM
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Wow, such fast replies! I'm assuming that the same sort of thing is the case in Athens (probably where I'll begin/end my journey)?
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 09:56 AM
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Don't worry at all about any language barrier. I am greek and speak fluent greek but when I first arrive it takes me a few days to get to get used to speaking it again. I have found that most everyone speaks some english. You'll be fine.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 10:02 AM
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I don't know what Alec meant to type - - true enough, Greeks, don't use Cyrillic, but they don't use what he typed either

α β γ

are entered here as

α β γ

Best wishes,

Rex
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 10:19 AM
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Yes, I meant to enter Greek scripts via character map, but came out as Latin alphabet instead!
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 10:21 AM
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I was in Greece four or five times in the 70s, and I was still able to get along with a few useful phrases: Please, thank you, where is... And enough to understand numbers.
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 12:19 PM
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This past summer we went to Athens, Spetses, and Santorini. My husband speaks fluent Greek while I only know hello, yes, no, and thank you.

Athens - you can get by with just English and the few words I knew.

Spetses - more of a locals island and I felt you really had to speak Greek there, although our hotel check in guy knew English and wanted to show it off (he was 20 something - his father and grandfather did not know English).

Santorini - you can use just about any language there. My husband actually had to translate between our Swedish driver and our Russian luggage guy!
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