With over 30 million tourists visiting it every year, Greece has quickly become one of the most popular tourist locations in Europe. Many millions of the visitors to Greece are English. But how many speak English in Greece? Can you visit Greece without knowing any Greek, and get by with just speaking English?
Recent surveys have found that nearly half of Greece can speak good English. This number is one of the highest in the whole of Europe! If you’re in the capital Athens, you will be able to get by with speaking English in Greece. The same can be said in many of the other destinations that are popular with tourists in Greece. However, if you start to visit the more rural areas of Greece, some basic Greek phrases will be useful.
Accordingly to Wikipedia, more than 50% of Greek locals speak English. Compared to other countries like how many speak English in France and Spain, this is a very healthy number. However if you compare the percentage to English in Germany, the number is a little less.
You can speak English in Greece
Greek schools teach English to children from a young age, so most of the younger generation – all the way up to 40 years of age – will be able to speak English well. If you have to speak to anyone in the tourist sectors, you will find they can speak good English. They usually can speak a few other European languages also.
Short stays at some of the more popular holiday destinations in Greece will not have any language barrier. Some of the stunning islands of Greece like Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Zakynthos and Athens all speak very good English. As you start to go elsewhere, you will come across a much older Greek population, and some of these cannot speak good English. Because of this, it would be wise to learn a few basic Greek phrases – just to be safe!
As you travel around Greece, you’ll notice most of the menus, subway stops and road signs are in English as well as Greek – particularly in Athens. Most tourist attraction signs will also be written in both languages. Greek is ready to welcome English speaking people, as they receive over 3,000,000 people each year from UK and the US.
Hardly anyone who has visited Greece have reported problems speaking English to the locals, throughout the country. The Greek population are very friendly towards tourists, as they are a main source of income for the country, and they mostly speak good English. Even if you happen to come across someone who cannot speak English, someone else near them will be able to.
Having said that, as always, it’s still good to try and learn a few Greek phrases to endear yourself to the locals. Basic manners like please and thank you are super easy to pronounce in Greek, as is hello.
English is spoken in most tourist destinations of Greece
We can get a little more specific and speak about the main tourist destinations of Greece. We have mentioned a few of the main areas below, and have given you an overview of the main cities in Greece where you can speak English:
English in Athens
As the capital of Greece, this very popular tourist destination is an international city with English speakers everywhere! If you visit the subway (metro), you’ll notice English signs. We have not seen or heard of any negative reports from visitors in this region. Some expats have moved to Athens and have not had to speak any Greek to get by. You can speak English in Athens.
The locals would appreciate a few simple Greek phrases though.
English in Corfu
There are no reported language issues in Corfu – You can speak English in Corfu. Again, Restaurants have English menus, and bars and shops understand English well. You can win a few brownie points with the locals if you try and speak a few Greek phrases however. You will be able to speak English in Corfu.
English in Crete
English is widely spoken in the main resorts and towns here. Many of the staff members here speak more than one language, particularly in the restaurants and shops. Even if you decide to venture out into some of the smaller villages, you’ll still find a lot of people who speak good English. You can definitely speak English in Crete.
English in Rhodes
There are plenty of English speakers in Rhodes, because it is a major tourist destination. Many older ones here speak English well also. Many of the locals will be able to spot you are English before you even begin to speak. It’s probably the burnt, bright red shoulders and white legs! As with all of Greece, a few well chosen Greek phrases will go down well with the locals. You will have no problems speaking English in Rhodes.
English in Santorini
This is another well visited tourist destination in Greece, and so there are a lot of people who speak English here. You can visit many places such as restaurants, bars and shops without speaking Greek. Restaurant menus are in English. Taxi drivers also speak good English, even if you are visiting Oia or Fira. You should be able to speak English in Santorini.
English in Zakynthos
The beautiful island of Zakynthos is a must-visit place in Greece. There are many English speakers in Zakynthos. If you plan to live here for a longer period of time, then you should probably pick up a few basic Greek phrases. Particularly during off-season (the winter), many of the English speaking staff members are not there, so you’ll have to deal with locals whose English is not always as good. English in Zakynthos is no problem.
Staying for a longer time in Greece
If you’re lucky enough to move to Greece for a longer period of time, then you can still survive by speaking English in Greece, as long as you’re in one of the main areas. If you’re moving there to retire, a long holiday or for work… we’re jealous.
Of course, if you’re moving to a foreign country, we highly recommend you take some time to learn at least the basics of the local language, as it will help you to settle down into the culture quicker.
Many people who have moved to Athens long-term have mentioned that they have been able to speak just English. Some have moved there permanently, and work in popular industries. For example, if you work for a large tech company, or you join a new startup, your employer is likely to require you speak fluent English. Many universities also speak very good English.
If you are fluent English, it is possible to secure a job without knowing any Greek, if you can speak English fluently – particularly in the tech industry and modern sectors. English is spoken widely in many major parts of Greece, so you won’t need to know any Greek.
As a general rule, if you’re working with people under 45 years old, you can probably get by speaking English only. However, if you find your work puts in contact with many older ones, then you may want to pick up some Greek; Some of the older Greek generation cannot speak enough English to be able to communicate.
The same can be said if you’re decided to retire to one of the smaller villages in Greece. If you decide you want a quieter life, away from tourists, then you’ll want to learn some Greek, as you’re more likely to run into someone who can’t speak English very well.
A major drawback if you decide to move to Greece for a long period of time is dealing with the government. In the public sector, English is not spoken as much and you will be expected to deal with permits, visas and fines in Greek. It’s likely that the staff will be able to speak English, but they’ll be less inclined to want to help foreigners – especially if you’re getting fined!
The easiest solution would be to find a friend who can speak Greek, or learn Greek yourself. Documents sent by the government are written in Greek. Which is to be expected, you live in their country! They will not translate the document into English. If you need to open a bank account, or setup a phone contract, then this also will be done in Greek. Most mail sent via the postal service will be in Greek also.
You don’t want to sign something you regret, so it’s imperative that you know at least some Greek, or you have a friend who can help you read/speak Greek. You could rely on Google translate to help with documents in Greek, but it’s not always 100% accurate, and you may end up signing a contract you later regret.
An alternative option would be pay someone native to translate the documents for you. There are many services out there that help with accurate document translations. Or you could try sites like Fiverr, who usually have cheap profiles on there for Greek to English translations.
You can learn some basic Greek Phrases!
If you really want to impress the locals on your holiday, or if you plan to visit for a longer period of time, it’s a good idea to have a few Greek phrases under your belt. The locals, who are already friendly, will love you even more! Of course, if you can speak some Greek, it will open up new doors of opportunity, including work and social networks.
And if you’re planning to stay long term, knowing some Greek will help you to integrate into society and tackle those tricky moments when you meet someone who doesn’t speak good English.
Luckily, Greek is a very easy language to speak. If you live in Greece, you will find yourself quickly learning and understanding the language without even trying, as it’s simple to hear and pick up words.
The same can’t be said for Greek in writing. Greece has a unique alphabet (alpha, omega, etc), which will throw off English speakers quickly. Having said that, in general you won’t need to read the language (unless you’re dealing with the government) so you can get by learning phrases and some basic words to speak.
We’ve found a great video that helps with learning phrases:
Whether you’re visiting one of the beautiful Greek islands, or you’re planning a longer stay, you can get by with English in Greece. However, if you want to impress the locals, or you plan on visiting the rural areas, you will do well to learn a little bit of Greek.
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