Greece is often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and literature, historiography, political science, and Olympic Games.
From the eighth century BCE, the Greeks were organized into various independent city-states, which spanned the Mediterranean region and the Black Sea. At various other points in history, Greece belonged to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
But, do people speak English in Greece?
Greece’s population is roughly 10.8 million people. Out of the total population about 51% or 5.5 million Greeks speak English. In southern European countries it is common for a lower percentage of the population to speak English. English speakers are usually better educated, live in the cities and are richer.
English Use in Major Greek Cities
Athens – Athens is the largest and most populous city in Greece with a population of 3.7 million. Western Civilization began in Athens, but today is the capital of Greece with many landmarks and tourist attractions including the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaelogical Museum, the Temple of Zeus, among many others. People come to admire the antiquity alongside the contemporary restaurants, hotels, bars, and other sites. When traveling through Athens, it will be easy to survive with only speaking English.
Heraklion – As the capital of the island Crete, tourists expect to see a typical Greek city that is full of ancient architecture. However, tourists will find themselves in a very modern and contemporary city. Heraklion is Greece’s fifth-largest city, where tourists can visit the Palace of Knossos. The archaeological site is thousands of years old, dates to the Minoan civilization, and houses frescoes and baths. The city sits next to a perfect blue sea, and tourists can enjoy excellent food, friendly people, and numerous antiquities while visiting Heraklion. While traveling in Heraklion, you might encounter foreign workers in tourism jobs. English speakers can be found, but do not rely on speaking English to survive.
Kos – Located in the south-eastern part of the Aegean Sea, Kos is a tourist destination in the Greek islands of the Dodecanese. The main industry in Kos is tourism, with the beaches as the main attraction. Farming is the next biggest industry, with the main crops being grapes, almonds, figs, olives, and tomatoes. Hippocrates, an ancient physician, is thought to be born on Kos, and one of the main tourist attractions is the Plane Temple of Hippocrates, where Hippocrates supposedly taught. At some tourist sites, English tour guides might be available for you.
Rhodes – Another island in Greece, Rhodes is considered one of the most beautiful islands in Greece. Rhodes is the largest Dodecanese island, and it is known for its beach resorts, ancient ruins, and remnants of its occupation by the Knights of St. John during the Crusades. Rhodes’ Old Town has a medieval Street of the Knights and Palace of the Grand Masters. Captured by the Ottomans and then occupied by the Italians, the palace is a great history museum worth visiting.
Thessaloniki – Thessaloniki is a Greek port city on the Aegean Sea. Evidence of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history can be found throughout the city. Especially the 4th century palace of Roman Emperor Galerius that includes the Rotunda which was a church and a mosque. Much of the city’s center was destroyed by a fire in 1917. The city was rebuilt throughout the 20th century, but in recent economic crises, the city was one of the hardest hit due to deindustrialization in the 1990s. When traveling around Thessaloniki, you can expect that you will encounter some English speakers.
What Languages are Spoken in Greece?
Greek – The Modern Greek language is the only official language of Greece and is spoken by 99.5% of the 11 million people. Standard Greek is the official standard, but there are several non-official dialects and other distinct languages that are also spoken. All surviving forms of modern Greek are descendants of a common language that dates to antiquity.
English – About 35% of English words find their roots in Greek. According to recent statistics, about half of the Greek population can speak English, which is a decent figure and one of the highest percentages in Europe. As a tourist, you will be very safe using English in Athens, and at other tourist destinations. Although some basic Greek will be very useful when visiting remote and rural areas. Almost all road signs, menus, and metro-transit stops are duplicated in Greek and English, as are museums and other attractions. It is reported that 3 million British and American tourists visit Greece each year, so the country can accommodate English speakers.
Russian – Russian is widely spoken in Greece, mainly by wealthy Russians who settled in Greece, and by Russian speaking migrants who arrived in the 1990s. Following the Greek Civil War in the mid-20th century, many Greeks settled in Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and other Eastern bloc states, only returning to Greece in the 1990s.
French – French and Greek relations date back to antiquity, when Ancient Greek colonies were established in pre-Roman Gaul. In the Middle Ages, French crusaders played an important role in the Fourth Crusade and founded several states in Greece after the Byzantine Empire collapsed in 1204. Greece and France’s relationship dates back to antiquity and it is still strong today.
Turkish – Turkish is one of the most commonly spoken minority languages in Greece today. In Greece, there have been many Turkish speakers, due to the long period of the Ottoman Empire. Greece’s Turkish speaking population is concentrated primarily in the area of eastern Macedonia and Thrace. Turkish speakers comprise the majority of Greece’s Muslim population.
Is English Necessary in Greece?
As a tourist, you should encounter no problems if you only speak English. Reading various travel blogs on Greece, tourists hardly ever report any problems with using English even while traveling all around the country. It is very easy to find an English speaker nearby if needed. As a tourist, the Greek people will be very hospitable and welcoming to you. If you are planning a move to Greece, then it is still possible to live somewhere where English is widely spoken. As with moving to any country, learning the local language opens up many doors and options, and integrates you more into society.
As a local, it is a widely held belief that Greeks speak English, and that Greece caters to an English-speaking population. That belief is widely exaggerated though. A majority of ATMs do not offer English options even in larger cities like Athens and Thessaloniki. Moreover 95% of government forms are in Greek, and government websites usually only have slimmed down English versions. As a local who speaks English, it will not be like other Europeans countries where people will be happy to speak English. In most cases, Greek English-speakers can only speak English with tourists as Greeks prefer to speak Greek together.
English Teaching in Greece
Greece’s recent economic woes have not diminished the country’s demand for English teachers. There are hundreds of language schools scattered throughout the country, with a concentration of the schools found in Athens and Crete.
Obtaining a teaching job requires the applicant to have a bachelor’s degree and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. English teachers in Greece will have no trouble finding an acceptable school because there is a high demand for English teachers. There are large universities in Athens or Thessaloniki, and there are smaller private training institutions called Kendra Xenon Glosson which might have some vacancy. Online job postings are scarce, so you might have better luck finding a job in-country.
With the economic hardship, Greece is a more challenging job market for a non-European Union citizen. Other blogs suggest to not count on obtaining a work permit to teach in Greece if you are not a EU citizen. This is because of the recent collapse of Greece’s economy, so the national network of schools (Frontiseria) is reluctant to hire non-European Union citizens who do not already have residence and legal employment rights.
Wages are modest, but usually enough to cover living expenses. Many teachers usually take a part-time job to supplement income usually through other language schools or private tutoring. Most English teaching jobs can be found in Athens, Larissa, Corfu, Thebes, and Thessaloniki.
Is Greece a Good Country to Live in?
Greece is an extremely vibrant country famous for its Mediterranean climate, detailed history, and beautiful architecture and culture that dates back to antiquity. Greece entered the European Union in 1981.
Greece’s acceptance into the EU heralded the start of a more expat friendly environment for overseas nationals. Before Greece joined the European Union, Greece was a developing nation where basic amenities were scarce, and cars were rarely seen on the road. However living standards changed dramatically and life became easier. To this day though, Greece does not seems as popular to expats as some other European countries. This might be because there are not as many international companies in Greece as there are in other EU countries. Thus the chance for career development is not as high as other EU countries. With that said, the country welcomes foreign workers and with the strong tourism industry, there are always jobs in tourism, such as managing a hotel or working as a tour guide.
Living costs in Greece are generally 30% lower than many other European nations, but Greece’s average local wage is lower. However costs of living are still lower, so expats working and living on a local salary should still be able to live comfortably. Greece’s climate is desirable for many expats though. Greece’s Mediterranean climate is very temperate. Summer days are usually hot and dry, while winter months are cool and mild.
If you do not speak Greek, then it might be difficult to get a job in a transnational company. As mentioned previously, finding job in education, the tourism industry, or agriculture is possible. While it might be difficult to learn Greek with its new alphabet, you will find that it might be easier than you think.
Can you Survive in Greece with English?
Greek uses a different alphabet than English, so there will be a slight learning curve when moving to Greece. Although it is not necessary to learn Greek, people survive in many other foreign countries without ever learning the local language. As an example, the resources available to those with a strong understanding of Greece are superior to those who cannot speak Greek. Knowing Greek and English provides a unique skillset that others might not have in a particular industry.
Companies view bilingual foreigners as valuable. As a Greek and English speaker, companies might be more likely to hire you because it shows two things: 1) that you are in for a long-term commitment, and 2) you possess cultural awareness. Several studies have shown that expats who can communicate in the local language are satisfied with their lives, face less problems, and find that the local residents are much more hospitable.
To make learning Greek easier, approximately 35% of English words have their roots in Greek. People who learn Greek are more skilled at learning and identifying root words, thus enriching themselves while learning a new language.
Communicating with a salesperson or cashier will be easier, or if you have a legal issue then speaking Greek will turn a nightmare into a inobtrusive hiccup. The quicker that you learn Greece, then the quicker that you might be viewed as a local. For living in Greece, it seems that to be a successful long-term resident that learning Greek should be one of your highest priorities.
So that’s it for whether people speak English in Greece. Greece is a fantastic country with a very friendly people. As with most places in Europe the number of people who speak English is pretty high. But, that being said, it is probably worth your time to learn some Greek if you plan to spend a few months there.
You can pick up Greek quite easily and getting into a good conversation is priceless.
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