Approximately 13 million people in the world speak Greek. Most live in Greece and Cyprus, where Greek is the official language. There is also a minority population of native Greek speakers in Italy, Albania, Romania, and Ukraine. Whether you're traveling to a place where Greek is spoken or just want to become more familiar with this ancient language, learning basic conversational phrases is a good place to start.
Method 1 of 3: Greet people
Step 1. Use yassass when formally greeting strangers
Yassass means "Hello". When greeting someone you don't know, it's more polite to use this formal version. This is especially true if the other person is older than you or has a position of authority.
- You can say yassou instead to greet younger people or friends. You can also just say yah, which is equivalent to an informal “Hello”.
- Yassass is also the plural form of "Hello." Use it if you are greeting a group of people.
Step 2. Greet in different ways depending on the time of day
As in other languages, there are specific greetings for morning, afternoon and evening in Greek. Some of these phrases are used when coming or going to a place.
- Kali mera means "Good morning" or "Good morning". It is usually used before noon.
- Kali spera means "Good afternoon." It is used after noon and before dark.
- Kali nikta means "Good night." It is not generally used as a greeting. Instead, it is used as "Goodbye" when you come home at night.
Step 3. Say herete only in extremely formal situations
This is a very formal way of saying "Hello" and is not as commonly used among Greeks or in Greece. However, if you are in a formal setting or addressing an important person, it may be appropriate to use it.
If you are greeting a government official, professor, member of the military, or member of the clergy, start with this greeting. If they are comfortable with you greeting them in a less formal way, they will tell you
Step 4. Recognize polite responses to greetings
If you greet someone in Greek, they may say kalo sorisateh, which means "Welcome." In the afternoon, you may hear kalo vrathi, which means "I wish you a pleasant evening."
- For example, if you walk into a store and say yassass, the owner might say kalo sorisateh.
- When you leave, if you say kali nikta (good night), it may say kalo ximeroma, which means "I wish you a good sunrise" or "I hope you do well tomorrow."
Step 5. Say you kanete? if you want to ask "How are you?"
Ti kanete is the formal or polite way of asking about someone's well-being. If you talk to someone younger than you or someone you know, can you use the informal version ti kanis?
In response, you can say kala, efharisto, which means "Good, thank you." If the other person asks you first, add esis, which means "And you?"
Step 6. Use the same words and phrases to say "Hello" and "Goodbye."
Yassass and yassou mean "Hello" and "Goodbye" respectively. Similarly, the phrases for "Good morning" and "Good afternoon" can be used when you first greet someone and when you leave.
Goodbye is another way of saying goodbye in Greek
Method 2 of 3: Have Simple Conversations
Step 1. Give a substitute to introduce yourself
This phrase means "Let me introduce myself." In Greek culture, this formality is important. Use this sentence before simply telling someone your name. Then wait for him to acknowledge that you can continue.
- To tell someone your name, you can say to onoma mou (my name is) or my lenne (my name is) followed by your name. These phrases are interchangeable.
- When someone tells you their name, say harika poli ya to gnorimia, which means "Nice to meet you."
Step 2. Use polite words and phrases to show respect
Knowing how to say "please" and "thank you" will help you tremendously, especially if you can't speak a language very well. Being polite to native speakers can help you avoid misunderstandings or offenses.
- Me synhorite is the formal way of saying "Excuse me." If you talk to a friend or someone younger than you, you can say me sinhoris, which is the informal version of the phrase.
- Sygnomi means "I'm sorry."
- Efharisto means "Thank you."
- Parakalo means "Please". This is also used to say "You're welcome" as a response when someone is grateful.
Step 3. Explain your knowledge of the Greek language
It is important to let people know that you don't speak much Greek, especially if you are visiting Greece or an area where Greek is spoken. You can say den melo kala ellinika, which means "I don't speak Greek very well."
- If you want a person to keep talking to you in Greek for you to practice, you can say parakalo milate mou ellinika, which means "Please speak to me in Greek."
- If you don't understand what someone is saying to you, you can say parakalo milate pyo arga, which means "Please speak more slowly." You could also say mporite na epanalavete or "Please say it again."
Step 4. Talk about your origin
Your country or hometown is likely to be a first topic of conversation, especially if it is a trip. If someone asks you apo pu iste or apo pu katageste, it means that they are asking you where you are from.
- Use the phrase eime apo or katagome apo in your response, followed by the name of your country or hometown. The place you mention will depend on what the other person asked you. If he asked you apo pu iste, use the answer eime apo.
- If he asked you first, add esis to the end of your answer, which means "And you?" This also helps the conversation flow.
Step 5. Be polite when asking questions
Add parakalo to the end of any question you ask in Greek. This is not only polite, but it is also considered an important part of Greek culture and shows that you respect the person you are asking a question.
You can also use parakalo to say "Excuse me." You can use it if you think you misunderstood something or if you didn't hear what he said
Step 6. Be careful not to confuse "yes" and "no"
In Greek, neh means "yes" and ohee means "no." Because neh sounds very similar to the word “no” in Spanish, it can be easy to confuse and misinterpret what someone is saying.
If you're not sure what someone meant, you can say then katalaveno, which means "I don't understand."
Method 3 of 3: Pronounce Greek Words Correctly
Step 1. Get familiar with the Greek alphabet
It's true that you don't have to learn how to read Greek to be able to strike up a conversation. However, having a basic understanding of the Greek alphabet will help you with pronunciation.
- Find a copy of the Greek alphabet online. There are several different images that are available. Therefore, choose the one you like the most.
- You may find that you already know part of the alphabet. Several Greek letters have similar equivalents in the Latin alphabet, which is used in Spanish, English, and other Western European languages.
Step 2. Recognize the Greek letters that share their pronunciation with the Latin letters
There are approximately 10 letters in the Greek alphabet that have sounds similar to their Latin alphabet equivalents. If you learn them, you will be ready to pronounce almost half of the Greek alphabet.
- The vowels a (alpha, Α α) and e (epsilon, Ε ε) are equivalent to the short version of the same vowels in Spanish. Alpha sounds like the a in the word “mama” in Spanish. Epsilon sounds like the e in the word “es” in Spanish.
- Both omicron (Ο ο) and omega (Ω ω) are pronounced like the o, similar to the word “bear” in Spanish.
- The Greek letters zeta (Ζ ζ), kappa (Κ κ), mi (Μ μ), ni (Ν ν), and tau (Τ τ) look similar to the letters z, k, m, n and t, and share the same sound.
- Lambda (Λ λ) does not look like the Latin l, but it is pronounced the same. It sounds like the l in the word "las" in Spanish.
- Pi (Π π) does not look like the Latin p, but it is pronounced the same. It sounds like the p in the word “para” in Spanish.
- Sigma (Σ σ ς) does not look like the Latin s, but it is pronounced the same. It sounds like the s in the word "sapo" in Spanish. Note that lowercase letters have a different shape if they are at the end of a word.
Step 3. Memorize the Greek letters that are pronounced differently
While the Greek alphabet shares many similarities with the Latin alphabet, there are letters that have a different pronunciation than you might expect. Memorizing them will make it easier to pronounce the Greek words, even when reading the words transliterated into the Latin alphabet.
- Eta (Η η), iota (Ι ι) and ipsilon (Υ υ) are the 3 letters that exist for i in the Greek alphabet. All are pronounced like the i in the word "church" in Spanish.
- It may be tempting to pronounce beta (Β β) the same way you would in Spanish. However, this letter has a more vibrant v sound.
- Teta (Θ θ) has a th sound, similar to the th in the English word “think”. Delta (Δ δ) also has a th sound, but it's softer, like a d in Spanish.
- Xi (Ξ ξ) has a ks sound, similar to the x in the word “ex” in Spanish. This letter is always pronounced the same, regardless of its place in a word.
- Fi (Φ φ) sounds like an f, similar to the f in the Spanish word “focus”.
- Ji (Χ χ) sounds similar to the ch in the Scottish word “loch”. If it is followed by an e or an i, it sounds more like the ch in the German word ich.
- Psi (Ψ ψ) has a ps sound as it would be pronounced in Spanish. The sound of the letter does not change, regardless of its place in a word.
Step 4. Practice pronouncing the letter g (range, Γ γ)
If your native language is English, the letter g may be difficult to pronounce. It has 2 different sounds, depending on the vowel that follows it.
- If it is followed by an i or an e, it is pronounced like the y in the word “yeso” in Spanish. For example, the Greek word "spin" is pronounced yi-ro.
- If an a, o, or u follows, the letter g has a soft “g” sound. It is very similar to the g for "cat." It also sounds like the g in "The Loch Ness Monster." The Greek word for "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me," signomi, has this "soft g."
Step 5. Pronounce r (rho, Ρ ρ) differently when it is between two vowels
Similar to the Greek g, the Greek r has a different sound, depending on the letters that surround it. If it is between vowels, the r is shorter. In other cases, it sounds like a coiled or vibrating r like in Spanish or Italian.