How Common Is Spoken English In Greece?


Greece, sometimes called the cradle of western civilization, is a widely popular tourist destination that brought 31.3 million tourists in 2019 to it’s many ancient cities and beaches. So, it is no surprise then that many native English speakers wonder if they can feasibly use English to commutate during vacations, or even studying abroad in Greece.

The most widely spoken second language in Greece is English with 51% of Greeks being able to speak it. This amounts to 5,467,200 English speakers at least on some level. Greek is the most spoken language in Greece 99% of the populace using the official language.

Though English might be not as prevalent in Greece as in other countries in Europe, Greece still maintain a high level according to EPI. Greece ranks nineteen out of the thirty-four countries in Europe regarding the level of English present and the twenty-first in the world. How many people in Greece speak English? What other languages do Greeks speak?

How Widely Spoken Is English In Greece?

Contrary to what many in the US or in the UK may think, Greece has many citizens that can actually speak English as a second language. There are many reasons why English is such a popular second language in Greece, but the main reason has do with the economical benefits of the English language for jobs.

Greece experienced an economic crisis of sorts a while back, so its no wonder now that the people of Greece see a finical aspect of learning a language. The economic crises that seem to come and go hit the region hard.

Many younger Greeks entering the work force are looking outside of their boarders and to education to offer more opportunities. With both of these options comes the need to speak and understand English.

Yet, how many Greeks actually speak English? What are the real numbers?

How Does Greek English Compare To Other European Countries?

Greece is considered to be a country with a high English level when compared with the rest of the world. It actually is average when looking at the rest of the countries of Europe.

With such high levels of English in European countries, this leads Greece to be one of the top 25 countries in the world in English language proficiency.

The chart below shows the percentage of English in a sampling of other countries in Europe, including the subject of our topic: Greece. So, to get a better understanding of how English in Greece shapes up, its best to compare the presence of English across some of the many different countries found in Europe. For our purposes, we will look at Germany, Italy, and Turkey.

Greece Has Much Higher English Skills Than Turkey

Starting with Turkey, at first glance one quickly realizes that it has small percentage of English speakers. This might surprise some, sense it is a common misconception that Turkey has many robust English speaker communities, yet it is simply not the case.

I go into the reason why, and where English is actually used (namely tourist sites and destinations), in my article How Common Is Spoken English In Turkey?

With Turkey, the EPI categorizes it as having a low English presence. As it relates to English usage and prevalence, It ranks 33 out of 34 countries in Europe and the 69 out of a 100 countries around the world.

English Is Less Widely Spoken In Italy Than Greece

Moving on to Italy, it also has a low to medium level of English present, with EPI saying it has a moderate level of English across the country. Yet, that isn’t really the case as I discuss in my article How Common Is Spoken English In Italy. I explain how it is really much lower than that, with English only being usable around the major cities and tourist traps.

Greece Is Slightly Lower In English Proficiency Percentage Than Germany

Germany, though it might be surprising to some, has very high level of English as stated by EPI. Concerning English prevalence, Germany ranks as one of the highest in Europe and the world with 8 out 34 countries in Europe and 8 out of 100 across the entire world.

If your interested in more details about Germany, and the English speakers there, look at my article How Common Is Spoken In English Germany.

Greece has a high level of English and ranks 19 out of 34 countries in Europe and 21 out of 100 in the world. All of this is according to EPI, which clearly puts Greece in the high category.

So, as we can see, Greece is actually a lot higher when compared to some other countries in Europe. Yet, many countries, like Germany, still have a larger English speaking populace.

The true numbers are much different in terms of the actual population size of English speakers in Germany vs Greece.

One thing to consider, is that Germany, even if it seems like it is only a few percentage points higher, actually has a very large group of people that can speak English as second language. We need to keep in mind that Germany has around 83 million citizens living there, and as such has around 46,480,000 people that can speak English.

Compared that with the around 10.72 million citizens in Greece and as such has around 5,467,200 million people who can actually speak English as a second language.

The actual numbers tell a much different story when looking at the true numbers of English speakers in the two countries. Germany in reality has 41,012,800 more English speakers than Greece.

Do They Speak English In Greece?

What is it like for finding English on a daily basis in Greece? Do people use is regularly in their daily lives?

People in Greece do speak English, but like other countries in Europe only in certain situations. Modern Greek is spoken natively by 99% of the population. Yet, with 51% of the population able to speak English you are likely to find English skills in one out of every two people you meet.

In fact, Children at a early age in Greece are taught English as their second language. Greeks encourage this practice because an incredible majority of 92% of them believe that English in influential in future success in life.

As such, it is the most common second language in Greece with over half of Greeks speaking English to some degree.

Is English Taught In Greek Schools?

One interesting thing to note, 48% of Greeks say that they learn languages outside of a public school setting. They admit that they are not learning English through the education system, but instead learn through group sessions with a teacher (assuming a private one).

Only 13% of Greeks believe that learning a language in a school setting actually helps.

Anyone who took Spanish classes, or French for that matter, in an American high school can quickly attest to how little it actually helps you to learn a language. So, it is interesting to see how a good percentage of the people of Greece think little of the effectiveness of trying to learn a language, presumably English, in school.

Is There English On Greek Television And Movie Screens?

For anyone who is trying to learn Greek, or catching a movie during their vacation in Greece, it is important to know whether or not they dub movies and tv shows.

In Greece, they don’t usually dub foreign movies and tv shows, instead they just use subtitles for most all of them. The only real exception to this would be children’s movies.

You will find this a lot all over the world sense children can not read subtitles very well generally speaking, especially the younger they are, so they dub foreign movies into Greek to allow kids to be able enjoy the latest popular children’s movie without limitation.

Are There Road Signs In Greece With English On Them?

The answer to this, and pretty much for any country that does not have English as the native language, tends to be pretty much the same.

In Greece, and many places around the world, they use pictographs for a lot of the road signs available. Especially since Greece gets a lot of tourists every year, they know that a lot of people moving about won’t be able to read Greek. Thus, it is easier and safer to use common pictographs for road signs.

So, if there are words on a road sign, it’s probably in Greek. Yet, that also means it is not necessarily that important for getting about due to it is mainly there for those who actually live in Greece.

Is English Used In The Workplace In Greece?

For those who are wondering whether finding a job in Greece speaking only English is feasible, then knowing if English is used in the workplace is pretty much essential.

The workplace in Greece won’t be that different than anywhere else, sense the same logic applies through out the world, especially in Europe.

The logic being that if you’re in the line of work that deals with tourist or international business clients then you will probably use English to some degree, otherwise you will speak the native tongue of the region.

Of course that is a generality, yet is does hold true most places. So, in most workplaces in Greece, Greek will be the predominate language used. There are definitely some lines of work that might be considered an exception to the rule.

How Many People Speak English In Greece?

The percentages of people speaking English in Greece may make them seem to be high on the English proficiencey scale when compared with other countries in Europe and the world, but what do the numbers actually look like? Greece has a relatively small population.

There are 5,467,200 Greeks that can speak English in Greece. The total population of Greece is 10.72 million. This means that 51% of the population are able to speak English to some degree. They are among the top twenty five highest English proficiency countries in the world each year.

According to EPI, Greece is considered to have a high level of English present in the country. Comparatively to some other countries in Europe, Greece really does have a high amount of English present.

What Percentage Of Greece Speaks English?

Though percentages don’t tell all of the story when comparing one country to another, they are very informative when looking at the attitude and proclivity of the citizens within a country.

Taking all forms of communication into account, 51% of Greeks have some level of English proficiency. According to studies, 46% of the people of Greece speak English in online communication. These numbers are higher in international business and tourist settings and lower in rural areas.

The study Europeans and there Languages goes into great detail on how and why Greeks use the English language and what their views are about it.

The reason why approximately one in every two people can speak English in Greece is because they consider the language to be helpful in ones success in life. This is proven by how, in Greece, a large majority (92%) thinks that English helps in future success.

Are There English Speaking Communities In Greece?

Those who are looking to move to Greece from native English speaking countries need to know, though plenty of Greeks can speak English, they will still speak Greek.

So, expats that are looking for a haven of English speakers must realize that it all Greeks appreciate attempts at speaking their language. If you are planning to live in Greece long term then it is advisable to learn some Greek.

Many Greeks are happy to accommodate for a while in English, but it becomes an issue of respect for their culture it this is expected on a continual basis.

That being said, it will certainly be easier for expats to live in the big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki just speaking English because they will have a lot more tourism and university students, which generally means English.

Where In Greece Is English Most Commonly Spoken? (The Three Main Cities)

As it is with a lot of different countries, major cities with tourism and international businesses are the main contributor to having more English in a non-native English speaking country. Universities are also major factor for more English in certain areas.

So, what are the major cities in Greece and do they have English speakers there?

Athens

Athens, considered to be the birthplace of democracy, is by far the most famous city in Greece with its many iconic structures and historic buildings. It is also by far the largest city in Greece with 664,046 people in the ancient city and as such has a higher level of English due to the sheer amount of tourism that takes place.

It really isn’t a oversimplification to say the more tourism you have, the more English you will have. Athens is by no means a exception to this rule.

The largest university in Athens with 63,000 students, The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, even has a bachelor program which is allowed to be taken entirely in English. Which is fantastic for those studying abroad in Greece.

Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, being the second largest city in Greece, has around 315,196 people living there. This long standing city has more English present due to being a large metropolitan area and having a lot of tourism. Some of its many tourist attractions are the Church of Saint Dimitrios and the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

The largest university (by square miles) in Thessaloniki and even in Greece, with 40,000 students, is the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Greek is the main language used in the university, though there are special programs for international students that use different languages and English is among the choices.

Patras

Patras is the third largest city in Greece with 167,446 people making their home there. Though admittedly it will have less English speakers due a less tourist economic focus and less people, it will still have more that speak there compared to the smaller towns and villages.

The University of Patras is the third largest university with more than 30,000 students currently. One interesting fact in Patras is that it is considered the place of martyrdom for the Apostle St. Andrew. As such, the University of Patras has Saint Andrew depicted on the their university emblem.

What Are The Most Common Languages In Greece?

Unlike some other countries in Europe, Greece isn’t all that multilingual. The Greeks typically use their mother tongue, with 99% of Greeks using the official Modern Greek language. This language has roots in medieval Greek, and as such makes it a unique language and very different from a English speaker’s perspective.

Yet, are there any other languages in Greece? English is, with out a doubt, the most common second language in Greece.

Other languages, whether it be Russian, French, Italian, and German; are all in the minority. None of them surpass the signal digits percentage wise.

Europeans and their Languages was a report done by the European Commission detailing the many different statistics considering languages in Europe. All of the following numbers in this section of the article come from this study.

Views On Foreign Languages In GreecePercentage Of Greek Population
Greeks that think that learning English leads to future success92%
Greeks that think French is a useful language4%
Greeks that think Spanish is a useful language3%

English has an extremely high approval rating in Greece, so it is no wonder then that Greeks at a young age are taught English at school.

Language Learning In GreecePercentage Of Greek Population
Greek populace that can speak two languages along side of their mother tongue15%
Greek populace that said that they have continued learning a second language9%
The people of Greece that said that they have not learned a language recently, or intend to start one51%
Percent of Greeks that said they would start learning a second language5%
Those in Greece who use a foreign language online52%
Those in Greece who are proficient in English online46%

As we can see, Greeks are not terribly interested in learning a different language. Yet, still many Greeks speak English, why is that?

Reasons Given To Learn A Language In GreecePercentage Of Greek Population
Needing a second language to work in another country73%
Needing a second to improve one’s own Job prospects in country69%
Needing a second language to study abroad54%

One of the main reasons Greeks give for not learning another language is due to the cost, 45% of Greeks generally give this reason.

So, it is not a stretch to say that the people of Greece generally look kindly on, and learn English, due to the economic benefits associated with the language. They don’t seem particularly interested in foreign languages in general.

Is Greek Hard For English Speakers?

According to the U.S. Department of State, Greek is considered to be a hard language to learn for a native English speaker. Why Greek is considered harder mainly has to do with how it differs so greatly from English in many respects.

For one, Greek has a completely different alphabet and has many strange pronunciations for anyone who is from a English background. So, when comparing Greek and English, you will see many differences thus, making it comparatively harder for a English speaker to learn Greek than some other languages.

Now, examples of languages that are easier to learn for a English speaker, as research from the aforementioned Department of State suggests, are: Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, and even Swedish. These language are generally easier to learn for native English speakers because all of these languages share many similarities from alphabets to shared grammar rules.

On the other hand, though Greek is considered hard, languages like: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic are considered to be very challenging for a native English speaker. Since they’re just so foreign to anyone from a English background, particularly those from Asia, they become almost alien in comparison to the already mentioned easier languages.

One must remember that even though a language is considered harder than another, that does not change the fact that languages are hard no matter what. They take a lot of time and effort, so even the languages that are supposed to be easy are just “easier” comparatively to some languages that are considered “harder”.

So, if you are thinking about learning Greek, then do not let people make you think that it will be so incredibly difficult as compared to others. In the end, language are a challenge to learn, no matter what, though some just might take longer than others.

The Final Talking Point On How Common Or Widely Spoken Is English In Greece…

English though it may be surprising to some, is a very popular second language in Greece. With 51% of its people being able to speak it in some way, it is no wonder then that Greece is considered to have a large presence of English.

As stated by EPI, Greece ranks 19 out of the 34 countries in Europe and 21 out the top one hundred countries worldwide. Sense it is 51% of the people of Greece that can speak English, that means a total of around five and a half million people speak English in Greece.

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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