Learn Greek: Vowels, Consonants, Digraphs, and Diphthongs

greek vowels greek consonants

The first step in your learning journey is the alphabet. Once you’ve become familiar with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet and their individual pronunciation, it is important to learn the various letter combinations. To begin with, let’s start with the seven vowels and 17 consonants.

The Greek Vowels

There are seven vowels in the Greek language and their sounds are distinct. These are:

Αα – Άλφα

Εε – Έψιλον

Ηη – Ήτα

Ιι – Ιώτα

Οο – Όμικρον

Υυ – Ύψιλον

Ωω – Ωμέγα

There are three different letters for the “e” sound (“e” as in “hero” or “zero“): Ηη, Ιι, and Υυ.

There are two different letters for the “o” sound (“o” as in “oven” and “open”): Οο and Ωω.

Εε is pronounced similar to the “e” in “hen” or “pen”.

Αα is pronounced similar to the “a” in “parrot” and “carrot”.

Listen the entire Greek alphabet pronunciation here.

There are no separate vowels for the sounds of “i” (as in “island” or “highland”) or “u” (as in “ultra” and “utility” ). Therefore, some letter combinations are deemed necessary to pronounce words borrowed from foreign languages.

The Greek Digraphs

A digraph is a pair of characters used in the orthography of a language to write a distinct sound. The term itself derives from Greek (di= double/twice, grapho= to write).

The modern Greek digraphs are the following:
αί, εί, οί, υί, αύ, εύ, (ηύ – rare)

The Greek Dipthongs

A diphthong is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds withing a single syllable. The term itself derives from the Greek word “δίφθογγος” (di= double/twice, phthongos= sound), however, it applies in any language that uses combinations of vowels.

The modern Greek diphthongs are:
αη, οη, αϊ/άι, οϊ/οι

The Greek Consonants

The Greek language has 17 consonants that are often mispronounced by non-native speakers. Here are the consonants of the Greek language:


Ββ – Βήτα
Γγ – Γάμα
Δδ – Δέλτα
Ζζ – Ζήτα
Θθ – Θήτα
Κκ – Κάππα
Λλ – Λάμδα
Μμ – Μι
Νν – Νι
Ξξ – Ξι
Ππ – Πι
Ρρ – Ρο
Σς – Σίγμα
Ττ – Ταφ
Φφ – Φι
Χχ – Χι
Ψψ – Ψι

The Greek consonants are separated between:

• Labials, which are formed with the lips (e.g. “Ππ”).
• Dentals, which are formed with the tongue and teeth (e.g. “Ττ”).
• Palatals, which are formed with the tongue and palate (e.g. “Κκ”).

Double Consonants in Greek

There are certain consonant sounds that are not represented by a single letter in th Greek alphabet, such as “Bb” or “Dd”. As a general rule of thumb, the words that require these phonetic sounds derive from other languages, usually Turkish, English, and French (e.g. “μπαχτσές”).

These are: μπ, ντ, γκ/γγ, τζ, τσ.

Μπ is pronounced similar to Bb (as in “Black”, “Back”, and “Band”).

Ντ is pronounced similar to Dd (as in “Disc”, “Dusk”, and “Duck”).

Γκ or Γγ is pronounced similar to Gg (as in “Gallon” and “Gulf”).

Τζ is pronounced similar to Jj (as in “James” and “Joy”).

Τσ is pronounced similar to Ch (as in “Choice” and “Challenge”).

Note:


It is important to highlight that all Greek vowels and consonants have a distinct and clear sound, similar to Spanish and Portuguese. There are no “hidden” sounds when reading a word aloud. This is why, contrary to popular belief, Greek can be one of the easiest languages to pronounce!


Would you like to challenge yourself and become an avid speaker of the Greek language? We know you can – join our video courses, where we delve into details, and learn Greek like a native!

Exercice: Try to pronounce the following words correctly. Listen to the audio and repeat after.

greek pronunciation exercice

For more exercices and additional help/guidance from Helinika’s team, join our video courses!

February 9: International Greek Language Day

greek-language-day

November 9 was declared in 2017 as the international Greek language day. After years of efforts, the initiative to dedicate a day in the calendar year to one of the oldest spoken languages in the world suceeded.

The aim of the initiative was to promote the Greek language and remind the members of the Greek diaspora and everyone who is fascinated by the Greek history and culture, to keep the language alive by speaking it and teaching it to the next generations.

Helinika’s goal is to help everyone access free study materials and affordable Greek language courses online. Keep updated by following our Facebook page.

The Greek Alphabet

learn-greek-alphabet

Introduction to the letters of the Greek alphabet. Learn how to read and write in Greek.

You’ve seen them in trigonometry, in physics, and probably in chemistry. Or you might have noticed them over the entrances of fraternities and sororities in many American Universities. The symbols look so familiar to the ones in the Latin alphabet but, at the same time, they are so different.

The letters of the Greek alphabet are indeed very popular. However, they are often mispronounced and used incorrectly. Here, you will learn how to properly write and pronounce them. This should be your first step in your learning journey. The alphabet is the A and Ω of every language.

Facts about the Greek alphabet:

  1. The Greek Alphabet derives from the Phoenician alphabet.
  2. It has been used since the late eighth century BC.
  3. The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters – from Α to Ω.
  4. Each symbol has its own name (e.g. the name of the letter “A” is “Alpha” or “Άλφα”)
  5. The English term “alphabet” is a combination of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet (“Alpha” and “Beta”).

The Greek alphabet letters and symbols:

greek-letters

The names of the Greek alphabet

greek-alphabet-names

Pronouncing the Greek letters

One of the biggest mistakes that people who study modern Greek make is pronouncing the Greek alphabet according to the Erasmian pronunciation. Many schools in the West are using alternative pronunciations of ancient Greek that change the phonetic values of the letters. The aim is to imitate the phonological system of the student’s native language, hence making ancient Greek easier to pronounce. As a result, many non-native speakers assume that modern Greek uses the same alternative pronunciations. The reality is that the Greek letters are pronounced in this way:

Why learn Greek?

the greek language

Why should you spend your precious time learning a new language spoken by over 13 million people around the world?

Learn Greek and understand the origins of your own language

If you are an English speaker, then you regularly speak Greek without knowing it. It is estimated that over 150.000 English words derive directly and indirectly from the Greek language.

“Dinosaurs”, for example, are the mighty lizards – the term derives from the Greek words “δεινός” (dinos) and “σαύρα” (saura), meaning mighty/strong and lizard respectively. Another example is the word “telephone”. This commonly used word derives from “τηλε-” (tele) and “φωνή” (phoni); the first stands for “distant” and the second for “voice”.

The same goes for most of the languages that are widely spoken in Europe. It is worth mentioning that some of the words were borrowed into Latin and then acquired from its descendants, the Romance languages, such as Italian and Spanish. Moreover, countless scientific and medical terms have Greek roots and, by understanding the language they derive from, you can understand more about this specific subject.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the modern Greek language is much closer to ancient Greek than most people think. In fact, it is closer to ancient Greek than Italian and Spanish are to latin. If you learned ancient Greek in school or if you are interested in ancient Greek history, speaking modern Greek will help you connect with the ancient civilization that influenced the modern western culture, ideas, and politics.

Learn Greek and expand your opportunities

Over 13 million people around the world are able to speak Greek. The language is spoken in Greece, in Cyprus, and among members of the Greek diaspora, a term that refers to the people who originate from Greece but live abroad. That gives you countless possibilities for meeting people, making friends, negoatiating business partnerships, and even finding a job.

Now, you may wonder what type of job opportunities might be available for foreigners in Greece. The country has indeed quite high unemployement rates, however, during the summer season, job openings multiply. Islands such as Mykonos and Santorini and other touristic locations need to employ a big number of people who specialize in various hospitality positions.

Chefs, bartenders, and baristas from all over Greece and around the world are employed every summer season in some of the most reputable hotels and restaurants in Greece. In most cases, the employers provide free accommodation and there are countless opportunities to enjoy the beauty of Greece. Speaking Greek (at least) on a basic level is often a requirement.

Moreover, Greece is a popular destination for travellers, digital nomads, and Erasmus students. Although speaking Greek fluently is not necessary when travelling to Greece or moving for a couple of months, doing so will make your life much easier and will help you make good impressions to locals, meet people, and make friends.

Learn Greek and train your brain

Learning a new language not only expands your job prospects, but, according to a recent study, it also makes you smarter. Bilinguals embrace new concepts that are often not represented in their own monther tongues, which has positive effects on the brain.

Now, add a different alphabet to the mix and the unique complexities of the Greek grammar and syntax, and the Greek language becomes a good choice for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and learn new things.

We answered the question why should everyone learn Greek. Are you ready to start? Helinika offers free study materials for everyone and, in addition to that, a series of affordable on-demand online courses for all levels. The best way to learn Greek is here. Start your e-learning journey now!