Is It All Greek to You? There’s an App for That.

The Greek language is among the most popular to learn on Duolingo out of the languages in the 3Seas region. But does the fascination with the language go beyond the occasional exercise on the go?

Beginner Greek language learner writing Hello word in greek alphabet on a notebook
"Hello" word in greek. Photo: Keitma / stock.adobe.com

It sure feels like all your friends went to Greece this summer – at least according to your social media feed, sprinkled with photos featuring the unmistakable Greek blue, be it the sky, the sea, or just the bright color of the door of a house on some picturesque island. And while English is popular among Greeks (one review of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 noticed that villagers in the movie seem to speak better English than members of the Portokalos family, visiting from the US), an interesting trend is emerging among those fascinated by Greece: An increasing number of people across the globe are trying to hone their Greek language skills with the help of Duolingo, the popular app for tipping your toes in the sea of over 40 languages.

So much so that, German aside, Greek is the most popular 3Seas region language, with some 1.69 million people taking the app’s course in English, according to duoplanet.com, a website dedicated to following all things Duolingo. According to the numbers made available by duoplanet.com, as of February 2023, with around 1.65 million learners worldwide, Polish is the other 3Seas region language placed in the top 20. As for German, according to data on learners taking the course in English, 11.9 million people are looking to improve their German language skills, placing German at number 4, after Spanish, French, and Japanese.

Creating deeper bonds

“I’m thrilled that modern Greek is gaining popularity as a foreign language. I believe that what brings people closer to the language is the fact that many more people visit Greece and wish to return or find a means of creating bonds with the culture,” says in conversation with 3Seas Europe Panos Gerakis, owner of AthensLingua, a language school in the Pagrati district of Athens, which currently offers two courses of modern Greek.

Of course, there’s also the influx of retirees or digital nomads who choose Greece as their place to be. Life is still affordable in the country, but then, it’s also the weather and the vibe of cities like Athens and Thessaloniki,” adds Gerakis. “There’s also a smaller number of those intellectually curious ones who wish to approach Greece through another path: people still find fascination in the iconic classical past. Many of my students who join classes online are academics, fervent literature readers, or people seeking a connecting thread with Greece.”

Greek has also been gaining popularity across Greece’s northern border, in Bulgaria. Once, in the 90s, a popular destination for Bulgarians looking for much better-paid job opportunities, now Greece is seen as a favorite summer destination, and for those who have some savings, a real estate investment opportunity, especially in Northern Greece where many Bulgarians have acquired property.

Igniting interest in all things Greek

Over the years, Petya Zagorcheva of Aristea, a center for Greek language and culture in Sofia, has had more students coming through the school. “In recent years, there has been a great interest in the Greek language in Bulgaria. Not only people from Sofia but also from other regions of Bulgaria are learning Greek online with us, with teachers, both Bulgarians and Greeks, igniting students’ interest in all things Greek,” Zagorcheva tells 3Seas Europe. “Our students are very diverse: doctors, economists, students, people with Greek roots who have a Greek parent. We set up the center because I wanted people not only to learn the language but also to gain knowledge about the rich culture of Greece. In this direction, every month, we develop some cultural activities,” Zagorcheva adds. Even today, we have such an event – one of the professors who runs this seminar will talk about the history of wine in Greek lands. As well as about ouzo and other famous drinks on the Aegean islands. Needless to say, there will be a tasting, too.”

Back in Athens, the advanced group of students learning Greek at the AthensLingua school are done for the day and offering encouragement to the beginners’ class students who are slowly filling up the school for the next class. “I don’t believe in technology when it comes to learning. Apps can only superficially touch upon language and culture. They lack the intellect and warmth created in the bond between an instructor and a student,” says Panos Gerakis, the Greek language teacher. “However, I do believe that applications like Duolingo might initiate people and give a taste until people decide to seriously dedicate themselves to learning a language.”

In Greece’s case, it seems to be working.

Galina Ganeva

a journalist with experience working for some of the most influential Bulgarian publications. She mostly writes about the intersection of society and culture

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