Well, rather a lot actually! One tiny little accent can completely change the meaning of a word when speaking Greek. In writing, similar words are usually spelt differently but as they sound the same it is simply a matter of practice if you do not read Greek. If you DO read Greek you are very fortunate as the accent is always put on the right syllable.
Perhaps the most classic mispronunciation is the neutral, plural form of “soft”, malaka, and the word for “wanker”, malaka. Who has not heard of the poor bloke who, ambitiously, wanted to ask for Malboro Soft at the kiosk in Greek and ended up saying, Malboro, wanker? Kudos for making the effort though!
Another few examples are the following:
filaki (little kiss) – filaki (prison)
fili (kiss or tribe) – fili (female friend)
poli (town, city) – poli (much)
nero (roman emperor) – nero (water)
pote (when) – pote (never)
Greeks really appreciate it when you make an effort and will never get angry if you make a mistake. They will, however, correct you which might be a bit intimidating but is only to save you from making embarrassing mistakes. At the end of the day, who wants to say “I want the emperor Nero for my tribe” or “give me a prison”.
English does not really present this particular problem and the only similar example I can think of when writing this is how to pronounce teens and decades: thirteen and thirty, fifteen and fifty etc. Sometimes, a Greek waiter will say the bill is ‘fifteen” Euros, instead of fifteen, which sounds like fifty. Nevertheless, English presents a myriad of problems for those of us that have to learn it: why is Leicester not pronounced Lei-chest-er and how come “though”, “tough” and “through” sound so different?
All languages present various problems for the non-native speaker but remember that making an effort is always appreciated – even if you get it wrong!
Please feel free to add your own experiences/difficulties or questions about Greek!
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