© 2021 Greek Community Tribune All Rights Reserved

Thoughts and Questions on the Future of

Modern Greek in Australia

A speech by Dr Alfred Vincent* at a formal Reception by the Greek Orthodox Community of SA on the occasion of Greek Independence Day 0n 25 March 2022. May 2022 It is a great honour to be invited to this offering of tribute to the men and women who dedicated their lives and their resources to the liberation of Greece. As an educator and now an observer and researcher, my particular way of honouring the creators of the Greek state is to move mentally from the past to the present and the future, and from Europe to Australia, and to ponder on what we ourselves can offer to Greece, and in particular to the Greek language and its rich culture. What I can do is to share some thoughts, mainly questions, about the situation of Greek in Australia. In recent years the teaching and learning of Greek has been in decline. In NSW the number of students taking Modern Greek at HSC has plummeted and university teaching positions have been lost. In Melbourne the university departments of Modern Greek at Melbourne University and Monash have been annihilated; the one remaining, La Trobe, has had a reprieve thanks to Greek community support, but its position is still precarious. And then there is Covid: as early as June 2020 Iakovos Garivaldis wrote in the newspaper Neos Kosmos about the disastrous effects lockdowns and online learning were having for the teaching of Greek. I do not have details about the position in South Australia, though I do know that the excellent department at Flinders University has been seriously reduced. Even if the decline has not been as dramatic as elsewhere, I’m afraid the crunch is bound to come. It is important to understand that the problem is not peculiar to Greek. It applies to all languages. Australia as a whole does not take the teaching of languages other than English very seriously. Language learning has been declining quantitatively over many years. Our education systems give less time to languages than other economically advanced countries. NSW, incidentally, is worse than other states. The EU, by contrast, has a language policy, one of the objectives of which is “that every European citizen should master two languages in addition to their mother tongue”. The Commission proposed in 2017 that this should be the norm by 2025. Some countries have already got close to achieving this goal. Australia seems to have been affected by language complacency: English is the world language, so why bother to learn any other? This is of course an incredibly superficial attitude, but it seems to be deeply ingrained. And in Australia it’s not restricted to people of English-speaking background. No community is isolated from this mentality. No community is a bubble. Even if a child goes to a Greek pre-school and then to Greek day schools, and speaks Greek at home, he or she will still be deeply affected by dominant attitudes, for example through social media and the general social environment . This attitude can only be turned around by a profound change, which I believe would need to be enshrined in a new national languages policy. Different language communities need to get together and lobby for it, together with non-community-based educationists who know the value of a genuine multilingualism and multiculturalism. Is such change even possible? I don’t know. But it may be worth aiming at. Let us not forget the 1970s, when Australia was transformed over a few years from being a monocultural country to one that embraced and supported multiple languages and cultures. Some of the achievements of that period, such as SBS, are still with us. There are some valuable ideas on the situation and future of Modern Greek in Australia in the recent book by Joseph Lo Bianco, published by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Lo Bianco focuses particularly on Victoria, since his research was commissioned by the teachers of Modern Greek in that state. Nonetheless his work has a wider relevance too, and not only for Modern Greek. Here’s a situation which some of you may recognise from your own experience. A few days ago, I was talking in Sydney to a former student, who had been looking after her four-year-old nephew, we’ll call him Nicholas. Her parents had come out from Greece after the war and had prospered through hard work. Our friend and her siblings are all university educated; they have an unusually good knowledge of Greek and take part in Greek cultural activities, although they use English among themselves. Nicholas is extremely bright. He understands Greek to some extent, speaks a little, and sometimes asks how to say things. But he only speaks Greek with his grandparents; he’s reluctant to speak it with anyone else. He says things like: “Mama, speak English! Only yiayia and papou can speak Greek to me!” On hearing this I began to ask myself some questions. In ten years time, as a teenager, what will be Nicholas’ relationship to Greek language and culture? Our friends would like him to learn to speak well and to value his cultural heritage, but what can they do to help him to want that? If he doesn’t want to learn Greek, if he sees it as a pointless chore, then he’ll either reject it completely or he won’t make a good job of it. And in ten more years, when he’s an adult of 24 and the grandparents are probably no longer around, what will be his attitude then? In what if any situations will he still be using Greek? What would attract Nicholas to be actively involved in Greek cultural activities? This is not a completely new problem. But what may be new about Nicholas’ case is that the very limited situations in which he uses Greek will probably no longer exist in ten or twenty years. If present trends continue, there will be very few people around who will use Greek regularly as native speakers. It is true that new immigrants have arrived in Australia since the Global Financial Crisis, but they are few in comparison to the post-war wave of immigration. Of course, there are many different routes to knowledge and commitment. Last week I was talking with another friend, a young man of 32, we’ll call him George, who has a good knowledge of Greek and has become passionately involved with Greek cultural and community affairs. I was surprised to learn that he didn’t speak a lot of Greek as a child; his mother’s native language was actually Spanish. At secondary level he might have considered studying Greek, only it was not offered at his high school. He came to it, he says, as a mature student of 25, taking courses at university and spending some time in Greece. When I asked him what triggered his commitment to Greek language and culture, he said it was through volunteering for Sydney Olympic football club. Many of the fans were older Greeks, and he wanted to communicate with them more effectively. So that was the trigger; later he found other benefits from his knowledge of Greek. But the issues we saw with Nicholas are not irrelevant to George. When he and his Greek-Australian wife have children, they will want them to learn Greek and participate in Greek culture. But the situation with Greek will have changed by the time their kids are teenagers. Even Sydney Olympic will be far less Greek- speaking than in George’s day. So how will they ensure that their kids will be motivated to devote time and effort to learning? What kind of trigger will be effective for them? These and similar conversations have led me to formulate more questions which I would like to share with you. In my imagination, I try to move myself ten years forward to 2032. And I ask myself, what will then be the position of Greek in Australia? What position would I like it to have? Will it be sufficient for kids to learn a little bit of Greek, or should we aim for more? Realistically, what will be the domains, the areas of our lives, in which Greek will be spoken? Where and how will it be learned? What will be the motivation for people to learn it? What policies and programmes might help to achieve the desired results? For Nicholas’ relationship to Greek in 2032 will be affected by decisions made in 2022. And a decision to do nothing is still a decision. I then might try to ask the same questions for 2042, when Nicholas will be a young adult and George’s children will probably be in high school. To answer these questions, a basic prerequisite is to have an accurate picture of the present position of Greek in each state, and of attitudes towards it. How much Greek are kids really learning? How are they using their Greek? Do they regard it as a language you speak only to grandparents and to teachers? These are not simply academic exercises. If I was a member of a Greek community I would be trying to get Greek organisations to debate them actively and to formulate policies appropriate to the present times. There is a lot that can be done. Opportunities for the use of Greek by people of all ages can be created and maintained. Available funds can be carefully invested in appropriate projects. Governments can be lobbied on matters of language policy and education. It could be an exciting debate. Electronic media have opened up vast new opportunities for language learning and cultural participation. In the future we can expect even more surprising developments. I will end by quoting from a report by Dr Michelle Kohler of Flinders University, published in 2017. At the end of the study she concludes: “[…] there is a mood in many areas of the nation for change and to reimagine languages education in light of the nature of the modern world, of contemporary understandings and innovations. There is an opportunity in the South Australian context to take a bold stance and to become a national/international leader in this area; however […] this will require a new vision and a long-term commitment to realising and supporting it into the future.” Alfred Vincent (alfred.vincent@bigpond.com) * Alfred Vincent graduated in Classics in the UK and did his PhD there on a Modern Greek topic. He was the first lecturer in Modern Greek studies at the University of Sydney. After retiring from that position in 1998 he spent two semesters as a Visiting Professor at the University of Crete, which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in 2002. For many years he has been a member of the committees of the Greek Festival of Sydney and the Greek Film Festival in NSW. In 2012 Alfred was made an Honorary Member of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW. He continues to research and write on Greek topics.
Greek Tribune Adelaide, South Australia
© 2021 Greek Community Tribune All Rights Reserved

Thoughts and Questions on the Future of

Modern Greek in Australia

A speech by Dr Alfred Vincent* at a formal Reception by the Greek Orthodox Community of SA on the occasion of Greek Independence Day 0n 25 March 2022. May 2022 It is a great honour to be invited to this offering of tribute to the men and women who dedicated their lives and their resources to the liberation of Greece. As an educator and now an observer and researcher, my particular way of honouring the creators of the Greek state is to move mentally from the past to the present and the future, and from Europe to Australia, and to ponder on what we ourselves can offer to Greece, and in particular to the Greek language and its rich culture. What I can do is to share some thoughts, mainly questions, about the situation of Greek in Australia. In recent years the teaching and learning of Greek has been in decline. In NSW the number of students taking Modern Greek at HSC has plummeted and university teaching positions have been lost. In Melbourne the university departments of Modern Greek at Melbourne University and Monash have been annihilated; the one remaining, La Trobe, has had a reprieve thanks to Greek community support, but its position is still precarious. And then there is Covid: as early as June 2020 Iakovos Garivaldis wrote in the newspaper Neos Kosmos about the disastrous effects lockdowns and online learning were having for the teaching of Greek. I do not have details about the position in South Australia, though I do know that the excellent department at Flinders University has been seriously reduced. Even if the decline has not been as dramatic as elsewhere, I’m afraid the crunch is bound to come. It is important to understand that the problem is not peculiar to Greek. It applies to all languages. Australia as a whole does not take the teaching of languages other than English very seriously. Language learning has been declining quantitatively over many years. Our education systems give less time to languages than other economically advanced countries. NSW, incidentally, is worse than other states. The EU, by contrast, has a language policy, one of the objectives of which is “that every European citizen should master two languages in addition to their mother tongue”. The Commission proposed in 2017 that this should be the norm by 2025. Some countries have already got close to achieving this goal. Australia seems to have been affected by language complacency: English is the world language, so why bother to learn any other? This is of course an incredibly superficial attitude, but it seems to be deeply ingrained. And in Australia it’s not restricted to people of English-speaking background. No community is isolated from this mentality. No community is a bubble. Even if a child goes to a Greek pre-school and then to Greek day schools, and speaks Greek at home, he or she will still be deeply affected by dominant attitudes, for example through social media and the general social environment . This attitude can only be turned around by a profound change, which I believe would need to be enshrined in a new national languages policy. Different language communities need to get together and lobby for it, together with non-community-based educationists who know the value of a genuine multilingualism and multiculturalism. Is such change even possible? I don’t know. But it may be worth aiming at. Let us not forget the 1970s, when Australia was transformed over a few years from being a monocultural country to one that embraced and supported multiple languages and cultures. Some of the achievements of that period, such as SBS, are still with us. There are some valuable ideas on the situation and future of Modern Greek in Australia in the recent book by Joseph Lo Bianco, published by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Lo Bianco focuses particularly on Victoria, since his research was commissioned by the teachers of Modern Greek in that state. Nonetheless his work has a wider relevance too, and not only for Modern Greek. Here’s a situation which some of you may recognise from your own experience. A few days ago, I was talking in Sydney to a former student, who had been looking after her four-year-old nephew, we’ll call him Nicholas. Her parents had come out from Greece after the war and had prospered through hard work. Our friend and her siblings are all university educated; they have an unusually good knowledge of Greek and take part in Greek cultural activities, although they use English among themselves. Nicholas is extremely bright. He understands Greek to some extent, speaks a little, and sometimes asks how to say things. But he only speaks Greek with his grandparents; he’s reluctant to speak it with anyone else. He says things like: “Mama, speak English! Only yiayia and papou can speak Greek to me!” On hearing this I began to ask myself some questions. In ten years time, as a teenager, what will be Nicholas’ relationship to Greek language and culture? Our friends would like him to learn to speak well and to value his cultural heritage, but what can they do to help him to want that? If he doesn’t want to learn Greek, if he sees it as a pointless chore, then he’ll either reject it completely or he won’t make a good job of it. And in ten more years, when he’s an adult of 24 and the grandparents are probably no longer around, what will be his attitude then? In what if any situations will he still be using Greek? What would attract Nicholas to be actively involved in Greek cultural activities? This is not a completely new problem. But what may be new about Nicholas’ case is that the very limited situations in which he uses Greek will probably no longer exist in ten or twenty years. If present trends continue, there will be very few people around who will use Greek regularly as native speakers. It is true that new immigrants have arrived in Australia since the Global Financial Crisis, but they are few in comparison to the post-war wave of immigration. Of course, there are many different routes to knowledge and commitment. Last week I was talking with another friend, a young man of 32, we’ll call him George, who has a good knowledge of Greek and has become passionately involved with Greek cultural and community affairs. I was surprised to learn that he didn’t speak a lot of Greek as a child; his mother’s native language was actually Spanish. At secondary level he might have considered studying Greek, only it was not offered at his high school. He came to it, he says, as a mature student of 25, taking courses at university and spending some time in Greece. When I asked him what triggered his commitment to Greek language and culture, he said it was through volunteering for Sydney Olympic football club. Many of the fans were older Greeks, and he wanted to communicate with them more effectively. So that was the trigger; later he found other benefits from his knowledge of Greek. But the issues we saw with Nicholas are not irrelevant to George. When he and his Greek-Australian wife have children, they will want them to learn Greek and participate in Greek culture. But the situation with Greek will have changed by the time their kids are teenagers. Even Sydney Olympic will be far less Greek-speaking than in George’s day. So how will they ensure that their kids will be motivated to devote time and effort to learning? What kind of trigger will be effective for them? These and similar conversations have led me to formulate more questions which I would like to share with you. In my imagination, I try to move myself ten years forward to 2032. And I ask myself, what will then be the position of Greek in Australia? What position would I like it to have? Will it be sufficient for kids to learn a little bit of Greek, or should we aim for more? Realistically, what will be the domains, the areas of our lives, in which Greek will be spoken? Where and how will it be learned? What will be the motivation for people to learn it? What policies and programmes might help to achieve the desired results? For Nicholas’ relationship to Greek in 2032 will be affected by decisions made in 2022. And a decision to do nothing is still a decision. I then might try to ask the same questions for 2042, when Nicholas will be a young adult and George’s children will probably be in high school. To answer these questions, a basic prerequisite is to have an accurate picture of the present position of Greek in each state, and of attitudes towards it. How much Greek are kids really learning? How are they using their Greek? Do they regard it as a language you speak only to grandparents and to teachers? These are not simply academic exercises. If I was a member of a Greek community I would be trying to get Greek organisations to debate them actively and to formulate policies appropriate to the present times. There is a lot that can be done. Opportunities for the use of Greek by people of all ages can be created and maintained. Available funds can be carefully invested in appropriate projects. Governments can be lobbied on matters of language policy and education. It could be an exciting debate. Electronic media have opened up vast new opportunities for language learning and cultural participation. In the future we can expect even more surprising developments. I will end by quoting from a report by Dr Michelle Kohler of Flinders University, published in 2017. At the end of the study she concludes: “[…] there is a mood in many areas of the nation for change and to reimagine languages education in light of the nature of the modern world, of contemporary understandings and innovations. There is an opportunity in the South Australian context to take a bold stance and to become a national/international leader in this area; however […] this will require a new vision and a long-term commitment to realising and supporting it into the future.” Alfred Vincent (alfred.vincent@bigpond.com) * Alfred Vincent graduated in Classics in the UK and did his PhD there on a Modern Greek topic. He was the first lecturer in Modern Greek studies at the University of Sydney. After retiring from that position in 1998 he spent two semesters as a Visiting Professor at the University of Crete, which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in 2002. For many years he has been a member of the committees of the Greek Festival of Sydney and the Greek Film Festival in NSW. In 2012 Alfred was made an Honorary Member of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW. He continues to research and write on Greek topics.
Greek Tribune
Adelaide, South Australia