The contemporary dimensions of the diachronic Greek Studies in the diaspora

The contemporary dimensions of the diachronic Greek Studies in the diaspora

We faced a challenge approaching the end of 2023. The term ‘challenge,’ as defined by the Greek dictionary “Το Χρηστικό Λεξικό της Νεοελληνικής Γλώσσας” of the Academy of Athens, encompasses not only difficulties, but also elements of interest, demanding skills to overcome or achieve. A challenge serves as the impetus for action. I firmly believe that there is no academic journey or success devoid of challenges. Each obstacle and difficulty provide valuable lessons, guiding us towards the ideal direction to achieve our goals.

The future of the Modern Greek Studies Program at Macquarie University hangs in the balance, a situation not unique to Australian institutions. An illustrative example occurred in late 2020, amidst the pandemic’s impact, when the decision was made to temporarily pause the Modern Greek Studies Major course. As the Head of the Modern Greek Studies Program, my focus wasn’t solely on the challenge, but on the ultimate goal, that was the reinstatement of the course. Through constructive negotiations, pioneering academic initiatives, international collaborations (such as the 8th and 9th International Summer University in partnership with the Laboratory for the Study of Social Issues, Media, and Education of the Pedagogical Department of Kindergarten Teachers at the University of Ioannina), and the active role and support of the Greek diaspora, we achieved our goal promptly, within six months.

Regrettably, the situation at Macquarie University mirrors the global reality of Modern Greek Studies Programs. The recent turmoil in the Program serves as one of many global instances, as evidenced by a recent article in Kathimerini stating that ‘several departments of Modern Greek studies outside Greece no longer exist, while student interest is reduced.’ It is crucial to note that the turning point in Modern Greek Studies should not be seen in isolation, but considered as part of the broader crisis in within the academic field of Humanities. This crisis is influenced by the rapid development of artificial intelligence and the overarching socio-economic changes and emerging realities in the international labor market.

“Greek language learning in the diaspora, throughout its diachronic existence, has experienced changes, evolution, periods of growth and flourishing, decline and revival, formation, and instances of resistance”

The Greek term ‘diachronia’ is a linguistic term that refers to the historical development of language at various levels (phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic) and its corresponding considerations. According to the Greek dictionary “Το Χρηστικό Λεξικό της Νεοελληνικής Γλώσσας” of the Academy of Athens, the word ‘diachronia’ characterises someone or something that endures over time. Greek language learning in the diaspora, throughout its diachronic existence, has experienced changes, evolution, periods of growth and flourishing, decline and revival, formation, and instances of resistance. The crucial question is: What action(s) should be initiated to safeguard the Greek studies in the diaspora or, to express the question more aptly, in order to strengthen and fortify the diachronic value of Greek language learning, so its enduring value can be maintained over time? To address this question, we must first define ‘what is Greek language learning in the diaspora or, to phrase it differently, ‘what is the role of the Greek language in the contemporary diaspora’? What are the contemporary educational dimensions that are signalling the future challenges of the diasporic Greek studies? What are the characteristics of the educational community (teachers, students, parents) of the Greek diaspora? All these questions demand immediate and urgent attention.

Dr Patricia Koromvokis with graduates of the Modern Greek Studies Programme at Macquarie University during the 2023 graduation ceremony. Photo: Supplied

I will echo a compelling argument of my esteemed colleague, Professor Nicoletta Tsitsanoudi, who, in a recent interview with Vima, emphasised that ‘for the Greek language, we are now not only talking about promoting it, but above all about preserving it.’ I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective, because when we talk about promotion, it implies that there is the ground for the successful promotion of the language. When we talk about preservation, it means that it is imperative to create a conducive environment in which our language will thrive, especially in an era that is dominated by technology in our daily lives, artificial intelligence is widespread across various fields, robot-generated texts autonomously emerge, high-speed audio communication frequently takes the place of time-consuming text messages, and English is commonly replacing Greek. Here, I must emphasise that when discussing the promotion and the preservation of the Greek language, we are essentially talking about the of development of intercultural communication.

“Learning Greek involves embracing a lifestyle”

One common argument, frequently voiced (and one I have shared myself numerous times), in favor of integrating the learning of the Modern Greek language at all educational levels within the diaspora, is that the Greek language stands as one of the fundamental pillars of our identity. This sentiment is universally acknowledged, even by those Greeks born and residing abroad who may not know or (opt not to) learn Greek.

Yet, acquiring proficiency in a morphologically challenging language, like Greek, requires (additional) motivations beyond identity preservation. Learning or teaching a language demands dedication, time, and passion. Among these factors, time poses the greatest contemporary challenge for students, teachers, and parents alike. Teachers need to devote time for international training programs and subsequently create contemporary, engaging language curricula. Students and parents should perceive language education, particularly the acquisition of Greek, as an integral component of their daily lives. In essence, learning Greek involves embracing a lifestyle.

“Every challenge is approached with a vision, hard work, and a sense of responsibility”

Similar to the year 1988, when the Modern Greek Studies Program at Macquarie University was established through the initiative and funding of the Greek community, aiming to fulfill the vision of numerous students desiring to study Greek at the university, the current state of the Program reflects the true dimensions and challenges of learning Greek in the broader diaspora. Each challenge is approached with a vision, hard work, and a profound sense of responsibility towards those who trust us. My vision encompasses the awareness of the diachronic value of learning Greek within its contemporary dimensions. It is important to note that when we refer to Greek learning, we are encompassing not only the language and culture but also, more broadly, the skill of intercultural communication.

This aligns with the objectives of the new educational program in collaboration with the University of Western Macedonia, titled “Greek by Greeks: Communicate in Greek – Communicate Interculturally”. This program serves as a research training initiative, involving weekly online oral communication in Greek between students of Macquarie University and Greek students of the Department of Pedagogy University of Western Macedonia. The goal is to enhance linguistic communication skills in Greek and reinforce intercultural communication strategies for students in Australia who learn Greek.

Dr Patricia Koromvokis (third from left) with students of MUGA. Photo: Supplied

Impactful international collaborations with notable institutions in Greece and abroad in general are one of the main features of the Modern Greek Studies Program. The Greek Language Institute of the Centre for Research and Innovation “TIMENOS” of the University of Western Macedonia, the Education Office of the Greek Consulate in Johannesburg, and the Modern Greek Studies Program of the Department of MCCALL (Media, Communication, Creative Arts, Language and Literature) of the Faculty of Arts of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, are co-organising the 2nd Online Conference on “Modern practices in the teaching of Greek as a second/foreign language”. The Conference will take place online on the 27 and 28 of January 2024, to coincide with the celebration of International Day of Greek Language and is under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs and Sports and the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and public Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Conference is an event for academics, PhD candidates and post-graduate students in a research area related to the topics of the Conference, for graduates of the Departments of Education and Greek Philology, and generally, for all those who are involved in the teaching of Greek as a second/foreign language. It also targets teachers of the Greek language as a second/foreign language who teach abroad, Greek-speaking schools and teachers who teach the Greek language to students who are culturally diverse (from migrant and refugee backgrounds) within Greece. More information (including the YouTube and Zoom links) can be found on the conference website.

Effective intercultural communication relies heavily on sufficient language proficiency and knowledge. This is precisely the objective of Macquarie University Greek Language Examination Center for the Certificate of Attainment in Greek language, the largest in Australia; serving as the ‘heart’ of Greek studies, it is where the pulse of the Greek Studies beats. The Greek Language Certificates 2023 will be awarded on February 2, 2024, during the celebration of the International Day of Greek Language. Successful students, their parents and Greek language teachers, representatives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Greek-Australian ministers, and various other members of the Greek community will attend the ceremony.

With the overarching goal of reinforcing the diachronic value of the Greek studies in the diaspora, while considering the contemporary challenges, it is essential to acknowledge the dedicated work of Greek language teachers across all levels of education. The wealthy and vibrant community, along with support from the Greek state, serves as valuable partners in this continuous endeavor.

“We design programs for the students in collaboration with the students”

In times of crisis, students should be given the primary and final say. Two students of the Modern Greek language at Macquarie University, living in Melbourne and studying online, share their own experiences, serving as a compass for our future initiatives:

Dianna, a graduate student in the Modern Greek Studies of Macquarie University:

“I decided to undertake Modern Greek at Macquarie University because I wanted to learn the language to speak to my family in Greece. I also specifically chose Macquarie University to undertake the course as my friend recommended the language programs to me after her positive experience.

What I have enjoyed the most about studying Modern Greek fully online is that Macquarie University offers flexible online courses. This gave me the opportunity to choose the way, the time and the place of my studies. Overall learning Modern Greek online through Macquarie University was a really enjoyable experience. Being an online student, I found all the learning content well organised and easy to follow along with on my own. The weekly support that I received from my lecturer throughout the subjects was unmatched in any other subject I have completed in the past, despite it being an online subject.

A moment that I will always remember is that studying Modern Greek has allowed me to feel more confident talking to my family in Greece. When I travelled to Greece last year, I was able to put all I had learnt into practise as it was amazing to see how much I knew!

An advice that I would give to a student considering learning Modern Greek is revising all content after each lecture, complete your assigned homework, ask questions, and believe that you are capable of learning it because you are!”.

Taylor, a third-year student in the Modern Greek Studies of Macquarie University:

“I decided to study Greek because I had studied Ancient Greek at Macquarie, and I really enjoyed it. It added to my appreciation of language, and I wanted to see how Ancient Greek had morphed and developed over millennia to become what is Modern Greek today.

What I have enjoyed and appreciate the most about studying Modern Greek fully online is the support. I am grateful that I can email Dr Patricia Koromvokis if I have any grammatical questions and she will kindly swiftly answer them for me. Studying online allows you to fit your study around your schedule. All of the lectures are recorded, so you can listen to them in your own time and at your own convenience.

An advice that I would give to a student considering starting to learn Modern Greek is to just enrol and give it a go. Greek is a complex language, but I have never had any regrets from studying it. You just need to take good notes. Speaking from my experience through studying at Macquarie, both Dr Patricia Koromvokis and Maria Harissi give very detailed explanations of everything in the lectures every week. They take the time to explain things to you – you are never left in the deep end. You are always supported. Their passion for Greek is infectious, and it will rub off on you too.

With Modern Greek, you can venture into many areas from tourism to translation. I highly recommend learning it, especially if you are planning on travelling to Greece one day. Learning languages is very rewarding, and it can add to your appreciation of culture and history. Australia has a very large Greek population that is proud of its heritage and supportive of Greek language education”.

Read the article on Neos Kosmos here

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