The Greek language rests at the very core of Greek identity and yet it is facing a significant decline in speakers throughout the Diaspora. At the current rate of decline, the Greek language risks extinction outside of Greece. It is time for new approaches to this intractable problem that incorporate the latest in language pedagogy and educational technology.
“Rebooting the Greek Language” is just such an approach. This is an initiative of the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University and made possible through the support of the the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, with the aim of revitalizing the teaching and learning of the Greek Language in the Diaspora. At the heart of this new approach are revolutionary developments in language learning pedagogy, including Self-regulated Learning Theory which – because it takes a Task-based approach to language learning – provides a highly individualized and customizable learning experience.
Guided by these principles, the project team working the SNF New Media Lab are developing series of applications for web and mobile devices targeted to students of different age groups and proficiency with the Greek language and designed to meet the needs strengths and weaknesses of each individual learner. Learning analytics obtained from the learners’ interactions are used to provide a clear and detailed picture of their overall performance and progress. State of the art UI design and gamification elements will ensure high student motivation, when working with these applications.
Aims of the Project
- Provide a multi-faceted digital learning environment, optimized for both mobile devices and computers, which will support individual learners of the Greek language, as well as students in schools and organizations throughout the Diaspora, as a complementary learning resource.
- Develop engaging and age-related learning resources for the Greek language, taking into consideration the developmental potential, interests and specific educational needs of each different learner age-group.
- Support individual learners with no access to Greek schools or other organizations, by providing the necessary cognitive and metacognitive scaffolding to ensure higher efficiency and academic achievement in Greek language acquisition.
- Offer a suite of powerful class-management tools to the teacher, using learning analytics methods to create detailed student profiles and illuminate all the different aspects of their learning behavior and knowledge state.
- Encourage parent participation by integrating appropriate features and functionality in the applications, in order to actively involve parents in their child’s learning.
- Design a flexible curricular framework for the apps that is and compatible with most curricula and language textbooks used by Greek schools in the Diaspora.
- Organize events and develop digital platforms to promote and support the emergence of communities of practice among the teachers of the Greek language in the Diaspora
Greek as a Heritage Language
Over the past few decades, there has been a shift in the linguistic situation of Greek families in the diaspora and approaches to Greek language teaching and learning need to adapt to this new dynamic.
Greek should not be approached as a second language
In the case of the first waves of Greek immigrants, heritage language learners had either acquired Greek as their first or native language, or they grew up hearing (and speaking) Greek in their home, thus attaining a bilingual status. In both cases, heritage learners had as their dominant language the language of the host country, even though they gained some proficiency (especially in listening and speaking) in Greek because of their exposure. However, the situation has now changed. Either the parents don’t have Greek as their dominant language, being themselves non-original immigrants, or, due to mixed marriages, the linguistic environment in which the children grow up is either multilingual or non-Greek. Hence, exposure to the Greek language for subsequent generations in the Diaspora ranges from minimal to non-existent. Additionally, since the Greek language has a low international status, it is spoken in restricted contexts in the Diaspora.
Greek should not be approached as a typical foreign language
Even though the limited proficiency of heritage language learners suggests a foreign language approach to teaching and learning Greek, the learners’ motivational trajectories are radically different than in other cases of foreign language learning. Considering the low international status of the language, motivation to learn Greek is not about an additional asset for professional development or communication. This is something that an intervention for teaching and learning Greek in the Diaspora needs to consider, especially in terms of content development, as well as building or reinforcing learner engagement.
Greek should be approached as a heritage language
An approach such as this needs to integrate several characteristics that will increase its effectiveness and efficiency. For heritage language learners, the Greek language is beyond communication or professional development asset, it constitutes a tangible aspect of their cultural identity and background. Learning the language is more about reconnecting with their cultural heritage, strengthening their ethnic and cultural identity, while enhancing a positive sense of self. As such, the Greek language must be considered and learned in a cultural context, in tandem with historical and cultural references.