By Georgia Kapetanakis Bougadis
In the last few years, we have seen an increase of Modern Greek Studies departments in many American Universities which attest to the efforts of the Greek Ministry of Education, private foundations such as the Onassis and Kokkalis foundations, as well as NGO’S. However, my concern is that the Greek-American youth are not as motivated to learn Greek as they could be.
I grew up as a young Greek immigrant entering primary school and taking Greek in the afternoons. My love for Greek led me to take fourth place in the Greek test promoted by GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association.) These studies served me well when I lived in Greece and taught at the American School. As a result, I earned the Greek Proficiency Certificate which allows me to teach modern Greek. Back in the US, I have noticed a regression in the avid pursue of learning Greek at a challenging level. Yes, there are more organisations directly connected to the church. We, do not, however have as many schools, either private or charter, as I had thought. The materials are still outmoded and the methodology does not follow eclectic communicative approaches used in second language acquisition. Even our Greek Bilingual-Bicultural Center on Soutsou Str. in Athens is not as involved as it could be in helping the Greek-American learners. Of course, their priority is to teach Greek to all the newcomers that have been welcomed in our country and who have an immediate need for Greek proficiency.
My point is that my above observations (partially listed here) make my concern grow in regard to the status for our Greek language in the USA. Questions arise: should the church be the sole control of Greek language education?, Is teacher preparation adequate? Is student interest low? Is parental participation low? Is the status of modern Greek low due to the above factors? Is Greek school seen as a social activity as opposed to a linguistic or educational activity?
A fair conclusion is to say that all the above elements play a valid role in exacerbating the problem.
My long-term observations here and in Greece make me raise other questions? Why do students in American high schools prepare for foreign language exams in Modern Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, as well as many other languages? I’m sure that they also go to afternoon language schools in their communities. But who advocated for them to have their languages as part of the SATII test at ETS? I’m sure that their governments also promote the language just like the Greek government does. They have also given the high school students a motivation to study a language that will enhance their admission in competitive universities and give them advanced standing. This is also the reason that Modern Greek is on the syllabus for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.
It is time for us to start a group to promote our language in an effective and useful way. Our non-educationally based churches have a big mission in meeting the religious objectives. Our MGSA’s groups spend a great deal of time in in-group, political activities. It is time that the Greek-Americans in the secondary level of education have a motive for learning Greek that will have tangible and intangible results.
I am willing to work hard toward these ends. And I am looking forward for your reactions and suggestions.