Teaching Greek at Giving for a Better Future's Education Centre

I started teaching Greek language lessons to refugees For Giving For A Better Future at Khora’s cultural centre at the beginning of October 2016. The work is challenging as the students come with a lot of issues following their traumatic experiences, however the results of seeing them conversing in Greek is incredibly rewarding. The cultural centre has become a helpful and supportive sanctuary for refugees who are based in Athens. The various activities and services offered, as well as the team’s commitment and care, give refugees some sense of stability and happiness during the hard transition period they are currently experiencing. The environment is a safe space where refugees of all ages, sexes and races can feel secure.

Greek language lessons with Giving for a Better Future

The education centre is located on the third floor of the building and is probably the most influential facility in the venue. In its four classrooms, several language lessons are taught on daily basis, from 11am until 7 pm. One of these classrooms is devoted to Greek language lessons. People of all ages attend the morning and afternoon lessons from noon until 3pm. The afternoon and evening lessons (from 3 am until 7 pm) are given to teenagers and adults, refugees with Arabic or Farsi/Dari as a native language, as well as volunteers who are eager to learn Greek. During these 10 weeks, more than 100 individuals of all ages took part in the classes, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, but also from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and Kurdistan.

The methodology

In general terms, teaching Greek as a foreign language to asylum seekers and refugees differs from the typical language teaching methods, since it has been specifically designed for the needs of the target group. That means that the lessons are intensive and adjusted to the language particularities/abilities of the participants, as well as to their integration and contextual needs.  The main aim is to achieve, in a short period of time, adequacy in oral communication for beginners, mostly in order to facilitate access to everyday exchanges. Thus, in order to be effective, teaching of a language to non-native speakers should not be isolated from the surrounding social and cultural conditions. Role plays, songs, pictures and drawings, cultural orientation sessions, visits to surrounding sites of interest and museums, as well as intercultural activities are also part of the curriculum.

Language interaction

During the first 10 weeks, English played the role of a so called ‘medium-language’ between the native languages of the students and the target-language (Greek). Although, very often, this proved to be a limitation owing to many students’ poor knowledge of English. Thus, I started gradually to ask the students to translate words and simple phrases into their own language (Arabic or Farsi/ Dari). The overall teaching process became then more interactive and motivating, as it facilitates the learning at the phonetics level (i.e. pronunciation of the different sound system of each language), vocabulary (i.e. common roots and etymology of some words) and syntax (i.e. a few analogies between the languages).

To give an example, for the kids and teenagers (but also for adults) is it much easier and effective to understand the morphological system of Greek articles and nouns when they are taught words such as «ο/ ένας ανανάς» [o/ enas  ananas] (=the/ a pineapple), «η/ μία μπανάνα» [i/ mia banana] (=the/ a banana) and «το/ ένα πορτοκάλι» [to/ ena portokali] (=the/ a orange). The reason is that in their own mother tongues the words for the relative fruits are exactly or almost the same, due to linguistic borrowing. This interaction can be functional when they are also taught days of the week, months, numbers, some colours and animals etc.

Moreover, and especially for adults, this process is very useful when it involves basic aspects of literacy (i.e. the Greek alphabet, spelling and writing their own names), while trying to find analogies related to the sound of the letters and its representation between the Greek and Arabic alphabet (Arabic and Farsi/ Dari languages share the same alphabet). This methodology has proved to be very effective in the formation of the syllables.

The results of these methods are reflected constantly in the positive feedback and learnings of the students.

Collaboration at many levels

One of the most important and effective aspects of the overall project is the collaboration that takes place at many different levels in the education centre. Every day for one hour, the arts and crafts teacher and I co-teach the children classes. We try to use a variety of teaching aids in a more ‘jocular’ way, such as drawing, songs, audio mediums and role-playing to contextualise the language and stimulate creative learning on a deeper level.

Every week an educational meeting takes place with all of the teachers, in which we review the curriculum and timetable, exchange experiences, solve problems and plan the following week’s schedule. We work alongside other educational NGOs to ensure that we are not duplicating classes and are providing the most inclusive service for the students. During lessons, there are some adults that assist as mediators between me and the other students as they are able to translate or explain in their mother tongue, crucial concepts to their classmates.

Overall

In conclusion, the important and pivotal project of teaching Greek language to kids, teenagers and adult refugees with Giving for a Better Future should continue in order to give refugees contact with important aspects of their host country’s culture, language and to integrate with the people of Greece.

Yiannis Fragkiadakis, Teacher of Greek as second/foreign language, linguist- philologist