If you’re a parent, you know the struggle. Grab these tips from a seasoned educator to help your child learn and speak Greek.
By: Vasiliki Baskos
Why teach kids to speak Greek?
A very common anxiety of Greek parents living abroad is how to teach their children the Greek language, and then, how to get them to actually speak Greek. Language, as we all know, is a culture carrier. By teaching children the Greek language, we bring them into contact with the Greek culture and Greek tradition. If children love the language, they are more likely to love their roots. This is particularly important for Greek parents abroad.
Things, however, are not easy when children live in a foreign country and they hear Greek mostly from their parents. It becomes even more difficult when only one parent is a Greek. Additionally, nowadays children’s daily schedules are loaded with so many activities, which leaves them too little free time.
If you’re a parent, you’ve likely asked yourself these questions: How will my child learn Greek? How can we avoid the “I don’t want to go to Greek school” struggle? How will the child learn to love his roots?
Tips to get your child to learn and speak Greek
1) Help your child love the Greek language
This is the first and most important step. Speak to your child in Greek. If your child doesn’t want to respond or is uncomfortable replying in Greek, don’t pressure him or her to do so. Talk to your child during a pleasant activity, like playing a game or going for a walk. This way, the Greek language and, by extension, the learning of the language, is connected with something pleasant, rather than something stressful.
2) Team up with other Greek parents
Get in touch with other Greek parents. It’s even better if those children also speak Greek and attend Greek school or lessons. Being around other Greek children is a very powerful motivation for children to learn the language.
3) Expose your child to Greek culture in general (music, traditional dances, etc.)
If your child loves Greek dances, he/she is most likely to want to learn the language. Also, in an environment like this (such as a school of traditional dances), the child will also have the benefit of meeting with many Greeks who most likely already speak the language.
4) Enroll your child in Greek school or find a good teacher to give private lessons.
Choose the option that best suits your child and your family’s needs.
5) Keep close ties to Greece
Travel to Greece. Connect with family members and develop these relationships, as it compels kids to learn to speak Greek in order to communicate. The exposure to native speakers and the necessity of speaking Greek in Greece is tremendous practice. Also, make friends with a family in Greece, or a local family from Greece, especially if they have children. The kids can communicate through social media or Skype. This is great practice and a powerful motivator.
6) Purchase Greek books, magazines, and newspapers
Expose your kids to these, and read them together.
7) Play Greek music at home
Listen to Greek music at home or in the car. It’s proven to be very helpful in learning a language, especially in early childhood. If your child becomes familiar with the music, he or she will not only have the exposure to hearing the language in a different way but may also start to sing along.
8) Always praise your child
Tell your child how well he/she speaks Greek. Give praise and tell them you’re proud of them. Nothing works better for a child than parental approval.
Bilingual kids do better
Did you know that bilingualism has great physical and mental benefits? A landmark study in 2009 (Bialystok) revealed that learning another language has infinite benefits. While some had previously believed that bilingual children had “smaller vocabularies” or experienced disadvantages from learning two languages, the truth is, bilingual kids do better. They score better on cognitive tests, and they have increased attention spans.
The effects of bilingualism correlate with the prefrontal cortex brain activity networks, which direct the highest levels of thinking and awareness. Executive function, the high-level cognitive processes that assist in goal-oriented tasks, is also greatly impacted by bilingualism. Things like “problem-solving, mental flexibility, attentional control, inhibitory control, and task switching” are enhanced. Bilinguals “show better executive control than monolinguals matched in age and other background factors (e.g. socioeconomic status)”. And the benefits last a lifetime. Bilingual adults — who’ve been bilingual since they were kids — are “better at controlled processing than monolingual peers”. Additionally, bilingualism is linked to reduced rates of Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.
You can get your kids to speak Greek
So when you think you’re too tired or the kids are overscheduled — and other excuses to not speak Greek at home or not make the extra effort to teach your kids to speak Greek — remember all the benefits.
It’s going to take a little extra work, but it’s worth it. Remember, it’s much easier to learn another language as a child, and it is a gateway to further language learning. Teaching your child to speak Greek will not only give them a lifetime of physical and mental benefits, but it enhances their appreciation for and engagement with our culture, and helps keep their ties to Greece alive and well.
Vasiliki Baskos is a modern Greek language teacher and founder of Learn-Greek-Online. She teaches modern Greek as a foreign language online via Skype to students from around the globe. She studied Greek Language & Literature at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Vasiliki has attended many workshops about teaching modern and ancient Greek to non-Greek speakers. She’s taught in public high schools in Greece, as a private tutor, and online. She’s the founder of Ask Greek, a free service in which anyone may ask a question related to the Greek language. She also works with Mango Languages, a U.S.-based company specializing in online language learning.