RESOURCES Whichever your language learning setting, the first thing you need to do, before you even think about the size of the community at large, is to make an inventory of your resources. Even in a small minority community, there are a number of resources available for members to use in order to keep their language alive. These resources may not be immediately obvious to you.
Older members of the community In the past, the first-generation immigrants of a community were also the first teachers of the language to the younger generation. They were often not very educated themselves, but this is not important in maintaining a language; those first-generation immigrants were fluent in their language and were the best people who were able to pass it on to the younger generation.
Older people in an established minority community can still be used in this way. They make effective teachers because they are well known to the community members, and will be pleased that their skills are being valued. They also have more time to give up than other members, as they will not be working. They may sound surprised to hear that they oculd be teachers in their late age, so that is something that the community needs to work on: how to entice these people to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation. They may be given a payment in lieu of their services, but I think they should be volunteers, and simply have their expenses paid, eg transport and stationery costs. Therefore, such an activity should only take place one time per week per volunteer. But all a community needs is half a dozen volunteers, and a rota system can be set up so that it will be less taxing on those people.
Groups can be started in people's homes or in community offices - whichever one is closer, because these days, not many Greeks live in Mt Victoria where the community offices are. The most important thing in these lessons is that people gather to hear the language being spoken, not necessarily to read/write the language. The written language comes much, much later in the learning process - you have to be a speaker of the language first before you learn to write it. Only those speakers with Greek-speaking family members will be able to move on to the written stage of the language; those who do not speak it regularly at home should avoid doing this too quickly until their spoken Greek is at an appropriate level (ie they can have a conversation with someone asking questions about their name, family and home).
Qualified members of the community If there are members of the community that are recognised as good speakers of the language, they should be invivted to join the teaching process. If these good speakers are also involved in teaching or educational services in any way in the wider community, they are even more suitable candidates. They may say they don't have the time, so they need to be enticed into the community in such a way that the group members show they appreciate these people's special skills. Again, these people could be volunteering their services, in a similar way as what I have mentioned about the older members of the community, so that their volunteer work does not tax their spare time. They may even find that they enjoy this contact with other community members. In any case, they are probably the most appropriate community members to organise a curriculum catering for the needs of the community members who are going to be taking lessons.
New arrivals to the community Another very significant event which will also help with Greek language maintenance in the Greek communities of New Zealand is the Greek economic crisis. Despite the crisis in their country, Greeks aren't flocking to New Zealand, but those few that do come will again make up a new first-generation immigrant group.
The Greeks that are leaving their country and going to distant shores to start a new life may have a grudge against Greece because their country couldn't offer her citizens a better life. For this reason, it should be noted that every effort to welcome them into the community should be made. They may claim that they are busy with starting their new life in a new country, but if they also have children, they should be aware of the importance of this task in their own personal life. What's more, these new immigrants are well educated - they are the best resource a minority community could possibly have. At any rate, without immigrants, the established Greek community, who are now very integrated into mainstream society, will not grow, so these new immigrants should not be allowed to become 'estranged' Greeks. That is a personal issue, of course, but the established community needs to foster good ties with these new arrivals.
Greek school teachers paid for by the Greek state For more than two decades, New Zealand Greek communities have enjoyed the luxury of having a Greek school teacher paid for by the Greek state to teach children and adults. This is a great way of getting someone else to do your job for you. If you are lucky to have this available to you, then you should use these services wisely, by sending you kids or yourself along to these lessons. Those Greek-state teachers may not use the most appropriate teaching methods for immigrant communities, but that is only to be expected, as they are teaching according to Greek standards, and their training probably did not give them the chance to refine their knowledge and skills for teaching Greeks living and working in a non-Greek society. So they use methods that may seem inappropriate or old-fashioned to the established immigrant community. If these teachers receive better direction and are given guidelines to follow by the community itself, they can perform their duties better. For example, they may be specifically asked not to use the state-provided Greek school books that are used by Greek schoolchildren, as they are rightly regarded as inappropriate for teaching, and to create their own resources, which are more suitable for teaching in such environments.
I personally hope that these teachers (and those books) stop coming to minority communities outside Greece because the Greek state is in need of money and resources, so these civil servants should be in their own country serving the people of their own country, and not using up state funds in solving the problems of citizens of other countries, who have the resources needed to do the same job. (But that's just my opinion, as a tax-paying Greek citizen who lives and works in Greece.) As for those books the Greek government sends to the diaspora, the Greek state is implementing a new program in the coming school year to do away with paper books and use only online material. The diaspora has access to all those books right now - they can print their own copies.
The internet At the time of submitting my thesis work, the technological world was on the verge of a major breakthrough, which took place in New Zealand two years after I left - the internet arrived, one of the most important resources available to all people these days. The internet is the only economically viable way to maintain contact through distance, and it rarely needs specialised costly equipment. Since then, it has become a simple matter for anyone who wants to learn a language (through a host of multimedia) to come into contact with speakers (and most importantly, real people) from all over the world, in order to develop their foreign language skills, to find grammar rules written up in webpages, to ask questions on linguistic details through forums, and to learn something at their own pace, all from the comfort of their own home without spending much money at all. In essence, there is nothing stopping anyone from learning anything these days, as long as there is a will to learn.
The internet has one drawback: although most people use it on a daily basis, they don't always know how to use it effectively when it comes to language learning. But that can be rectified by using the appropriate people to train others to use it effectively. They don't have to be specialised teachers, or qualified personnel - they need to be willing members of the community who can guide people - online, over distance or through one class a week - through some websites to help people learn what they want to learn.
Cultural activities The Greek community has always held a food fair and it also broadcasts a one-hour radio program for its members. Some parents have organised play groups for their childrent to get together with other Greek children. Some other Greek-related cultural events also take place form time to time, eg plays, concerts, poetry readings, writing workshops, among others. At all opportunities, these events should be used to promote the Greek language in some way, no matter how minor it seems. This will have the effect that the language is somehow seen as useful, that it has a function in the wider community. If anything, such activities create more tangible bonds between community members and the wider society, and they manifest the importance of maintaining the heritage of the minority community to the wider society. Some of these wider cultural activities may have some place in the wider society that makes up New Zealand. It may encourage non-Greeks to take part in your minority group's activities, furthering ties with the dominant culture. The effect of that can only be good.
The church The reason why I have mentioned the church as the last resource is because I believe that the church has less influence in people's life these days than it did in the past. When language/culture maintenance activities are related to religious activities, they may not be seen for what they really are. In Greece, the church has a diminishing role in people's spiritual life these days. Besides, the language of the church is not the language spoken among the community members. Its formalities may be off-putting to intermarried couples who wish to take a non-denominational view of religion, as well as to half-Greeks who may have grown up with Greek grandparents but not necessarily with the influence of the Greek church.
Religion is a controversial subject, and a highly personal one at that. In Greece, children learn about religion as a formal school subject. In my humble opinion, this is a sad state of affairs.
The general foundation on which language maintenance in a minority community is based is that there is a purpose behind what is happening, and above all, it is conducted in a fun way. People no longer do things that they think have no useful function for them, and if these things are done in a boring way, they will not devote the time to do them.
It's all very well to stage theatre, concerts, film screenings, radio broadcasts, etc in addition to providing Greek school lessons to children, food demonstrations, cultural evenings, dances, fairs, etc, but we should always bear in mind that we take part in such activities because we enjoy them. It's unlikely that we will want to take part in all of them, due to various factors (cost, time, interest).
What needs to be developed for the Greek communities of New Zealand is some kind of portal that links Kiwi Hellenes with other Greeks for the purposes of exchanging language and culture.
A look around at more established minority communities (eg the Chinese) in New Zealand also shows what is being done by others to promote language and culture maintenance in minority groups. They will generally have some advice to offer to the Greek community. It may not actually be language that should be the focus of cultural maintenance. Have you ever thought about using food instead? Greek food is quite popular at the moment, being highly regarded for its health properties. Reliance on the wrong channels is making the community shrink at a greater pace. At any rate, some imminent changes need to be made if the Greek community of Wellington intends to survive in the next decade - those changes can't wait.
On the subject of the Greek identity, I conclude the findings of my study with a direct quote from the conclusions chapter of my thesis
The original purpose of my study was to determine the language patterns of the Greek community of Wellington. In so doing, I became very interested in the relationship between the Greek language and Greek identity - what it means to be Greek. Clearly the Greek language has some role to play in Greek identity, but it is not the same role for every Greek person...For more fascinating insights into the Greek-New Zealand identity, you should read Athena Gavriel 's study: "We are all different and the same: culture, identity and mental health: worldviews, wellbeing and health-illness experiences of Hellenes in Aotearoa New Zealand" (2005, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. NZ: Wellington), available at the VUW library.
It should be clear at this stage that the community members should realise that they themselves must take charge of their future destiny. Resources should be pooled, knowledge should be shared and a conscious effort should be made if any kind of language/cultural maintenance is to take place. The outcome of any effort may not be immediately noticeable, but it should focus on group identity. Values connected to heritage, leading to group identity, should precede individual personality traits.
You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.
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