The Language Rich Europe launch in Greece took place on 21 June 2012. Zoi Tatsioka, South-East European Research Centre, summarises the key points from an event which couldn’t ignore the current political and economic situation in the country.
The Language Rich Europe launch took place in Athens, Greece on 21 June 2012 in the beautiful building of Goethe Institut. The talks were very interesting and stimulating and the audience contributed to the conversation with constructive questions and comments. Simultaneous interpreting from Greek, English and German facilitated interactions throughout the event.
First, we were welcomed by Dr Matthias Makowski, Director of Goethe Institut in Athens, with Tony Buckby, Director British Council Greece introducing the project and stressing the significance of partnership in multinational projects. We were also greeted by Eusebi Ayensa Pat, President of EUNIC Greece.
Eilidh MacDonald, from the British Council Language Rich Europe team, provided an overview of the project, explained its objectives and stressed the need of Europeans to speak more foreign languages as expressed in the European Barometer findings. Moreover, she emphasised the importance of the project for businesses and the role of multilingualism in boosting the economy.
Dr. Kutlay Yagmur, from the University of Tilburg, provided some key findings and stressed the importance of the project in order to identify the best practices in the EU and to motivate countries and regions to improve or implement better language practices. He also talked about the challenge of the project to develop a common yardstick for 24 countries and regions with unique historical characteristics and societal conditions. Some of the points made when presenting the results were the need to improve immigrant language provision especially in pre-primary education and the fact that the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages has not been ratified in many countries, including Greece.
Dr Sara Hannam, formally of the South-East European Research Centre (now Oxford-Brookes University) focused on the findings of Greece. She stressed the fact that the research was conducted in a very challenging time for Greece which resulted in great difficulty in the collection of data. Some of the most important findings are mentioned below:
- Greek is the official language of the country. Immigrant languages are not recognised and the only recognised minority language is Turkish in the Thrace region.
- With regard to foreign language learning, there is considerable investment from the state and the private sector.
- English is the de facto first option in foreign language learning in primary and secondary education. In secondary education in particular examination taking is emphasised. However, this emphasis on the English language can have a significant effect on the concept of multilingualism.
- Turkish is offered in a large number of primary schools in the Thrace region but reduces significantly in secondary education.
- Regarding media, subtitles are used on TV to motivate language learning and as an act of respect to the original language. There is some provision for sign language, but there is room for improvement. Numerous new language communities are represented in newspapers and magazines, which reveals important information about the population of Greece. This however is not reflected in official spaces and documents.
- Regarding public services and spaces, the service user needs to be conversant and literate in Greek. Dr Hannam emphasised the difficulty in collecting data for this domain and argued that the effect of the economic crisis should not be underestimated.
- In the case of the business sector languages play a very important role in business life; however, little reward is offered to the employees who are speakers of foreign languages.
In her conclusion, Dr. Hannam mentioned that the rich linguistic history ofGreeceand present reality need to be reflected via policy and protection mechanisms and celebrated. Finally, she stressed the importance of the project in order to raise awareness and make multilingualism a priority in the wider society.
The final talk was given by Professor Bessie Dendrinos, from the Research Centre for English Language Teaching, Testing and Assessment, University of Athens, who stressed the importance of deliberate and implicit language policies. She mentioned that a certificate of language competence is Greece is not essential for anyone who wants to work in Greece, while job applicants for public services are awarded significant credit points for their certified competence in foreign languages. Also, she referred to the increasing support for Greek as a second language (GSL) in primary and secondary education in both mainstream and after-school support classes. Finally, she mentioned the need for a coherent language education policy and referred to the positive steps that the University of Athens is taking in this direction