Greek Aussie community bid to ensure language survival

(Transcript from World News Radio)

According to the 2011 census, around 18 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English in the home.

As Kristina Kukolja reports, one community wants to ensure theirs survives across generations.

(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)

In the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh newly-elected Labor MP Steve Dimopoulos is preparing a speech – one he plans to deliver to the Victorian parliament … in Greek.

Mr Dimopoulos wants to use the occasion of a major Greek national holiday later this month to promote linguistic diversity and encourage those Australians who are willing, to speak more Greek.

He is, after all, the son of post-Second World War migrants, and represents an electorate seen as a heartland of non-English speaking communities.

“You lose a big part of the migration story if you lose your community language. So, it’s important for me. And I hear a lot of Greeks of my parents’ generation — first generation arrivals — who lament the fact that every second word uttered by their grandchildren is not in their language.”

Steve Dimopoulos is throwing his support behind an initiative called “Speak Greek in March”.

An idea born out of Victoria, it will see a range of community and school-based activities to promote the Greek language throughout March.

One event will use Skype to link Greek-language students in Australia with others around the world.

The man behind the campaign is community figure, Mike Zafiropoulos.

“Multilingualism is very important for our multicultural nation. It offers a lot of benefits, not only to individuals, not only to migrants, but to the whole nation. It can offer us social, economic and academic benefits. It will enable us to negotiate trade relationships with other nations in the language of those nations.”

Other well-known Greek-Australians are joining the cause.

They include celebrity chef George Calombaris, who’s even filmed a promotional video.

“… So, I declare, as of today, the whole month of March that we speak Greek. You got it?”

And journalist Helen Kapalos, who says she’s taken to speaking Greek more often with family and friends.

“For me, especially as you get older, you get so proud of speaking your language. You see the intrinsic value that it has to your identity as well. For me this initiative is really important in preserving our cultural heritage, but also being proud of our cultural heritage, and I think a lot of young people need to remember that.”

Helen Kapalos is alluding to what she senses is a feeling of shame among younger generations of Greek-speaking Australians to engage with the language of their parents and grandparents.

The last Census shows over 250,000 Australian speak Greek at home, and almost half of that population is in Victoria.

But the data also reveals those numbers are dropping.

That concerns Mike Zafiropoulos.

“I am disturbed about the decline of community languages in Australia, both on a personal basis because I’ve got a couple of children who are struggling to speak Greek and when I take them to Greece, for instance, they’re embarrassed to speak their language. We need to do more to make children proud of their mother-tongue.”

And as he prepares for his upcoming speech to parliament, Steve Dimopoulos is hoping the idea of a month celebrating linguistic diversity just might catch on.

“It matters for Hebrew. It matters for Croatian. It matters for Italian. It matters for Mandarin. What would be great — and that’s what I’ll say in the parliament — would be if by next March we had a month which was “Speak your community language”. And that would be beautiful. That would be such a lovely thing to do for second, third generation migrants, but even for those people who do not have a second language, who may then be interested.”

(Starts in Greek, then…) “That means I love my country of origin and I also love my Greek.” (laughs)


Source / Πηγή: SBS – Date / Ημερομηνία: 16 March 2015{jcomments on}

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