ATHENS – Vasiliki Baskos is a teacher of Greek and founder of Learn Greek Online (https://learn-greek-online.com/), an innovative way people around the world can learn the language. Baskos spoke with The National Herald about how the crisis led to this new method of teaching Modern Greek as a foreign language online via Skype to students from anywhere around the globe.
Before the economic crisis, Baskos had taught Greek to a lady from Belgium who had moved to Greece. Overall, it was a very positive experience and the student eventually took the Certificate of Attainment in Greek examination successfully. Baskos never thought of making this type of teaching her full-time job. She and her husband planned to live quiet teachers’ lives, just like their parents. Unfortunately, when the crisis broke out, Baskos was a temp teacher and when legislation changed, she had little chance of becoming a permanent civil servant, so her income fell while expenses increased.
Baskos and her family had to adapt. Utilizing her teaching skills, experience, and her communicative and friendly manner combined with the technology so readily available, Baskos founded the Learn Greek Online website, noting that “if it was not for the economic crisis, I would have never pursued this as a career.”
She said, “The method of teaching has changed tremendously since I first started. Initially I was using the academic ‘recommended’ textbook. Now, I am always on the lookout for newer and better books or methods. We try to employ a variety of sources, like news articles, music, videos, etc. Especially for the children, we use sources from mythology, history, and geography.”
More than 160 people have taken lessons, including children. Though there were a few who took just 2-3 lessons and gave up, many continued for more than two years. The average student takes lessons for about 6-8 months, which is enough time to see great improvement in their language skills.
Baskos said, “The lessons became more and more personalized. I’ll give you an example. In 2015, an 80 year-old lady contacted me about learning Greek. Her father was Greek, she knew some Greek when she was a child, but she had forgotten almost everything. She had difficulty in the use of technology and I had quickly realized it was hopeless to try to teach her syntax, grammar rules, or ask her to memorize anything. So I thought to take a different approach. I asked her: ‘Why do you want to learn Greek?’ Her reply was ‘I have some old vinyl records that belonged to my father. I want to understand the lyrics when I listen to them and sing along. Also I want to be able to talk in Greek with my other Greek friends.’
“I asked her to send me the list of songs. I found the lyrics and we started reading them, translating them, and talking about them. She was so excited! From then on, I abandoned the textbook and the grammar rules and we used plain conversation. I let her make mistakes and I encouraged her to talk. The lessons were now much more emotional for her. Those emotions unlocked her memory and released the language she had forgotten. After some time, she was able to converse with her friends in Greek, (with some mistakes, of course) but she was very happy. And she could finally understand the song lyrics on those vinyl records. This was a great lesson for me. Now, I am always trying to find out the deepest interests of the student and I make this a central part of the lessons.”
Baskos spoke about her students, “I usually teach people who are very eager to learn, they like Greece and visit a lot. I have made friends through these lessons. When my students come to Greece, they usually come and visit me. I am very happy with what I do.”
The Ask Greek Q&A Forum (https://learn-greek-online.com/ask-greek/)is also a wonderful resource on the website that was not initially part of the original concept. Baskos wanted to collect her students’ most useful questions, so other people could benefit as well and the idea for the forum emerged. She spends 2-4 hours per week answering questions and there is a slow but steady increase in the frequency of visitors and questions asked. Baskos views her website as a center that promotes the Greek language and knowledge, not only online Greek lessons. The crisis turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing Baskos to pursue a more fulfilling career.
The University of Iowa includes a link to the Ask Greek Q&A Forum: https://clas.uiowa.edu/dwllc/allnet/greek-language-and-culture-resources. The website and forum are also links on Aussie Educator, an Australian education information website.