NEW YORK – As Greek Americans we find it tough to get our children to maintain their Greek language skills. English is the language they speak at school, with their friends and it is more than natural to slip into it all the time.
The Greek Online School, which started teaching Greek to children and adults in 2012, has found a refreshing way to make Greek language teaching as natural and easy as possible.
Integrating games into the Greek classroom
Looking for ways to make a relatively difficult language like Greek more accessible and fun for young learners, the Greek Online School educators started designing language games turning the typical class experience into an amusing competition. “When we started integrating specially designed games into the class curriculum and practicing grammar and vocabulary through them, our students started oral language production a lot faster than expected,” explains Maria Gkeme, modern Greek teacher and the School’s Deputy Director.
Seeing the amazing results, the creative team of educators focused more and more on game designing and game integration. “We quickly found ourselves with more than 100 games that we had designed and played in class, in smaller and bigger groups of students of all levels and ages of Greek,” Gkeme adds.
The Greek Language League; an online competition celebrating Hellenism
This did not stop there. As students were learning Greek faster and more easily than ever, this team took things a step forward and came up with the idea of the Greek Language League. The Greek Language League is an online competition between teams of children who test their knowledge in the Greek language, Greek culture, Greek geography, Greek history, Greek sports and so much more. According to the league game designer, Maria Moschou, the Greek Language League aims to become a celebration of Greek culture and an institution that will be bringing children of Greek backgrounds closer together and closer to the language of their ancestors.
The approach is modern, with new technologies taking center stage. However, the goal is as old as time; team spirit and comradeship under the umbrella of the Greek language and culture. “We have been designing and testing games that help children practice their Greek while using skills that traditional education usually neglects. Multitasking, strategy development, notetaking all merge together with oral and auditory skills in fields like Greek geography, culture, music, lifestyle, and history.” The results? Students learn Greek without even realizing it and they have the times of their lives.
The Greek Language League recently won a Venture Impact Award by the Hellenic Initiative, as one of the most promising and innovative projects in education. The League is in the middle of its pilot season right now and the teams are about to enter the knockout phase. The League will start in its full scale in November 2022 with little Greeks from schools all over the U.S. competing in teams to reach the grand final.
From little Greek students to little Greek campers
“Game integration in teaching does not stop in our online classrooms,” Ms Gkeme explains. “Our online program jumps out of our computers and into Greek nature every summer at our Greek language summer camp for children.” The Greek language summer camp runs under the auspices of the Greek Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Tourism and aims to build children’s confidence when speaking Greek and immerse them in the Greek lifestyle and culture.
Gkeme explains that just like the school’s online games mean to develop certain skills, the camp games mean to awaken more kinesthetic skills and give children the chance to learn in nature. “In summer our students leave their computers, phones and learning apps for a few days and they learn by touching, tasting, smelling and using their bodies. We have designed a summer program that combines morning language classes with fun activities that help students practice what they have been learning in an experiential and emotive way.”
The Greek language summer camp is for children 6 to 15 years old and will take place at the Ranch in 2022 in two periods in July and August. You can find out more here.
Whether it is in their online classrooms, their virtual League arenas or at the Camp in the summers, what is certain for this community of little Greeks is that they learn to love Greek and they love to learn Greek!