By Ada Leivada
Whenever Greece faces challenges with its public image, such as the unfair comments made against Greeks during last decade’s devastating financial crisis, its greatest ambassador is always there to remind people of the importance of Hellenism for the whole world.
The greatest ambassador for Greece is no other than the Greek language itself.
With over 3,400 years of documented history, the Greek language has heavily influenced all western languages. English is no exception, as to this day it still uses the roots of Greek words to coin new terms.
Greeks were one of the first people to describe complex medical, mathematical and philosophical concepts, gifting in this way a plethora of words that are still used in these fields today.
The Greek language didn’t stop, however, with the scientific and natural world. It conquered many other fields, including the arts, and lent words to many languages to help them describe concepts in literature, music, architecture, and the fine arts.
Whether you work in an orchestra or a supermarket, whether you study business or sing opera arias, whether you are a doctor or a university professor, you use Greek words every single day.
Surely you must have heard all these impressive facts about the Greek language before. You know that about 12% of all English words derive from Greek, the fact that the Greek alphabet was the first one to use vowels, and that the longest word to ever appear in literature was Greek.
Written by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes in a hilarious effort to describe the fictional dish full of different kinds of meat, the word is: “λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιοκαραβομελιτοκατακεχυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτοκεφαλλιοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιοβαφητραγανοπτερύγων.”
The list of the Greek language’s gifts to the world is endless. And while it is true that this language invented and described for the first time many meaningful concepts in science, medicine, and art, its beauty does not stop there.
Greek is the perfect language by which to understand the human soul, to describe conflicting yet familiar feelings and different facets of human behavior. Many of these are even used in English as is, since there is no appropriate translation capturing their true meaning.
The word “Nostalgia,” for instance, describing the happy reminiscences we all have of another time, especially when we are far away or after the passage of many years. Ancient Greece was truly a cultural hotbed; it was the mother of the sciences, arts, democracy, and the Olympic Games.
While in modern times our country is not the world’s cultural center that it once was, the direct relation of modern to ancient Greek is the factor that still renders Greece one of the most important countries of the western world.
Everything starts and ends with the Greek language — the true ambassador of Greek culture. And despite the fact that it has only about 12 million speakers worldwide, the passion of the Greek diaspora to speak the language and teach it to younger generations is what helps the language to not only survive but grow.
The presence of Greek schools everywhere proves the need of the Greek diaspora to keep Greek alive within themselves. Their decision to seek alternative Greek-learning options for those who live in places without Greek schools shows their passion to teach their children the language of their grandparents.
A option for this kind of instruction is Greek Lessons OnLine, a worldwide online school with teachers based in Greece who teach Greek to children and adults everywhere in the world. “Our School is growing everyday thanks to these people’s need to bring their children closer to their country of origin,” says Maria, a Greek LOL teacher and the Coordinator of the Greek LOL Language Summer Camp.
“Their passion for the Greek language is truly unique and is what motivates us to offer them the best educational and community experience possible,” the Thessaloniki-based teacher adds.
After the massive wave of young people who left the country to find better working opportunities elsewhere, teaching the Greek language to the new generations of Greeks who will be born abroad is fundamental for the future survival of our language and culture.
According to the Greek LOL team, what prompts most of their students’ incentive to learn Greek is the emotion behind it. “A great number of our students are families who want to stay together,” Maria points out.
Vasso, another Greek LOL teacher, gives us an example of families like this, saying “One of my favorite moments in class is when my students come and ask things they want to say to their families in Greek. The other day, my student Mikaela wanted to announce to her grandma that she will travel to Greece this summer to visit them and she wanted to find something nice to tell her in Greek.”
It is moments like this that prove to us the emotional importance that learning Greek has for all these students and their families.
Throughout history, through political and religious wars, through financial, political or social crises, the Greek language is what kept our culture alive and strong.
If you think of the external difficulties that Greece has faced throughout the centuries, it is nearly miraculous that our language has remained intact — and its direct connection to ancient Greek, the mother of all European languages, is the main reason why.
Now, more than ever, it is the time to make sure Greek families with members who live abroad stay connected; and the main way to achieve this is through learning the Greek language, the very best ambassador of Hellenism.