Excerpted from "The Future of the Greek Language and Culture in the United States: Survival in the Diaspora," a 1999 report from the Archbishop's Comission on Greek Language and Hellenic Culture
Commission Chair: Dr. John Rassias

Dr. John Rassias
The basic question is how Greek-Americans can thrive as Hellenes in the diaspora. We used to take for granted that students in the Greek schools were Greek and spoke Greek at home. These students now tend to be second, third, or fourth generation, and many come from mixed marriages. They do not speak Greek at home. Or, if one parent does speak Greek to them, they answer in English. Nevertheless, most of the students in Greek school are proud to be Greek. So the schools' task becomes how to preserve and enhance this Hellenic consciousness. How can parents be induced to speak some Greek at home when the children are tired, when they want to watch television or go out to play instead of studying or hearing Greek? How can children overcome their conviction that Greek is useless for them?

One second-generation mother spoke movingly about her own situation. "Why," she asked, "should my third-generation Greek child learn Greek?" There must be a right answer. It can no longer be assumed that learning Greek is the right way to go.

Because we are proud to be Greek.
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Because I like the history, people and
culture of Greece.

Because Greek culture is basic to
understanding Western civilization.

Because I want to communicate with
relatives and friends when I go to Greece.

Because learning another language will
help me to become a complete person.

Because knowledge of another language
enhances self-esteem.

Because knowledge of Greek helps one with English, since so many English
words are derived from Greek.

Because knowledge of a second language generally enhances performance
in school in other subjects, and leads to higher scores on the SATs.

Because the New Testament is written in Greek, and I would like my children to be able to read it in the original.

Because I would like to write letters to my friends and relatives in Greece.

Because knowledge of foreign languages helps a person secure a job in
today's global culture.

Because learning Greek or any other foreign language enables a person to
relate to the world in more than one way.

An important question that we heard again and again is whether a heritage can be maintained if its language is lost. Some people argue that if language is

Few Americans have been as influential in their fields as Dr. John A. Rassias, Dartmouth's world-renowned pioneer in foreign language teaching. The Rassias Method, also known as the Dartmouth Intensive Language Model, has been adopted by language teachers in hundreds of colleges, universities, and high schools in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, and is currently being used for instruction in 180 languages. In 1998, Dr. Rassias headed a Commission which reported to Archbishop Spyridon on the state of Greek language education in the U.S.  The 99-page report took over a year to complete, undertook a thorough analysis of the current situation, and made many specific recommendations. The text presented here is excerpted from the report.
forced on children, or taught badly (or both), then the net result is hatred of both the language and the heritage. It might be better to teach the heritage (e.g., ancient Greek mythology, Byzantine civilization, modern Greek culture) via English at first, so that students become interested enough to want to learn the language. Other people maintain that the language must be taught early and in a sustained manner. The Commission agrees. However, the Commission also believes that greater use should be made of English at early stages to teach the Greek heritage.

Achieving competency in the Greek language and acquiring a meaningful awareness of Hellenic culture will require a major, sustained effort. The Commission concludes that these goals cannot be achieved without substantial improvements in the entire system. As the Commission interacted with people throughout the nation, it realized that there are many administrators and teachers who are making laudable contributions to language study. We have reason to rejoice, for the Greek schools do have teachers who are competent, enthusiastic about teaching, and able to respect their students as whole persons – who help their students overcome their fear of learning, fear of making mistakes, who banish boredom and, in sum, make learning an enjoyable experience. To say that problems exist in the system as a whole does not diminish these achievements. However, the Commission has identified persistent structural and systemic problems. These include:

Inadequate preparation of teachers at all levels,

A lack of appropriate, pedagogically sound teaching materials.

A lack of imaginative curricula that touch, excite, and motivate students.

A lack of uniform standards and criteria for evaluation and testing of
language efficiency.

Poor articulation from level to level.

What are we paying our Greek language education teachers?  See the official "recommended salary scale" released by the Archdiocese.

Insufficient administrative and financial support in
many parishes.

Lack of recognition of good teachers.

Grossly inadequate compensation and fringe
benefits for teachers.

Inadequate use of technological resources -- e.g.,
computers, audio-visual materials, and distance

Lack of lending libraries with relevant books in Greek and English for all

Before we present our findings and recommendations, let us take a moment to dream. How beneficial it would be if Greeks were able to retain their Hellenic ethnicity in the American diaspora while constituting a "Platonic village" in which diversity is strength -- i.e., a community in which all people know that they have a task and willingly pursue their own task while at the same time accepting the activities of others as proper within the overall structure. Also, how beneficial it would be if Greeks, like other religious and cultural groups in the United States, could establish excellent schools that serve the population at large. We have every reason to believe that, with effort and determination rooted in the fundamentals of the rich Greek heritage, the Greek community could do this. Indeed, we believe that the Hellenic-American community could create a distinguished institution of higher learning that would stand proudly beside a Catholic Georgetown, a Jewish Brandeis, and a Quaker Haverford!


The basic questions are how Greek-Americans can thrive as Hellenes in the diaspora and whether their Greek heritage can be maintained if its language is lost. The Commission believes that it cannot. The Greek language is essential; it must be taught early and in a sustained manner. However, English can be used effectively at early stages to teach the Greek heritage to younger students and to instill in them a desire to learn the Greek language.

Although sporadically successful, the present system of language instruction in Greek Orthodox community schools suffers from persistent problems. The Commission's report divides these problems into nine categories:

1. Morale. In all three groups that the Commission investigated – teachers, students, and parents (not to mention priests in some cases) – skeptical attitudes exist that undermine the vibrant, joyful instruction of Greek.

2. Parents. A disappointingly small percentage of Greek-American parents send their children to Greek school and maintain the Greek language at home.

3. Organization. The schools suffer from lack of coordination among themselves and with the public school system.

4. Curriculum. There is a paucity of articulated curricula that would enable a better progression from lower to higher grades and allow students to sit for a common examination. There is also a significant underutilization of literature in the curriculum.

5. Educational materials. Greek schools need more and better educational materials; their books and ancillary materials do not always match what is available in French, Spanish, Japanese, etc. Materials that may have been appropriate in the past are now outdated. Children's needs and circumstances have changed. Some of the books now employed fail to relate to American ways and are particularly inappropriate for students from mixed marriages.

6. Pedagogy. Greek parochial schools need to match the public schools and other parochial schools in their awareness of diverse and effective methodologies. Especially needed are strategies to de-emphasize grammar and to teach Greek as a foreign language.

7. Teacher Preparation. Teachers need training and retraining. Speaking Greek as a mother tongue does not alone qualify one to teach. Teachers from Greece need to become aware of American ways. All teachers need to be trained in how to overcome boredom, how to integrate language with culture, and how to make full use of technological aids, among other strategies.

8. Compensation. If schools are to maintain quality education, they must pay their teachers a viable salary along with appropriate benefits. At present, teachers' salaries are grossly inadequate. Of those who responded to our teachers' questionnaire, only 3% indicated satisfaction with their renumeration, while 75% indicated that they were not at all satisfied.

9. Finances. The burden of financing should rest primarily on the individual parish, not on the Archdiocese or the Greek government. Local fund-raising energizes the individual community and deepens its committment to language study.