Achilleas Kostoulas

Applied Linguistics & Language Teacher Education

white book in white table near yellow wall

Language Diversity in Greece (Book Review)

I have always had an interest in scholarship that challenges monolingual narratives. This was why I was very excited when I was asked to review Language Diversity in Greece, a volume edited by four prominent Greek linguists (Skourtou et al., 2020). The edited collection looks into various marginalised linguistic communities in Greece, and showcases the challenges involved in educating such linguisticly diverse groups. The review has just appeared in the latest issue of LinguistList (32.1312), who have kindly granted permission for me to republish this review (with minor copyediting changes) here.

Class in a Muslim minority primary school in north-eastern Greece.
Class in a Muslim minority primary school in north-eastern Greece.

Summary of the volume

Language Diversity in Greece: Local Challenges with International Implications is an edited collection consisting of 18 chapters (including an introduction) that describe various aspects of minority and heritage language education in Greece. The volume comprises theoretical and empirical contributions, which cover a timespan from 1997 onwards, and focus on four linguistic groups:

The book is prefaced with a foreword by Jim Cummins (pp. vii–xiii), who aptly remarks on the timeliness of this publication as a counterpoint to increasingly extreme anti-minority rhetoric. Cummins introduces the volume by teasing out four recurring themes: the interdependence of languages, the interaction between theory and pedagogical practice, the hybrid identities that language learners construct, and the textual representation of these identities. This is followed by an introductory chapter by the editors (pp. 1–7), which contextualises and presents the 17 contributions that follow.

Educating students with a minority or refugee background in Greece

The first part, which consists of six chapters, is the most extended one, and it focuses on people with migrant and / or refugee background. Part I begins with a chapter entitled Bilingual Infants and their Treatment in the Greek Kindergarten, by Dionysia Kontogianni and Vassilios Oikonomidis (pp. 11–22). This chapter reports on a small-scale questionnaire-based empirical investigation that examined language practices in Greek kindergartens. Space considerations in this review preclude discussion of methodological details, but the chapter provides interesting insights about how young children gradually increase the use of Modern Greek in communicative situations (at the expense of their first language(s)). The chapter also presents useful self-report comments by the teachers, which document how they support bilingual students in their efforts to learn Modern Greek.

Copy of Linguistic Diversity in Greece
The book

In the second chapter, Bilingual Students in the Public Primary Education Context in Greece: A Deterrent for the Greek Educational Landscape or a Chance for Improvement? (pp. 23–37), Evangelia Papalexatou and Vasilios Zorbas focus on primary school learners whose first language is Albanian. To provide context, one should note that migrants from Albania have been present in Greece since the 00s, and their children usually attend mainstream education, where no provision is made to accommodate to their linguistic background. What this chapter does, then, is highlight the particular challenges that are faced in the acquisition of English as a third language by children who are already using Albanian as a first language and Modern Greek as a second one. The chapter contains interesting visual data (e.g., handwritten notes and illustrations) that document the language learning experiences of two fourth-grade pupils.

In the third chapter, Interviewing as Understanding: Principles and Modalities for Transforming a Qualitative Research Instrument into a Stage of the Integration Process for Immigrants (pp. 39–74), George Androulakis, Anastasia Gkaintartzi, Roula Kitsiou, Zoi Liverianou and Evi Markou report on an empirical study that was conducted in the context of a multi-site Greek language learning initiative for immigrants. Using data from 12 semi-structured interviews and skilfully conducted qualitative analysis, the authors describe how the programme participants developed hybrid identities that fused their background culture and the culture and values that the participants embraced in Greece. The rich qualitative data presented also highlight how these fluid identities were negotiated in the context of power asymmetries, in which the research participants were often placed in the role of the disenfranchised.

The following chapter, by Christina Takouda and Dimitrios Koutsogiannis, is entitled Identities under Negotiation in a Second Language Academic Literacies Course (pp. 48–60). This chapter presents an ethnographically-informed Action Research project that examines how international students who were enrolled in a Modern Greek academic literacy course constructed their academic identities. The study also explores how these emergent identities influenced the co-construction of the teaching process in the course. The chapter contains a multitude of useful pedagogical insights, which are particularly relevant to pedagogical practice, as teachers are increasingly expected to be “teachers of meaning beyond teachers of a plain language” (p. 59).

The fifth chapter, School and Family Cooperation: Strengthening Parents’ Knowledge of Greek by Eleni Karantzola and Ioannis Galantomos (pp. 61–75), reports on an intervention that aimed to improve linguistic proficiency in Modern Greek among immigrant parents, with a view to increasing parental involvement in education. The authors present a selection of views expressed by the teachers who participated in the programme, as elicited from their evaluation reports, and synthesize them with information from a focus-group discussion with participating teachers. Building on this data, they conclude that approaches towards immigration and parental involvement in Greek education have been inconsistent. They also document the prevalence of essentialist views among some Greek teachers, as well as disillusionment by the limitations of the programme, all of which may have impacted the teaching process.

The final chapter of Part I is entitled Greek-Spanish Community: The Maintenance of the Spanish Language in Mixed Families (pp. 77–92), and is authored by Anastasia-Olga Tzirides. The chapter reports on a carefully conducted study that examined the family language policies in Greece-based households, where at least one member was a speaker of Spanish. This chapter contains an extensive theoretical discussion of bilingualism and language maintenance practices, as well as comprehensive data on multiple facets of attitudes and practices connected to the maintenance of Spanish among the younger generation.

Educating the muslim minority in Thrace

Part II of the volume focuses on the education of linguistic minorities in Thrace, the North-eastern region of Greece. The target group comprises Roma, Pomak and Turkish ethnic communities, which are collectively recognised by the Greek state as the ‘Muslim’ minority. Though linguistically diverse, this minority is served by bilingual schools where instruction is provided in Modern Greek and Turkish, while other languages (i.e., Romani and Pomak) are invisibilised.

The first chapter of in this part, The Project on the Education of Muslim Minority Children in Thrace, Greece: Stimulating the Educational Process and Enhancing Collaborative Practices (pp. 95–115) is authored by Thalia Dragonas and Anna Frangoudaki, who have extensive experience co-ordinating interventions aiming to raise the educational standards of the Muslim minority. This authoritative chapter presents the readers with key facts about the minority, and succinctly describes the long-running interventions, which cumulatively span more than two decades. Using robust statistical evidence and striking vignettes, the authors describe the production of new textbooks (some of which are presented in fuller detail in the following chapters), in-service training initiatives for educators, and the operation of extracurricular community outreach centres.

The following three chapters describe the development, piloting and use of learning materials for minority schools. This set of presentations begins with a chapter by Vassilis Tsafos, entitled Reforming History for School and History for Education: A Pilot Study for History-Teaching for the Muslim Minority in Thrace (pp. 117–130). Building on data from the teachers who piloted the materials, the author concludes that the innovative materials and the teaching methodology that underpinned them were particularly useful both for the minority students and the teachers who used them.

The next chapter focuses on the teaching of literature. In Pilot Literature Teaching in Thrace Muslim Minority (pp. 131-141), the authors, Venetia Apostolidou, Christos Daniil and Eleni Hodolidou, describe how new materials for the teaching of literature were used to address the limited literacy of minority students. Some of the key innovations that are described in the chapters include the shift from teaching disembodied texts to engaging with genre- and thematically-focused units, the inclusion of a variety of genres in the materials corpus, and the use of a clearly defined pre-, during-, and post-reading lesson macro-structure.

Part II concludes with a chapter that describes the development of learning materials for the sciences, which cater to the needs of the Muslim minority. In the chapter entitled A Pilot Application of Educational Materials for the Natural Sciences in the Project for the Education of Muslim Minority Children in Thrace (pp. 143–153), Vasilis Tselfes describes the pedagogical principles that underpinned the new materials and presents details about their piloting. In addition to appraising the materials, the chapter also ventures a number of cogent remarks about the time-frame of curricular innovation and the conditions that render it successful.

Educating the Roma minority

Part III comprises three chapters that look into the education of Roma students in Greece. This discussion begins with a framing chapter by Eleni Skourtou, Investigating Literacy Issues on Roma Education (pp. 157–167). In her authorial contribution to the volume, Skourtou presents information about the Roma communities and the attempts that have been made, from the 1980s onwards, to integrate them into the education system. Following that, the author presents three indicative literacy activities developed in schools with Roma students, and shows how the students’ existing linguistic capital can be exploited in collaborative activities that have the potential to generate biliteracy. In doing so, she demonstrates the potential of educational interventions that go beyond deficit perspectives.

The next chapter, Expanded Pedagogical Spaces: Enhancing Roma Students Involvement in School, by Eleni Gana, Charoula Stathopoulou and Christos Govaris (pp. 169–181), reports partial findings from a large-scale intervention that involved Roma pre-school age children, whose attendance is described as “low and inconsistent” (p. 170). Using an innovative methodological approach, collaborative ethnographic inquiry, the authors show how children from six communities, who were native speakers of Romani and had fairly limited ability to communicate in Modern Greek, transformed their classrooms into ‘third spaces’, or meeting spaces where the mainstream culture, the culture of the teachers and the culture of the students were fused.

The final chapter of Part III is a theoretical treatise that attempts to explain the underachievement of Roma students in Greece. In Underachievement of Roma Children in Greece (pp. 183–192), Dimitrios Kassis presents readers with an overview of the current educational conditions of the Roma children. This is followed by an expansive discussion of factors that might be relevant to the underachievement of this group, drawing on a wide range of literature sources published up to 2009. The chapter concludes with a number of pedagogical recommendations, some of which may help to overcome challenges that children in the Roma community face.

Educating the Greek-speaking diaspora

The last four chapters of the volume (Part IV) describe aspects of language education for Greeks living outside Greece (the Diaspora). The first of these chapters, Narratives of Greekness in the Diaspora (pp. 195–208), by Efthymia Papalexopoulou, synthesises empirical and archival data to explore the cultural identity of diasporic Greeks. The analysis focuses on three groups with distinct characteristics: Greek Americans, Greeks in Germany, and Greeks in the former Soviet Republics. These groups tend to construct their Greekness using historically and by evoking synchronic criteria (e.g., connections to Greece, shared language etc.). However, Greekness appears to be constructed differently in each of the target groups: for instance, Greeks in the former USSR, who are members of long-established historical communities, tend to emphasise ancestral depth, Greeks in Germany (typically first-generation immigrants) valorise synchronic features, and Greek-Americans stress the hybridity of their identities.

The following chapter The Future of the Bilingual Greek Orthodox Minority in Istanbul: New Data (pp. 209–231) by Eleni Sella-Mazi and Maria Rompopoulou presents data from Rompopoulou’s doctoral thesis, which examined the language maintenance practices of the Greek-speaking community in Istanbul (NB. like the Muslim minority in Greece that was described in Part I, this is formally recognised as a religious, rather than a linguistic minority, although it has historically been Greek-speaking). The chapter begins by helpfully outlining sociolinguistic information about the community, and goes on to present data about the domains where Modern Greek is used by young members of the minority, the frequency of usage, and their linguistic proficiency. The authors note that the language seems to be in decline, and urge for reforming bilingual education, by redefining Modern Greek as a foreign language in the minority schools’ curriculum.

The penultimate chapter of the collection, Family Language Policies Among Greek Migrants in Luxemburg: Results from a Comparative Study (pp. 223–233), by Nikos Gogonas, looks into the family language policies of Greek diasporic families. In his study, Gogonas juxtaposes the linguistic ideologies, linguistic practices and language management of two Greek families who are resident in Luxembourg: one who have been in the country for 9 years, and one who have been there for 15 months and thus represent a ‘new wave’ of internationally mobile Greeks prompted by recent austerity policies. He notes that “with three languages of instruction at school [i.e., French, German and Luxembourgish] and one or more other languages spoken at home, many children of ethnic minority background face considerable difficulties” (p. 226). However, families are found to have a positive attitude towards bilingualism, prompted by pragmatic and utilitarian outlooks.

The volume concludes with New Directions for Greek Education in the Diaspora: Teaching Heritage Language Learners in Canada (pp. 235–253), by Themistoklis Aravossitas and Marianthi Oikonomakou. In this chapter, which looks into Greek language education in Canada, Greek is framed as a heritage language, and it is noted that its role is useful in facilitating participation in ethnically defined community networks. Using data elicited from school administrators, students, and teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary education, the authors tease out a number of useful insights regarding the needs of teachers and the challenges of teaching mixed-ability language classes. In addition to making recommendations for increasing the learners’ motivation and addressing professional development, the authors also intriguingly recommend considering the needs of non-heritage language course participants.

Evaluation of the volume

Language Diversity in Greece makes a noteworthy addition to the scholarship about minority language education in Greece. This collection makes a particularly valuable contribution, since the Greek experience with linguistic diversity is not well documented in the literature, particularly outside the Greek borders. As Jim Cummins notes in the preface, this contribution is even more timely, in that it shows how sound educational practice can challenge xenophobic ideologies and policies.

A key strength of the volume is its thematic diversity and the balance it achieves between theoretical and empirical contributions. The four parts, which correspond to the education of people with refugee and migrant background, the Muslim minority in Thrace, the Roma communities and the Greek Diaspora, present readers with a wealth of information about the particular challenges that each community faces. They also invite comparisons between the ways in which the Greek state has addressed the needs of these four populations. Some of the more theoretical contributions, like the chapters that frame the discussion about the Muslim minority (Dragonas & Frangoudaki), and the Roma communities (Skourtou), are particularly useful as primers to their respective settings, and will likely prove indispensable introductions to any newcomers in this field.

In addition, the volume contains a number of empirical chapters that report on educational initiatives (e.g., Androulakis et al., Gana et al.), which serve as excellent examples of curricular reform and minority language education interventions. The contributions that focus on the Greek Diaspora also do very valuable work in documenting the realities of populations that have been relatively under-researched. One last chapter that stands out is Gogonas’ study into family language policies, an area of research that is receiving increasing attention due to international mobility. It is likely that this chapter will inspire similar work with other populations, and serves as a useful methodological template.

While it is clear that the editors have carefully put together a collection that does justice to the diversity and quality of research in linguistic minority education in Greece, one way in which the volume could have been further improved would have been if the editorial voice were less discreet. The introductory chapter contains some brief contextualising comments about the linguistic landscape in Greece and about Greek education (pp. 1–2), but international readers who are not familiar with the context would perhaps benefit from more background information. In the same vein, the somewhat esoteric information that is occasionally encountered in individual chapters (e.g., references to Greek government agencies on p. 144, ‘project ODYSSEAS’ on p. 66, the ‘New School’ reform on p. 132) assumes more knowledge than most international readers would reasonably have, so it might have been helpful if it had been annotated or glossed. Finally, a concluding chapter that would help to bring together all the emerging themes that recur in the volume would have been particularly interesting to read, given the authoritative status of the editors.

Sadly, one cannot avoid commenting on the mismatch between the editors’ and the authors’ typically meticulous work and the disappointing production quality of the volume. In addition to the problems usually associated with hasty copyediting and typesetting, like the inconsistent use of headings (e.g., pp. 118 & 120), avoidable typos (e.g., the footnote in p. 137), and irregularities in referencing, one is also frustrated to see frequent mistakes and inconsistencies in the Latin translation/transliteration of Greek publications. This is rather unfortunate, as it hinders access to the many valuable publications that the volume introduces to an international audience of readers. The lack of an index is also a regrettable omission, which limits the functionality of the volume as a work of reference.

Overall, Language Diversity in Greece is a volume that will likely appeal to readers with a scholarly interest in the linguistic ecology of Greece, and / or in minority language education. Although not explicitly framed in these terms, the themes of the volume often connect to the discourses about linguistic human rights (Skutnabb-Kangas 2006). Whether describing sustained effort that spans decades (Dragonas & Frangoudaki) or cutting-edge initiatives (Androulakis et al.), the chapters that make up the volume show that linguistic diversity is an asset not just for the speakers of minority languages but also for the broader communities in which these minorities are embedded. More than anything else, however, this is a volume that shows how educational practice and linguistics can work in synergy to generate counter-discourses of hope that challenge social injustices.

Concluding remarks

There are a few things I would like to add to the ‘official review’. The first is a disclaimer: After submitting the review, in July 2020, I accepted a job at the University of Thessaly. In my new job, I work in the same department with some of the authors mentioned above (Androulakis, Govaris) and I have collaborated with others (Gaintartzi, Gana) in various projects. While writing the review, this job was one of several alternatives I was considering; had I been more confident about my prospects of working in the department, I would probably have avoided this review and the awkwardness it now generates. I hope readers will trust that what I have written was not influenced by aquaintance with the authors.

As you can probably tell by reading I enjoyed reading this book, and I do think that several chapters make a contribution that goes beyond the specific circumstances of minority language education in Greece. The themes that the book raises include issues like the role of the dominant community language in education, the space that is provided for linguistic difference, and the ways that educators and school systems balance conformity and diversity. Several chapters also serve as useful methodological templates for conducting research with marginalised groups.

If you do get hold of the book, I hope that you enjoy reading it as well. I also hope that it serves as inspiration for similar work, in Greece and elsewhere.







2 responses to “Language Diversity in Greece (Book Review)”

  1. ven_vve avatar

    Hi Achilleas, I’m not sure if I ever said congrats on the new (or now not so new anymore) job. I hope it’s a good fit. I enjoyed the review and will keep an eye out for the book!

    1. Achilleas Kostoulas avatar

      Thanks! I’m glad the review was helpful

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