The pandemic provided Monash Hellenic with the opportunity to try to solve a problem: how do we give members a chance to practise their Greek without making it feel like Greek School? The solution: a casual conversation club.
Each week, up to 20 participants joined us over Zoom to practise their spoken language. With our casual conversation sessions, we wanted to remove the pressure of speaking ‘perfectly’ or feeling your Greek was not ‘good enough’, so we allowed participants to rate their own Greek levels and move between levels as they felt appropriate. With each break-out room (thank you Zoom!) containing four to eight people, there were always enough participants to keep the conversation going. Keeping numbers small enough also meant that speaking was not intimidating. Every week had a theme and list of questions pitched at different language levels to start the conversation.
Greek-Australian students with previous exposure to Greek language retain their language skills for one of two reasons: professional opportunities or more importantly, connection to their family and culture. For this reason, we chose to target the students who are less focused on reading and writing and instead wanted to keep their language skills to communicate to family members.
The team who put the conversation club together, thought it was important that no one felt they were not ‘Greek enough’ if they lacked language skills. This isn’t an unsubstantiated fear; it is a common sentiment within the community that Greek is ‘easy’ and it is a ‘waste’ if you aren’t the perfect speaker. While it may be easier to learn a language when there are family members at home to practise with, this idea does not encourage learning Greek, as it simply discredits the hard work that goes into language learning. We wanted to provide an environment that acknowledged the challenge and work that goes into learning a language, but frame it in a way that felt accessible.
The sessions were about finding confidence in language: there were no penalties for slipping into English and we made a conscious effort to provide structure to the sessions without making it feel like a lesson. The sessions became a warm and encouraging community of speakers and anticipated end to each week.
It was great to see how well-received the casual conversation club was, which is a testament to our wonderful participants. Beginners mixed Greek and English to slowly pick up new words, following more structured sessions, and the intermediates slowly increased their confidence. The few native speakers in the advanced room allowed for more detailed discussions surrounding everything from travel to current affairs, and participants were fully immersed in the language, and learned how to follow conversations even when losing words along the way.
Casual conversation club will return in 2021, but in the meantime, we encourage all our participants to take their confidence and Greek skills from participating in the sessions and practise with their grandparents, parents, or new connections from the class.
A special thank you to the planning team: Anthea Digiaris, Will Bikakis, Kristin Panopoulos and Despina Skourlis
MHSS Casual Conversation Club will be back in 2021. For more information and updates, visit our Facebook and Instagram
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