The Greek language is the oldest, with 4,000 years of continued use, while more than 40,000 words in the English dictionary have Greek origins. The Speak Greek in March (SGM) campaign is back for 2017, more determined than ever to stimulate the Hellenic community, the school system and government to give greater priority to the speaking, learning and teaching of the Greek language.
This initiative was started in 2015 by individuals and representatives of literary and cultural organisations within the Greek community. The organising committee's policy is to encourage the various stakeholders to initiate, develop and implement activities appropriate to their own fields of endeavour, which promote the Greek language.
For example, schools which teach Greek may organise during March − but also throughout the year − competitions, celebrations, debates lectures and special projects.
"People say why only Speak Greek in March, shouldn't we be speaking Greek all the time?" SGM secretary Christina Despoteris tells Neos Kosmos.
"The answer is yes ... our goal is for people to be speaking Greek all the time, but first we must put into place strategies, making it easier for everyone to learn and practise the language.
"SGM is in its third year and it's become a very identifiable brand name," she emphasises. "It has spread internationally and has been reported about on every continent."
The committee chose March for the campaign for a number of reasons, and the branding worked as March incorporates a plethora of Greek cultural activities, being the beginning of the school year.
It also includes the celebration of the Greek National Day and the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival. As the committee further explains, choosing this one month for the campaign is only a marketing technique, as the objective of the organising committee is to encourage and promote the speaking of Greek throughout the year.
Furthermore, to tackle the decreasing number of students who have been learning Greek in recent years, the SGM committee wanted to raise awareness of learning a second language as it enhances one's competence in his/her primary language.
The next step for the committee will be to create apps for learning Greek and develop games and other applications for students, children and adults to use, all relating to the Greek language.
"As language and culture are interrelated, retaining our mother tongue will strengthen our ability to maintain our cultural identity in multicultural Australia. It will also benefit Australia, as multilingualism in our globalised world is acknowledged to have cultural, educational and trade advantages," Mike Zafiropoulos AM, the convener of the SGM committee, says.
"Our school system needs new ideas and the ongoing support of the community in order to make the Greek language attractive to our youth."
"With globalisation, mixed marriages and other such influences, children are opting to speak in English rather than Greek," Mrs Despoteris continues.
"Meanwhile, the way we teach Greek may also contribute to this. We are using text books and workbooks which use a particular style of the language which is not conducive to our way of life nor the vocabulary we use here. Also times have changed ... children prefer to use the computer, the iPad or smartphone for learning."
Following the Northcote High School incident in 2016, the Greek Community had to lobby long and hard to retain Greek as a language at the school. While the campaign originated in Melbourne, it is quickly spreading to other parts of Australia and overseas.
"This year we will be visiting 31 countries, one for each day of the month, and liaising with the local Greeks to see what they are up to in relation to the teaching of the language, what they do, how they do it," Mrs Despoteris emphasises, touching on the overwhelming success of last year's program. "We started with Italy on 1 March and we hope it is even more effective than our 2016 campaign.
"Our purpose is to make a broad assessment of the extent to which the Greek language has survived in the Hellenic diaspora and to establish a network of the 31 communities and a movement of collaboration with the aim of promoting the Greek language globally. In future, additional countries of the Hellenic diaspora will be invited to join the network."
The commitee invites people to visit its website www.speakgreekinmarch.com and subscribe to the word of the day. Also like their Facebook page to win prizes at the end of the month.