House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010


International Mother Language Day; Greek Language Education

9:45 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the United Nations International Mother Language Day and to talk about the importance of including the Greek language in Australia’s national schools curriculum. Last Sunday, 21 February 2010, marked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s International Mother Language Day. The purpose of International Mother Language Day is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The benefits of a multilingual society cannot be understated. We know that improved language ability increases Australia’s ability to engage with the world through trade, education, employment and culture. The Australian government has already demonstrated its commitment to language education by providing $62.4 million in funding over four years for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program. This program will equip students to participate in an increasingly globalised world, where language will provide the tools to transcend social, political and economic borders.

More than five million Australians already speak a language other than English, with the top five languages other than English being Greek, Italian, Cantonese, Arabic and Mandarin. Growing up with Greek parents, I was fortunate to become bilingual at a very early age. We always spoke both English and Greek at home, and it was clear to me then, as it is now, that learning a language is not just about speaking and writing in different sounds and words; it is about lessons in history, culture, music, food and family as well. My ability to speak Greek has opened many doors for me both personally and professionally and it has enriched my life immeasurably. The Greek language has also been passed on to my sons, who are third generation Greek Australians. They learned their Greek both at home and at the bilingual school they attended, St George College. St George College is situated in Adelaide’s western suburbs and it offers students a wonderful opportunity to study Greek language, from reception right up to year 12, immersing them in the same culture which many my age just took for granted at home.

Encouraging schools to adopt early and continuous language education in our schools will not only provide an opportunity for Australians from every background to preserve and maintain their personal heritage but also open doors to other worlds they may never have considered. It is timely that, while the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is devising a ‘shape paper’ for phase 2 of its national curriculum, which is due to be released in mid-2010 for consultation, I speak in favour of the implementation of the Greek language as one of the languages to be offered nationally.

In terms of significance, Greeks and Greek Cypriots are the seventh largest ethnic group in Australia, with more than 365,000 Australians identifying Greek ancestry in the 2006 census and more than 250,000 Australians speaking Greek at home. Of those 365,000, I have 10,000 in my electorate of Hindmarsh. Greek not only is a widely spoken community language in Australia but also enjoys historical significance as the language of great intellectuals and the most revered religious figures. We can count among them such minds as Plato, Aristotle, Homer and Hippocrates. The New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek. More than five per cent of the English words are borrowed from Greek directly and about 25 per cent were borrowed indirectly.

The Greek community in Australia offers a broad and organised support base for the continuation of Greek language education in Australia, together with the government of Greece, which continues its longstanding support for Greek education in Australia. I therefore commend to the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority the inclusion of Greek as a language in the national schools curriculum, and I look forward to the release of the so-called ‘shape paper’ from ACARA in mid-2010, which will frame the discussion for languages education in Australia.

I would also like to congratulate the wonderful teachers in my electorate who are committed to teaching Greek—people like Peter Photakis, Mr Frazis and the principal of St George College, George Panagopoulos. (Time expired)