Albania’s second language

Thessaloniki – In Elbasan, central Albania, a uniformed police officer stops a car bearing Greek number plates for a routine check. In perfect Greek, he asks the driver for his driving license, the car’s circulation license and green card. «Excuse me, but where did you learn such good Greek?» asks the driver. «Here in our town, there are lessons twice a week at a private language institute. I go to lessons there with my son,» replied the officer, adding a warning to beware of the narrow bends in the road ahead and the slippery road surface. Thousands of people in Albania are learning Greek, and not only those in the ethnically Greek areas who learn it from their grandparents, or those who have spent time in Greece. Greek is being taught in more than 100 private language institutes in Korce, Elbasan, Gjirokaster, Pogradec, Tirana, Vlore and elsewhere. Greek is the foreign language most widely spoken in Albania; it is believed that in two out of three Albanian families, there is at least one person who speaks Greek. «In Albania today, Greek is the language of business, the economy, culture,» said Stavros Daios, an ethnic Greek from Albania who lectures at Thessaloniki University. He said that while Greek-language education is dying out in ethnic Greek areas such as Gjirokaster and Sarande, Greek is being taught more and more throughout the rest of Albania. «In the 1989-1990 school year, there were 7,500 Grecophone students in ethnic Greek areas, with 700 teachers. Today there are only 1,000 pupils with up to 100 teachers,» he said. Albanians, then, are learning Greek on their home ground and reading Greek books. Nikos Kazantzakis’s «Zorba the Greek» and the collected works of Constantine Cavafy have become best sellers. Over 140 Greek books have been translated into Albanian. Four years ago, the Arsakeio School opened in Tirana and is held in high esteem by Albanians. It is Albania’s first private Greek school, opened as part of a Greek-Albanian agreement. Its director, Sappho Mazaraki, told Kathimerini the venture has been an unqualified success. «When we opened, it was quite an ambitious undertaking. However, we have succeeded and today the Arsakeio is considered one of the best schools in Albania, which also has private English, Italian, French and Turkish schools,» she said. «The syllabus combines elements of both countries’ systems, with respect for ethnic origin, religion and local traditions.» At first, the school had 77 children in first and second grade, two Greek and three Albanian teachers. Today, there are 300 pupils in eight grades. «One-third of our pupils are Albanians who, along with children who are either ethnic Greeks or children of Greeks living here, are taught a number of subjects in both Albanian and Greek,» added Mazaraki. On the plain of Korce, 500 Albanians attend Greek-language courses at institutes operating under the auspices of the non-governmental and non-profit cultural association «Brotherhood,» subsidized by Greek businesses and agencies. According to Costas Yiannis, the association’s president, there is great interest. «There are even entire families who come and learn Greek and computer skills. They pay only one euro per month as a contribution to the association,» said Yiannis, who wants to open a private school in Korce.

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