Teaching English ‘the Greek way’

Learning a foreign language like English, which is based on the alphabetic system, is easy for students whose mother tongue is also an alphabetic one like Greek. Since words of Greek origin are widely used in English, things are even better for Greek students.Moreover, both English and Greek are considered SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) languages, which, in terms of syntax, makes it easier for Greek learners of English to learn the language; that is why teaching syntax is of great significance.


By Christos Emmanouil, English teacher, consultant, author, christosemmanouil@hotmail.com


In addition, the teaching of grammar rules in respect of use of tenses, prepositions, passive voice, causative form, prefixes and suffixes, the plural form and genitive where there are distinct differences between the two languages, is another major step to take. Once students learn these differences, it is much easier for them to put words in order and thus produce correct syntax and full sentences, while managing to translate in the right way.

Translation is not only an academic field but also a skill that should be taught and practiced from an early age, as in the long run it will help students with reading comprehension but most crucially with speaking and writing, not to mention that it will make listening more clear to them. Unfortunately in the last decades translation from English to Greek and vice versa has become an old-fashioned and isolated method to learn English, mainly due to the fact that it is never directly tested through English examinations with the exception of the English entry exam to Greek universities which was in practice for several years up to recently.

On top of that, all the more foreign language schools have adopted this no-translation and in reality non grammar/syntax learning method of English out of their need to see themselves as prestigious and thus more professional institutes to their current and potential students but this does not really do the trick.


Irrespective of the use of translation skills in exam formats and teaching trends, translation itself is the passport to success when it comes to learn English, as we may be keen to learn new vocabulary, expressions, the use of modal verbs etc. –forming sentences and having thorough understanding of their use is what really and mostly counts.


The correct use of syntax, grammar and translation makes the difference between a fair student, a good and a very good one, while the opposite would be as if playing a musical instrument without knowing the notes, where one may produce some music but there will always be many gaps and discord. This is why so many Greek students, when it comes to speaking or writing, feel less confident, getting cold feet and preferring to solve an MCQ or a transformation item, based on their mere knowledge of common rules their teachers so eagerly have taught them over the years.

In the same way, many students may pass an exam even at an advanced level but only a few will be able to use the language appropriately, through the combination of grammar, syntax and translation and thus command it, in comparison to those just holding a certificate which certifies nothing but their mere miming of grammar rules and vocabulary with no real practice. That is why we should all embody translation in our classes right from the beginning no matter the age or level of our students, starting with the correct learning of the English grammar and syntax firstly in comparison to their mother tongue which will accordingly lead them to develop better translation skills and thus improving themselves in the language. So, instead of teaching the English grammar and syntax solely in English do it in Greek! 

Teaching English in English may provide you with some extra credits but does not necessarily make you a competent teacher, as your goal is to make the English language and its functions really and practically understood by your students. As for the speaking practice you may switch from English to Greek and vice versa during the whole class which will be surely more enjoyable and comprehensible for students making it easier for them to follow, not to mention that it will give initiative even to the weakest ones to speak and write with eagerness and joy.

All in all, learning English is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together step by step and building strong foundations from the very beginning. This will guarantee full command of the language, which in any other case would be like building castles in the sand.



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