Are UK Cypriots really still bilingual?

Are UK Cypriots really still bilingual or are they rapidly becoming unilingual (or monolingual)? Why are we failing to stay bilingual if we do? What is happening in the family? Has the family changed?

Definitely! The UK Cypriot family has changed. The UK Cypriot family has changed beyond recognition and in many ways.

Gone are the times when first generation of immigrant grandparents did nothing but looking after their grandchildren, practically bringing them up together with the parents. Gone are the times when almost every Cypriot family had a typical grandmother living with them. Now the children go  to nursery. The parents go to work. And children find it very hard, almost impossible,  to learn Greek. And  who are the grandparents? Today’s grandparents are not necessarily the old typical Cypriot grandmother and grandfather. We have reached the stage of the second/third immigrant generation grandparents whose Greek is not extremely good.

This is roughly the picture of the UK Cypriot community today. This is the real UK Cypriot community – the community whose intelligent language (let’s not delude ourselves) is English, not Greek. We have reached the stage of the third/fourth immigrant generation. Very few speak good Greek. For example, they find it very hard to attend Greek School parent meetings if the meeting language is Greek. Their Greek is for the basic daily life, not for meetings and conferences.

Let’s face it! There is a very serious problem of language in the UK Cypriot family. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it is easy. It is very difficult for everybody. It is very difficult for the parents. It is very difficult, very hard, for the children themselves. And it is very difficult – sometimes almost an impossible task – for the teachers of our community schools (παροικιακά σχολεία) to teach them Greek.

So, where do we go from here? Do we want to stay bilingual? I am sure the majority we’ll answer “yes, we do” for many reasons that we all know. But how? It doesn’t seem so easy. And it is looking increasingly more difficult. That’s why the question of bilingualism will be a top priority for UKCY NEWS in the days and years to come.

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