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Growing Number of Students in China Learn Greek

Greek language China
Lampros Papagiannis teaching Greek. Credit: Xu Yan/Greek Reporter

More and more students in China are learning Greek as around 10 universities offer Greek programs for undergraduate studies.

By Xu Yan

“The gorgeous Greek letters and enchanting scenery in Santorini drive me to learn Greek,” said Zisong Wen, a sophomore in the Greek department of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) in Guangzhou, China.

Established 9 years ago, the Greek department in GUDFS is the only one in South China that offers Greek studies programs. As of 2023 it had 44 students and 6 academic staff members, including 2 Greek teachers – Anastasia Gkortsila and Lampros Papagiannis from Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece.

Anastasia, known for her iconic big red glasses, has been working at GDUFS since 2019. She loves exploring Guangzhou and has become a “China expert”. “Guangzhou is an international and diverse city where you can find good products and services from all over the world,” she said.

Her favorite place in Guangzhou is Taojin Road, one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, with all kinds of restaurants and shops blending traditional Cantonese and Western styles. “You can even find a Korean hair salon there, which is something we don’t have in Greece,” Anastasia added.

Greek language China
Anastasia Gkortsila and Lampros Papagiannis take a stroll with two of their students. Credit: Xu Yan/Greek Reporter

Greek people are very curious about China

Anastasia said that Greek people are very curious about China. Since she started working in Guangzhou, she has become a channel for her Greek friends to learn about China. She always recommends Guangzhou to them, saying “Come to Guangzhou! It is not only an innovative city but also highly liveable.”

In class, Anastasia patiently explains Greek grammar and addresses any queries from the students. She thinks that Chinese students are focused and hardworking, while Greek students are more self-centred and relaxed. She points out that Chinese students strive to deepen their understanding of the language’s complex structure, making grammar mastery a top priority.

Greek language China
Anastasia Gkortsila in class. Xu Yan/Greek Reporter

Lampros, Anastasia’s colleague and compatriot, holds a similar view. He said that Greek students tend to be more active and enjoy discussion, while Chinese students tend to be more introverted and less likely to express themselves. So he tries to deepen his understanding of Chinese culture and explore the potential of Chinese students with targeted efforts.

Chinese student looks forward to studying in Athens

Zisong Wen, a second-year student in the Greek department, said that he has not yet been to Greece, but the gorgeous Greek letters, ancient civilization, and mythology have deeply attracted him, leading him to apply for the Greek major. He is looking forward to studying in Athens as an exchange student for one year this September.

It is worth noting that the Greek department at GDUFS has established a long-term cooperative relationship with the University of Athens, implementing a “3+1” international joint educational model, which means 3 years’ study in China and 1 year’s study in Greece. Students could have the opportunity to study in Athens in their junior year.

Greek language China
Chinese students attend Greek classes. Credit: Xu Yan/Greek Reporter

As Greek is one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world besides Chinese, the academic staff at the Greek department are working hard to boost students’ language skills and cultivate their understanding of Greek culture.

During class, teachers not only place great emphasis on illustrating phonetic structures, writing norms and the formation of words, but also adapt creative teaching approaches. For example, students are required to write dialogues based on texts and perform them in class; they are also invited to write blogs in Greek to share their daily life.

Students learn Greek songs and make Greek food

Moreover, students have the chance to learn to sing Greek songs, make Greek food and play roles in Greek dramas. With these Greek elements pervading their lives, they are becoming more Greek.

Greek language China
Around 10 universities in China offer Greek programs for undergraduate studies. Xu Yan/Greek Reporter

In recent years, as the Sino-Greek cooperation strengthened, staff at the Greek department of GDUFS believed that the demand for Greek education and knowledge of Greek would gradually increase in the coming years. Now, around 10 universities in China offer Greek programs for undergraduate studies.

Haihui Ling, one of the Chinese teachers in the Greek department, said that new requirements have been put forward for the Greek major. Graduates who possess both great language skills and knowledge from related fields are more likely to be favored by employers.

Therefore, many universities have tailored their educational models and paid more attention to students’ comprehensive abilities.

For example, students who major in Greek at GDUFS need to choose a microprogram from International Economics and Trade, Accounting, Law, International Relations, or TCSOL (Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages), and complete a total of 10 credits.

Bing Shang, the director of the Greek department, said that learning Greek is both fun and challenging: to master a language, one must acquire a deep understanding of the culture it expresses.

She said that recently, the Center of Chinese and Greek Ancient Civilizations was officially established, which is an important milestone in the development of Sino-Greek relations and the communication between world civilizations.

Students majoring in Greek, she added, must constantly improve their academic ability, enhance their sense of responsibility as ambassadors of Chinese culture to the world, and actively assist in Sino-Greek cooperation and cultural exchanges with what they have learned.

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