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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 May 2016
8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 MAY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Teaching children Greek through fun, Yannis Nikolakopoulos and Peter Kazacos create a fun yet educational world using ‘Greeklish’ as a bridge between two cultures NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU International-award-winning writer and filmmaker Yannis Nikolakopoulos joined forces with renowned IT entrepreneur, venture capitalist and philanthropist Peter Kazacos to form a new company, Grammatakia Publishers. It wasn't long after this collaboration that Sofia and the Grammatakia arose, a new series of illustrated children's books aspiring to introduce children to the Greek language and effortlessly acquaint with their heritage culture through fun characters and stories. Written online in Greek, English and Greeklish, the books are designed to be read in Greek or in English (or both) by parents and educators with any or no fluency in the Greek language. The accompanying downloadable video also helps teachers practice their Greek pronunciation. The books also include cute stickers with the key words from each book written in Greek. The stickers continue the lesson by bringing the characters into the real world, helping children to memorise the words. "Kids love to dive deep into imaginary uni- verses with cute, relatable characters and fun stories," the author tells Neos Kosmos, explaining that the Greek "universe of thought" his father taught him is one where everything the child learns has a link to deeper truths in culture, philosophy, history, language and mythology. "So, if made accessible through stories, games and characters, it’s much more valuable than a Disney or other cartoon universe because it remains relevant throughout a child's entire life of learning." Yannis also points to the huge influence Greek thought had on the foundational thinkers of western culture through their classical education. cal education. "The key figures that forged the modern western society, including the founding fathers of the USA, saw themselves as continuing a legacy that began in Greece. They knew the stories and felt the emotional bond. If we foster that sense of stewardship of ideas in our kids, then they will feel the same passion for ideas that inspired our forefathers, and they will be better citizens." The team has based the way the book works on the latest brain scanning technology, which is a more effective method to figure out what's happening in children's heads than asking a series of questions. Yannis and Peter used the findings on how kids absorb information in the process of acquiring a second language. "Researchers have found substantial evidence which confirms the benefits of kids learning a second language," Yannis says. "Context is everything. "I've been reading these surveys and I've been trying to implement these findings and merge them with my own creativity as a writer." He also thinks Greeklish is becoming a necessary bridge for 'accustomisation'. The writer sees it as a helpful tool for engaging second and third generation Greek diasporans. asporans. "It's a moderated Greeklish, not the type people type on their computers out of laziness," he clarifies. "It explains how to say the letters in context and help children get the accent right. "Kids from all ethnic backgrounds learned Greek without even trying. That's testament to how fun and easy it is, proving that context is more important." Meanwhile, education consultant Stephanie Kazacos tests the books in her child care centre and is impressed with the love the children have for the books and the stickers. "There is a lot of new research that proves the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, so it’s an increasingly necessary part of our curriculum," she says. "And even though Greek doesn't have a Latin alphabet, the emotional connection the kids have expressed around this book have led to the best bilingual learning outcomes I have observed. This book opens a lot of discussions and the kids genuinely connect to the characters, especially as stickers. The only problem is that the kids want to make the Greek salad every day and I am getting a bit tired of it." Peter Kazacos sees the first book as part of a broader strategy, while keeping the vision for the company simple. The love between the characters of the story and the plot is what helps children remember and learn Greek.
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