Greek is showing much higher retention rates at home, with the number of people speaking the language in major cities increasing and sometimes breaking past the Italian language stronghold.

Sydney, holding the second largest Greek population in Australia, has increased its Greek speakers by 630 people from the 2006 to the 2011 census.
Italian, on the other hand, has lost 3,235 Italian speakers in the same time, showing a dramatic decrease in people that speak the language at home.

Sydney, Hobart, Darwin and Melbourne have higher numbers of Greek speakers than Italian and in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Darwin and the ACT, Greek numbers have increased from the 2006 census.

Melbourne was the only major city that actually overtook Italian despite Greek numbers decreasing. In Melbourne, 113,409 people identified that they speak
Greek at home, while Italian had only 112,685 home speakers, a decrease of 7,356 speakers in five years.

Greek teacher Maria Foscolos has seen countless students walk through her door from all generations in the last 20 years, wanting to learn Greek.

She believes retention rates are high because Greek isn’t hampered by regional dialects like Italian is.

“Greeks right around Greece, Cyprus and the diaspora speak consistently, we don’t have the dialects as acutely as the Italian people do,” she tells Neos Kosmos.

“The Italian language they have to learn at school is very different from what they speak at home with the grandparents.”

She believes being able to speak the language of their grandparents gives them a much bigger connection to their identity than customs or religion.

“Our language is really a passport to the Hellenic world, and that gives them (our children) more of an identity than our religion or customs do.”

The Italian community in Australia is slightly older than the Greek community, meaning many fourth and fifth generation Italian Australians might not have a strong connection to their heritage and therefore lack the interest to take up the language.

Greek Australians might be on the same path in the next few decades, with student numbers in Greek continuing to fall (if by small amounts).

Yet the cultural push to keep the language alive is making up for that.

“Greek seems to be more of a community focused language,” Ms Foscolos says.

Although Italian might be more widely spoken in Australia as a whole, Greek could overtake it with recent Greek migrant numbers.

Currently more than 250,000 people speak Greek at home, while 378,265 people consider themselves of Greek origin in Australia. On the other hand, almost 317,000 speak Italian at home, whilst 916,121 Australians identify to be of Italian origin.

Outside of English, Mandarin has the largest number of speakers at home (1.6 per cent of the population), followed by Italian (1.4), Arabic (1.3), Cantonese (1.2) and Greek (1.2).

Mandarin has jumped 52.5 per cent in five years, while Punjabi is the fastest growing language, showing a 207.5 per cent increase from 23,164 people in 2006 to 71,229 people in 2011.