(24-28 August 2016, St. Jakob of Sarug Monastery in Warburg, Germany)

Within the framework of Erasmus+ Aramaic Online Project, Surayt Training Workshop took place at St Jakob of Sarug Monastery in Warburg, Germany (24-28 August 2016). In total thirty participants attended the workshop from Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and the UK. The participants consisted of language teachers, teachers-to-be, students and graduates of Semitic studies, singers and authors of the language.

Surayt Training Workshop 2016

Prof. Dr. Shabo Talay and Mor Philoxenus Mattias Nayis opened the workshop with introductory speeches. Thereafter, participants introduced themselves and stated their expectations from the workshop. The workshop sessions are structured to cover a variety of topics: the historical origins of Surayt, standardization of the language, problems encountered in learning and teaching Surayt. The workshop dedicated a specific focus on the standardization of writing of Surayt both in Syriac and Latin characters. Aramaic-Online Project’s Orthography was broadly discussed with the participants and an introductory lesson for the Surayt Grammar has been given to the participants. The afternoon sessions were held for group works about writing exercises in order to develop standardization, followed by the assessment of the Online Course. This intensive study programme was enriched and supported with social events. Overall, the project team is very pleased with the active participation of attendees and the overall results of the project. The group created together a joyful study atmosphere which contributed a fruitful exchange between participants from different countries.

August 24, 2016

The second day the workshop continued with an introductory presentation about the Aramaic-online Project. The project coordinator Soner Onder Barthoma summarized the main aims and objectives of the project. The project group has built its approach on two pillars: developing durable institutional sources (formulated in the online course and development of a standardized writing system of Surayt) and promoting the use of this endangered language among its users and combine the institutional efforts with community support (which is formulated in all dissemination activities). This approach, in the view of the project group, constitutes a model for working on endangered languages. With this two-folded aim the project strives to raise the status of the language among its users so people respect it and work to keep it living and active.

After this introduction, the scientific director of the project, Prof Shabo Talay made a presentation about the origins of Surayt. He stated that Surayt has historically been a vernacular language, which belongs to one of the old Aramaic dialects (Eastern Neo-Aramaic). Until today not much has been done for developing a standard for the writing of this language. Many people currently in the diaspora when expressing their mother tongue in foreign languages, even in their mother tongue mix it with Classical Syriac (Kthobonoyo) or use different names such as ‘Suryoyo’. Prof Talay explained furthermore why the project is using the name ‘Surayt’ (more about this will be soon available in the introduction of the online course), but also stressed that the aim of this project is to revitalize this endangered language, to promote the use of it among second and third generation speakers, and that the aim is not to enter into a name discussion.

In the following session, Prof Talay focused on the needs of standardization of the writing of Surayt both in Syriac and Latin characters, and explained the new orthography which the project team has been working on for over four years based upon the discussions held in three workshops and latest in the International Surayt Conference which was held last year in August at the University of Cambridge. The explicit goal of the project is to standardize the language to become a common medium of written and oral communication among its users and new learners. In relation to the orthographical questions, some of the problems and challenges were tabled through an open discussion method. In the orthography session, besides the alphabet (both in Syriac and Latin characters) the following points were discussed:

  1. Etymologic or non-etymologic writing?
  1. Vowel marking
  1. The definite article
  1. Prepositions, with article
  1. The copula
  1. Post positive demonstratives
  1. Object suffixes
  1. Conservative or progressive writing?
  1. Negation
  1. Verb modifications
  1. Past marker
  1. Relative pronoun
  1. Analytic writing – contracted
  1. Punctuation
  1. Gemination

After the orthography sessions, the participants were divided in smaller groups for writing exercises. The results were discussed in a common session.

August 26, 2016 

In the third day of the workshop, the participants discussed the state of the art of Surayt in western communities: problems and challenges of learning Surayt particularly among the second generation. Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin chaired the session and made an opening presentation to the topic. He compared the situation in the homeland (mainly the past) with the situation in the diaspora (current). In the homeland, people were learning their mother tongue Surayt at home, and Classical Syriac in the church school. Surayt was the main language in the everyday communication of people. However, this has drastically changed in the diaspora throughout generations. In the diaspora, Surayt is not used for school and work, and the language in the church can also be affected by the contact with foreign languages. Mor Polycarpus underlined the importance of empowering the language courses and developing more reading material in Surayt. In the discussions, participants commonly stated that despite the challenges of the diaspora, now there are more opportunities to learn the language in the new context than in the homeland (materials developed for learning) but there are also more obstacles for the community to remember the spiritual, cultural and psychological benefits of maintaining the language as an active and vital language. In this aspect, participants objected to the discourse treating Surayt ‘not as a language’ in relation to Classical Syriac, and stressed the importance of having both languages as the historical heritage and richness of their speakers, not positioning these languages against each other.

With this regard, the need of a consistent sound language policy is emphasized. The lack of a language policy both in the Syriac Orthodox Church (regarding Surayt) and in civic organizations is mentioned as one of the main problems, which leads to remarkable inefficiency in teaching this language, confusion among teachers and its users, and more endangerment of this language. Participants made several suggestions to improve the situation which will be listed at the end of this report.

In the afternoon session participants in small groups reviewed the online course. Each group assessed three chapters of the online course content-wise from a pedagogical point of view, including the technology used. In a common session these assessments were discussed. Accordingly, the following important points were mentioned:

  • All groups were very positive in their assessment of the online course, both content-wise, grammatical explanations and the quality of audio files used for almost each word and sentence in the
  • In order to have a more pedagogical outlook, it was suggested that the course should have more pictures and video files, particularly in cultural
  • Another suggestion was to have a platform where teachers can help the The project team will test virtual classrooms which is already scheduled.
  • The link between grammatical explanations and exercises should be improved (deeper integration of grammar and exercises).
  • At the end of each level a common test corresponding to the topics learned in that level is
  • A more interactive course design should be gradually targeted (writing, games ).
  • A teachers’ manual for the use of the online course in their class settings would be very
  • In the exercises tagging function can be used to show the learner where to find the answers or grammatical explanations in the
  • Adding voice links to the multiple choice exercises for the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’
  • The introductory points written in other languages can be improved and can include more concrete tasks for the learners and at the end of each chapter, a test or a summary would be useful in order to consolidate what has been
  • Different background colours can be used for each
August 27, 2016

In the forth day of the workshop we aimed to map the problems and challenges of teaching Surayt in our local settings and develop some common solutions. The session is chaired by Prof Talay and Mor Polycarpus. First of all the participants commonly expressed that the existing efforts in teaching this language are inefficient. Mother tongue teachers gave many examples regarding the outcomes of the existing courses. For example, in Sweden after Year 3 there is a visible loss of interest among students for learning this language. Students find it ‘boring’ to learn the language. This is indeed partly related to the timing (usually after school), and the duration of the course (usually 45 minutes) and partly to inefficient methodologies used. In some courses, prioritizing Classical Syriac (instead of the mother tongue Surayt) especially in early education was criticized by the participants as the students have difficulty to connect what they have learned at school in 45 minutes a week with their parents’ language at home.

Overall, the major problem is mentioned as the lack of unified pedagogical plan for teaching Surayt, and focusing on modern pedagogical aspects and tools to teach the language. With this regard, several suggestions were made about how to teach Surayt from a communicative approach – i.e. actually learning to speak; about how to engage learners in teaching; how to increase their interest for learning this language.

In a specific session an introduction to Surayt grammar was given by Prof Talay. Several essential issues regarding the grammar were explained and discussed. The participants find it very useful to go through the grammar of Surayt systematically. More about the Surayt grammar can be found in the Online Course.

In the last session, participants discussed innovative ways for the promotion of Surayt and made the following statements and suggestions:

  • Establishing a network among the participants – Facebook page/Forum for teachers, only written in Surayt: sharing ideas, material
  • Using the project website for creating/displaying the catalogue of all published/unpublished material about/in
  • For the promotion of the language and the promotion of the authors of this language, every year a ‘Book Fair’ can be organized in different countries and
  • More investment can be made on app development (i.e. writing help in Syriac letters, phonics app for children) in order to create more sophisticated and pedagogically sound applications for learning/teaching
  • Making more effective use of existing open source technologies to enrich teaching and learning
  • Creating a digital keyboard for Surayt (both in Syriac and Latin characters)
  • Continuation of the project in the remaining levels (B2, C1 and C2 level)
  • An Online course project targeting children (age 6-14)
  • Organising workshops for language teachers in each country
  • Organising summer school(s) in Sweden
  • Creation of more video/podcast material which can be used in language learning
  • Stories for children with video animations and/or
  • Organising additional ‘Saturday schools’ for teaching
  • Developing specific PR strategies to reach out more people, particularly the

At the end of the day, participants evaluated the workshop, filled in their evaluation forms and received their certificates. The workshop ended with the closing speeches of Prof Shabo Talay and Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin and a final dinner.

August 28, 2016 

In the last workshop day, some participants participated in the Sunday Mass at St Maria Syriac Orthodox Church in Paderborn, Germany. After the Sunday Mass, the Online Course was disseminated among the community, numbering more than 300 people. Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin held a speech about the project , other project team members distributed flyers and had one-to-one discussions with people who were interested in the project. Overall, the project team received a very positive response from the community.


* This report is written by Soner O.Barthoma, based on his own and Kerith Miriam Miller’s notes.