Digital Help for Language Volunteers
Photo: Bettina Siegwart
Webinars for volunteer refugee language guides produced by the Goethe-Institut offer tips and tricks for teaching a foreign language even under difficult circumstances. Now the seminar recordings are also available online.
Solving the Herculean task of integrating hundreds of thousands of refugees in Germany depends on a second, no less enormous challenge: helping the refugees now living here to learn the German language.
Thousands of volunteers have already recognized this without needing a nudge from ministries or agencies. They are already working as volunteer language guides, helping refugees with their first attempts to learn and use German.
Teaching the German language is a complex challenge in this context. Learners with very different educational backgrounds, from the illiterate to academics, need to be helped along as they make their initial forays into the German language. There are often no aids, textbooks or classrooms available. On top of all that, many of the refugees have little time or quiet moments in which to revise, they have often lived through horrific ordeals and now are residing in less than cosy accommodations.
Webinar participants can listen to lectures by experienced practitioners and ask questions in chat sessionsOne of the ways that the Goethe-Institut is supporting the language volunteers for refugees is a series of webinars, Internet lectures or seminars that provide tips and tricks for helping refugees learn a foreign language.
On the Goethe-Institut’s website, participants all over Germany can listen to lectures by experienced German-as-a-Foreign-Language (GFL) practitioners and then communicate live with learners and teachers in chat sessions. For anyone who missed the live webinars or found no room, the audio recordings can be downloaded now here:
The webinars cannot take the place of the classroom courses offered to support volunteer language guides by the twelve Goethe-Instituts. Matthias Jakus, consultant for Multimedia and Distance Teaching at the Goethe-Institut, who devised the webinar series explains, “The goal of the webinars is to provide volunteers who want to work as language guides with hands-on advice, for example, on how to behave in a classroom, what kinds of exercises to do, what materials can be used, how to make learning more fun, how to deal with having people with very different backgrounds in a class, et cetera.”
The webinars aim to provide motivation and serve as a bridge to the digital exercises offered by the Goethe-InstitutThe five online seminars are available under the headings: 1) What kind of assignments and learning activities are appropriate for my participants? 2) What learning materials lend themselves? 3) How can I make my lessons more varied? 4) How can I serve participants with different backgrounds and previous knowledge? and 5) How do I motivate them for independent learning?
Jakus went on to explain that the webinars are not proper training for a career as a GFL teacher, which takes at least three years and “we can’t afford that. But it sketches out things to offer encouragement and inspiration. There are also recommendations for further reading that serve as a bridge to the free exercises offered by the Goethe-Institut online.”
The Goethe-Institut’s digital learning tools were already online before the rise in refugee numbers in the summer of 2015, but they have been revised and tailored especially for this target group. For example, the vocabulary-learning app Stadt der Wörter is now available in Arabic. These and similar offers can be found at the website goethe.de/welcome and also include an online vocabulary trainer and the exercise package Mein Weg nach Germany.
Encouragingly, demand for the Goethe-Institut webinars is high. For logistical reasons, however, only 335 of the 1,100 prospective learners have been able to take advantage of it. Therefore, an online classroom now offers the web lectures and the chance to communicate with experts via a blog at: