On the future of vocational integration: The language biographies and linguistic skills of refugees
Yusuf had no idea that working in a Turkish supermarket would one day help him file an application for German educational assistance. The young Syrian has lived in Germany since 2015. He had begun studies in Syria, paying for it with money from his job in Turkey.
He is presently preparing for studies here with courses at the Goethe-Institut Mannheim. He aims to raise his German to an academic level by autumn in a crash course so that in addition to university seminars he can also take part in company internships. Until then, he is using his knowledge of Turkish to master the challenges of German bureaucracy with Dr Cindark, his mentor of Turkish origin. “The fact that he additionally speaks English will make studying far easier for him,” explains Cindark, “because a third of the lectures are held in English.”
Yusuf’s linguistic repertoire therefore has a broad base. But how do people like Yusuf assess their own skills in the respective foreign languages? Do the language resources they possess have a demonstrable influence on learning German for vocational and academic purposes? What languages do refugees use in their everyday lives in Germany? How much German have they typically been able to pick up during the long wait times in the reception centres? What social and linguistic backgrounds lead to course participants being able to learn German faster and optimally make use of the time spent in the course? And how does the level of language skill they achieve match the language demands on the employment market? These and other questions are being examined in a collaborative effort by the Institut für Deutsche Sprache Mannheim and the Goethe-Institut.
Background of the surveyThe high numbers of immigrants that began arriving in the summer of 2015 have enlarged the primary target group for the integration courses. This applies in particular to the learners’ language biographies. While previously the integration courses were frequently attended by EU foreigners and their spouses, now larger numbers of refugees will be added to the groups. Many of these people grew up multilingual in their countries of origin, learned foreign languages at school and came into contact with more languages during their refugee journeys. Yusuf, who is now learning German, is a good example of this: growing up speaking Kurdish and Arabic, he later learned English in school and additionally learned Turkish while working in Turkey. One of the aims of the study is to record such language learning biographies and their influence on the integration process.
Conducting the surveyThe language skill levels will be evaluated at the beginning and at the end of the course mainly with regard to aligning the integration process to the employment market. For this purpose, the Institut für Deutsche Sprache Mannheim and the Goethe-Institut will digitally survey background data and self-assessments about the language repertoire of 600 course participants at the beginning of the integration courses offered by various institutions.
Local providers that would like to participate in the study are also still being sought from smaller towns. Two employees per location of these partners will be invited to take part in a workshop held in late July in Mannheim where the implementation of the study will be explained and prepared for together. The stay in Mannheim costs nothing for guests from the partner organisations.
Ingo Schöningh (Director of the Goethe-Institut Mannheim)