Cultural mediators Mediators between languages and cultures

Jeanette Nitschka
Jeanette Nitschka | Photo detail: © Private

The Goethe-Institut has developed intercultural training for teachers. Participants in a pilot group serve as moderators for welcoming culture and GSL, and show how the integration of children and young people coming from different cultures and speaking different languages of origin can work.

The right to education is a human right and, together with the acquisition of language skills, is fundamental to social integration and participation. Compulsory education applies to all children and young people in Germany, including refugees, regardless of their residence status. Different cultural backgrounds and levels of language skills and knowledge put schoolchildren and teachers alike before new challenges, especially in rural areas. In contrast to metropolitan areas, structures here for intercultural and language-sensitive learning are still under construction, both in teacher training and in school and teaching organization. To achieve the inclusion and integration of the influx of refugees, however, the support of all the federal states and regions are needed.

Designing intercultural learning

In Saxony-Anhalt, twenty-two moderators of welcoming cultures and GSL have filled the gap. When needed, they advise and support schools and teachers in the intercultural orientation and language acquisition of children and others beginning to learn German as a second language. Each moderator has his or her own specific focal points: for example, the design of school-based welcoming culture, the diagnosis of pupils’ language skills, or how to combine language teaching with the teaching of particular subjects. A school can choose among the various offers. Since the moderators are themselves active as teachers in the areas of GSL or course development in primary, secondary, vocational or special-needs schools, they know the problems from their own experience. At the initiative of the Ministry of Education in Saxony-Anhalt, they have also taken part in a qualification course at the State Institute for Teacher Training and School Development LISA in Halle, which includes intercultural training at the Goethe-Institut.

Observe closely and include many possibilities

“To act interculturally means dealing with different people, not only with different cultures, nations and religions”, explains language and cultural trainer Anne Sass, who developed this intercultural coaching with the Goethe-Institut and realized it with the pilot group in Halle. This is why intercultural awareness is important everywhere and in principle in Germany, she says, in schools with only a few children with a migration background as well as schools with a high proportion of immigrants. For teachers, the first step here is to become aware of their own pattern of perception so as to avoid approaching pupils with a judgemental attitude. Only then are they in the position to observe, communicate and cooperate free of prejudice with a heterogeneous group.

The welcoming moderators from Saxony-Anhalt trained in this approach with Sass using role playing and particular examples. They then passed on the acquired knowledge and methods to other teachers in seminars at their schools. For example, that conflicts can be resolved by means of close observation, avoiding hasty interpretations, and changing perspectives. As in the case of a primary school class with two refugee pupils: both repeatedly brought white bread to breakfast, although the rule said that in class only full-grain bread was favoured. The other children and parents could not understand why this simple rule was not respected. Examination of the relevant backgrounds then led to mutual understanding by considering, on the one hand, where communication had failed and, on the other, nutritional habits from different perspectives. “But there was no one valid solution”, says Sass. “Not even intercultural training can deliver recipes for success, because there are none. Each case is different and has to be considered on its own. If a person frequently comes to appointments too late, for instance, this isn’t necessarily to be ascribed to cultural background; it may also have to do with his or her personality or private circumstances.”

A task for everyone

In the past months, the moderators have visited many schools in Saxony-Anhalt – small village schools with only a few pupils and big schools with a sufficient number of newcomers for the setting up of their own preparatory classes. “In particular, the topics ‘Welcoming Culture’, ‘Intercultural Competence’ and ‘Understanding Islam’ were very much in demand in response to the arrival of so many refugee schoolchildren”, reports Dr. Dorothé Salomo of the LISA in Halle. She coordinates the project, which comes to an end in the summer of 2017, and sees room for plenty of development. “The work of the moderators is a good ‘first aid’ offer, but major changes are needed. Whether in Saxony-Anhalt or other federal states, schools still often don’t see intercultural and language education as part of their total task, one which applies to more than only GSL teachers. For this reason, we’re planning, among other things, more advanced training in language awareness in the teaching of specific school subjects. Because after the welcoming, comes the target group-oriented teaching of scholastic content.”



Stephan Münchhoff Photo (detail): © Private Stephan Münchhoff (born in 1973), teacher in a special-needs school
Subjects: German, special education, German as target language

“I offer my services to schools and teachers for developing solutions in GSL instruction and language-aware teaching of specific school subjects. With me, you will get to know diagnostic procedures for children who speak a non-German mother tongue and how to derive individual learning goals. Among other things, common methods in special-needs teaching can be transferred and applied. For example, the development of an educational plan for individual pupils, which provides a gradual fostering of skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Not everyone has to learn at the same speed in all areas. Action-accompanying speaking can also be a good method for developing language skills – for instance, describing procedures in cooking recipes, use and assembly instructions or test protocols. It’s easier for schoolchildren to express something in language when they have done the thing themselves.”

Yvonne Al-Jorafi Photo (detail): © Private Yvonne Al-Jorafi (born in 1965), teacher at an integrated comprehensive school
Subjects: housekeeping, art education, planning, construction and design, handicrafts, technology, economics, special education

“I sensitize teachers for dealing with refugees and schoolchildren with immigration backgrounds by giving insights into a different language, culture and religion. We look at the cultural values and convictions of schoolchildren with Arabic roots so that these can be taken into account in the classroom. Teachers have questions especially about the wearing of the headscarf and Ramadan. Or I point out ways in which to communicate to Muslim families the need for girls to take part in swimming lessons. I recommend seeking out talks with the pupils and their parents and actively integrating the parents in the school. Teaching can also be opened up to other languages and cultures – through presentations and discussions about prejudices that lay a foundation for interculturalism.”

Jeanette Nitschka Photo (detail): © Private Jeannette Nitschka (born in 1981), teacher in a primary school
Subjects: mathematics, German, English

“I point out opportunities for how you can design a school day through a promotion of intercultural skills that makes possible the participation of all the schoolchildren. Primary schools differ from other schools in that language teaching is not the central task with respect to the integration of refugee children. They usually learn the language quickly. Conflicts arise as the results of misunderstandings and prejudices. Here teachers often feel out of their depth. But children who speak different languages and come from different cultures isn’t a new problem; it’s only a further aspect on the way to inclusion. When a new child arrives at school, the first thing is to greet him or her with openness and include him or her in the group. You can teach using pictures and concrete examples to convey language and knowledge.”