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Multilingualism and Translanguaging in Germany

Updated: Feb 15

The signpost in the Focke Museum at the exhibition "Bremen Speaks" (Mar 5th - May 29, 2022, Bremen). The exhibition not only underlined the value of multilingualism for the individual, but also demonstrated the benefits for a migrant-influenced urban society. Photo: Martin Luther.

Germany experienced several waves of labour and refugee migration starting from the mid-1950s. Each wave brought not only millions of people with their languages and cultural peculiarities, but also challenges and opportunities and a lot of learning how to facilitate communication within such a diverse society. On its way the word “inclusion”, that has a passive connotation, in the last few years started to be replaced by a more active term “participation” when different organisations talk about measures and activities to smooth the process of building a welcoming community.

Here, you can find a short summary of strengths, weaknesses and challenges that Germany is dealing with on the way.

Strength: Inclusion via Education

Germany is a Federal Republic, where the official administrative language is German but the authorities also recognise a small number of minority languages (Danish, Northern and Saterland Frisian, Upper and Lower Sorbian, Sinti-Romani) and a regional language (Lower German). No country-wide linguistic census has ever been carried out in Germany until 2017, therefore, it’s hard to estimate actual linguistic diversity within the country. However, according to data collected during the 2018 micro-census carried out by the Federal Statistical Office, about a fourth of the population could describe themselves as people with a migration background.

Linguistic integration only became a central policy issue in the early 2000s, and a system of subsidised ‘integration courses’ and so-called ‘vocational language classes’, whose core are German-language classes, had become a must for many non-EU migrants.

In recent years, German authorities acknowledged language skills as not only an essential prerequisite for learning and for success, but also as a necessary resource for active participation in public life and a contribution to shape the society. With active support from research institutions, translanguaging practices have started to be used in early education institutions like kindergartens and schools in Germany and more stakeholders became interested in developing methodologies to effectively use a multilingual repertoire of facilitators and learners during the educational process.

Challenges: Insecurity

Shortage of teachers and educators, increasing number of bilingual schools and needs to integrate languages into the practice in the working environment, force German authorities to re-visit current regulations and facilitate the process of entering the labour market for international professionals from the educational sector. However, the process of recognising professional qualifications of international talents from non-member states of the EU remains overly bureaucratic and hard to understand with a lack of professional counselling, which may be tough to find outside of highly international cities. The second point, German language plays a very important role in the professional field and a top proficiency is still required in the educational sector, causing many migrants to feel insecure during job-search and hiring process. Additionally, educators with a migration background report feeling excluded within the professional circle of colleagues, which may result in decreasing motivation and changing the field of work. The new approaches for education, where multilingualism is taken into account and used in the educational practices, are needed and encouraged by the authorities, however, the lack of professional materials, training and practices hold back the process of applying elements of translanguaging in schools and universities.

Looking into the future

Like in Finland, German authorities at each level acknowledge the importance of effective communication in creating a consonant society. Many activities and processes would not be possible without tireless and active work of NGOs and different initiatives that are relatively easy to establish in Germany. People form societies to increase security and support within groups and obtain louder voices. Changes are inevitable and happening, however, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed working with multicultural groups.

If you are interested in a more comprehensive analysis of situation in Germany, you are welcome to ready about it on the ResearchGate website:

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