“From the hand to the heart to the brain”: Breaking down language barriers

Three girls in lab coats show the victory sign.
© Child and Youth Technology Center Dortmund (KITZ.do)

This has been working since 2014 zdi students: indoor laboratory and the student research center KITZ.do in Dortmund in various projects to break down language barriers in courses and workshops. Above all, the project "MINTuS – STEM and language’ for language support from the third grade onwards. Since 2015, more and more refugee children and young people have taken part in the courses. Knowledge of German is often lacking, and you don't always get very far with English either. dr Ulrike Martin, Head of KITZ.do, and Deputy Head Uwe Ewe explain how dealing with language barriers can enhance MINT courses.

Three boys are happy about their successful experiment.
© Child and Youth Technology Center Dortmund (KITZ.do)

Language barriers can arise for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether a course, project or workshop is aimed specifically at refugees. Therefore, lecturers and multipliers are made aware of how to deal with such language barriers. Not everyone has a wide range of languages ​​from home, from Arabic to English to Russian. "Even if many of the lecturers speak English: in some groups that is not enough to make yourself understood. Then it helps if you talk about possible barriers in advance and how you can best overcome them,” says Uwe Ewe.

Preparation is the be-all and end-all

The recipe for success for KITZ.do is the preparation of the training rooms and materials. This is sometimes very time-consuming, but it is also extremely worthwhile. The instructions contain many pictures. The rooms are labeled in such a way that the young people can easily link pictures and words. Posters on which images are linked to concepts are also distributed throughout the room. After a short introduction, the young people can work independently. Thanks to a mentoring ratio of 1:5, there is always a lecturer on hand if necessary.

A room prepared for MINTuS experiments.
© Child and Youth Technology Center Dortmund (KITZ.do)

“The natural sciences are the same in all languages. That's why STEM courses are so well suited to building language bridges," says Uwe Ewe, who was involved in the project to promote language skills in the STEM field from the start. This is also the opinion of Dr. Ulrike Martin: "If you can experience something practically, work on something together and experiment, then language comes automatically. It then goes from hand to heart and straight into the brain.” The fun that the young people had in acquiring not only STEM knowledge but also language skills themselves proves them both right.

Two boys are doing an experiment.
© Child and Youth Technology Center Dortmund (KITZ.do)
A group of three girls conducts an experiment.
© Child and Youth Technology Center Dortmund (KITZ.do)

Translation programs are now often used in courses to communicate. This should also be taken into account in the preparation. Because the use of the software requires appropriate hardware in the form of smartphones or tablets and often an internet connection. If it is already clear before the course that language barriers can arise, it is good to think about this infrastructure from the outset.

Language project continues

The successful project is currently being continued as an Erasmus+ program with a slightly different approach. At the "Digital Learning in the Family" women receive a basic IT qualification who previously had no access to such further training opportunities or who still lack such qualifications. At the same time, workshops are held in which your children can get to know different MINT areas through experiments.

The MINTuS project itself is also to be resumed in 2023: In appropriately prepared workshops, the acquisition of STEM and language skills should again go hand in hand.

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