, ,Germany

“Einstieg Deutsch” – a language learning app for refugees

The app aims to impart basic skills in German through “chunk learning”. “Chunks” are fixed expressions such as “How are you?”, and routines which for instance introduce a polite request such as “Could you please…?” These useful phrases help to quickly acquire basic communication skills, and generally facilitate social contact with the German-speaking population.

The “Einstieg Deutsch” language learning app of the German Adult Education Association (DVV) recently won the German Online Communication Award and the Comenius Edumedia Award. This is a considerable commendation for this digital learning tool, which provides refugees and immigrants with their very first opportunity to learn some German and acquire useful phrases for use in basic communication.

We started developing the app right in the middle of what was perceived as a “refugee crisis” in Germany. The influx of more than one million refugees in 2015 and 2016 was accompanied by huge efforts to provide housing, medical support, … – and education for all the newcomers.

The German Volkshochschulen (adult education centres) were stretched to their limits in this situation. There was a severe shortage of German classes and qualified teachers for German as a second language. Immigrants and refugees are still waiting for months to be able to enrol in what is known as “integration courses”. Furthermore, a large part of the refugee population is completely excluded from such courses due to their legal status or country of origin.

The “Einstieg Deutsch” language learning app is not meant to replace such courses, but it can help to bridge the waiting period and generally help in the acquisition of German. Exercises focus on listening, comprehension and reproduction of oral phrases in order to improve oral proficiency – speaking and listening – on the basic language level A1 (CEFR).
 

  

The app aims to impart basic skills in German through “chunk learning”. “Chunks” are fixed expressions such as “How are you?”, and routines which for instance introduce a polite request such as “Could you please…?” These useful phrases help to quickly acquire basic communication skills, and generally facilitate social contact with the German-speaking population.

Slide shows with subtitles and audio support show communicative scenarios. The protagonists are people from Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. The chapters deal with questions of everyday life and help refugees communicate in situations where no translation is normally available, for instance when consulting a doctor, or when communicating with the accommodation facility management and with the security forces.

The app has been translated into ten languages (Arabic, Dari, English, Farsi, French, Kurmanci, Pashto, Tigrinya, Turkish and Urdu). In addition to world languages such as English and French, we decided to include the native languages of the regions of origin of the largest numbers of refugees. We even managed to include Tigrinya, despite the fact that this language was not supported by iOS and Android.

More than 37,000 individuals have downloaded the app since it was launched in 2016. It is also widely used in language classes and in volunteer work, and has been introduced as a tool and a resource for self-directed learning in adult education centres, community centres and public libraries. The feedback from learners and teachers is very positive. 53-year-old Nader from Syria for example, who is learning German at the Adult Education Centre in Hof rural district, stresses that he appreciates most that the digital tool has enabled him to learn independently and at his own pace. Teachers from Teltow-Fläming Adult Education Centre report that introverted students become less inhibited after practicing their language skills and enhancing their oral performance with the app.

The “Einstieg Deutsch” app is free of any charge, and is available for iOS and Android in the App Store and the Google Play Store.

“Einstieg Deutsch” is a German language learning app for refugees developed by the German Adult Education Association (DVV) and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). More information: https://portal-deutsch.de/en/lernen/deutsch-lernen/einstieg-deutsch-die-sprachlern-app/

The author

Celia Sokolowsky is Project manager at the German Adult Education Association (DVV).

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