Big news from Germany; The Goethe Institut, BR (Bayrischer Rundfunk), BAMF (Bundesagentur für Migration und Flüchtlinge) and die Bundesagentur für Arbeit have developed a free app for refugees and asylum seekers in Germany. Since January 2016, the app has been available for Android and has already been downloaded several hundred times.
the guide for your first weeks in Germany
I’ve downloaded the app myself and had a browse through it. All pictures are screenshots from my phone.
It is a good thing that the interface is multilingual and offers a variety of languages. Refugees can hence pick their language of choice, which makes navigation and especially the understanding of country specific content (e.g. German asylum procedure) at lot easier. It is understandable that the choices of languages are limited.
The app offers a variety of information and help; on the one hand, ‘Ankommen’ gives general information on the asylum procedure in Germany, laws and the German government and accommodation. On the other hand, the app offers online teaching materials for L2 literacy learning.
I’m really impressed by the design and the general quality of the literacy and language learning exercises. Firstly, the exercises cover letters of the Roman alphabet. Here, the pronunciation of each letter is recorded and can be listened to. There is no phonetic transcription provided, which would have been nice. Yet, the exercises can be done intuitively and are very easy to do. There are a lot of audio examples, which is great. Furthermore, there are several listening activities (e.g. 2nd and 3rd picture). Here, the learner has to group or match letters or chunks into the right order.
The app works really well and the coding is neat. I like the focus on the auditive examples and exercises. Unfortunately, the developers didn’t include any speech recognition features, which records and monitors spoken language and then provides instant feedback. (or I couldn’t find it on the app)
The app is very much tailored to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees. This is a good idea, as, due to the enormous amount of refugees in the country, authorities struggle to take care of people and to disseminate information. So, this app is a good way to reach a big audience. There is also content that focuses on cultural and country specific aspects. This I believe is one of the most important features of this app. As recent events have shown, integration and peaceful coexistence only work, if cultural values are accepted and mutually respected.
Yet, one could argue that this app would be difficult to navigate for emergent literacy learners that are not confident readers or writers in their own expert language. In my opinion this is the biggest flaw and limitation of this app; the developers seem to assume that potential users of this app would be able to navigate and learn with one of the five languages provided. But what about those refugees and asylum seekers that have no formal schooling and struggle to read and write in any language? In my understanding, the developers thought that a multilingual approach rather than a multimodal approach would suffice to negotiate meaning. Yet, i don’t think that this suffices and really fits all refugees and asylum seekers. In a nutshell, this is still great effort and a big step towards language learning and integration