Conference Agenda

RN35_10a: Migration, Integration, and the Role of Language
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Dilek Cindoglu, Hbku
Location: BS.G.26
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road


Applying The Symbolic Interaction Theory To The Case Of Older Refugees’ Language Learning Difficulties In Germany

Ahmad AL Ajlan

Bielefeld University, Germany

There is little sociological literature on forced migration and one certainly cannot find a developed body of empirical work and theory. Moreover, there has been little research done concerning the language learning difficulties that older refugees face, even though the inability to learn the language of the new country can leave negative effects on the lives of older refugees or immigrants. In this paper, I apply the symbolic interaction theory to a better theoretical understanding of the integration problems of older refugees in the case of learning the German language. The symbolic interaction theory acknowledges the principle of meaning as the centre of human behaviour. This theory claims that facts are based on and directed by symbols. Moreover, the meaning of symbols provides individuals with a kind of expectation, and in any social situation, individuals are influenced by the expectations. Based on qualitative interviews with five low educated older refugees, five highly educated older refugees, and five language teachers conducted in 2018, I show the contradictions of meanings that older refugees and their teachers ascribe to old age. Additionally, the meaning that policymakers ascribe to refugees is that of a homogeneous group, and the meaning that they apply to the need to teach refugees the German language is that of a temporary phenomenon.

Titular Finns and Finnish Somali – Imitation Game research exploring boundary making and assimilation

Otto Segersven

University of Helsinki, Finland

According to Robert E. Park’s assimilation theory, the immigrant and her antecedents slowly adopt the language, manners, social ritual and outward forms of her adopted nation. It is a process in which smaller merge into larger and more inclusive social groups. It usually entails shedding a group’s own culture in the process of adopting a new one and, given enough time, the immigrant is no longer distinguishable among natives. I test and elaborate Parks theory by investigating the relationship between titular Finns and 2nd generation Finnish Somali. I ask whether the Finnish Somali know more about the culture of the majority than the other way around and if they have lost part of their culture in doing so.

I use a novel method called the Imitation Game in which participants from two different groups attempt by means of computer-mediated, typed questions and answers to imitate membership in one another’s social group and identify imitating non-group members from genuine group members. According to theory, and previous empirical research, we can expect members of minorities living immersed in the culture of a majority to be better at pretending the majority than the other way around. The quantitative results (correct over incorrect membership-identifications) of the Games indicate the contrary: The Finnish Somali were less successful at pretending the titular Finns than the other way around. I elaborate these results by analyzing titular Finns’ and Finnish Somalis’ strategies for telling group members from non-group members using group-bound knowledge, experiences, values and linguistic style.

The Effects of Psychological Stress and Trauma of recent Refugees on Teaching and Language Acquisition: The Case of the German Integration Course

Andreea Baier2, Anna X. Wieczorek1

1Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Germany; 2Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Since many refugees entered Germany in recent years, their successful and rapid integration poses a pressing issue to the German society. The German government established a world-wide unique system of integration courses, which focuses on the acquisition of the German language and the transmission of German values, its history and political system. Many of the recent refugees attend these courses. While studies on the German integration course show its positive effect on the attendees’ language acquisition and orientation within the German society, less research has been done that focuses on the effects of the integration course on the recent immigrant group of refugees. This paper aims to take a step in closing this gap by dealing with refugees’ psychological stress and, potentially, trauma and their effects on the teaching situation as well as their impact on language acquisition within the integration course. Following a mixed-methods approach, analyses are based on the dataset of the IAB-BAMF-SOEP refugee survey in Germany, comprising of around 2.700 refugees, as well as on analyses of 22 semi-structured qualitative interviews with representatives of the institutions that provide the courses, the teachers as well as the refugee participants to the courses. The paper thus seeks to extend knowledge about the refugees’ state of health, about the factors that may (have) cause(d) psychological stress or trauma, and about how it effects the teaching situation and language acquisition. Lastly, it deals with the policy measures that have been implemented to relieve the situation for all persons involved.

Early Childhood Intervention For Migrant Families In Germany: Constraints And Opportunities When There Is No Shared Language

Birgit Elke Jentsch

German Youth Institute, Germany


Communication and language barriers often constitute an important focus of the literature covering the provision of health services for migrants (with fewer references to social services) (Hanft-Robert et al., 2017; Gehri et al. 2016). Recommendations tend to centre on the need for professionals providing these services to have timely access to trained/certified/cultural interpreters. While such a standard is certainly desirable in many contexts, in reality in Germany, especially social services cannot reliably draw on qualified interpreters at short notice and low cost. This study explores the experiences of early childhood intervention (ECI) providers in Germany, who aim to support primarily those families who face socio-psychological challenges. Many migrant families (and here especially refugees) experience precarious living conditions, insecurity regarding their legal status, and possibly trauma. They particularly stand to benefit from these services, but frequently do not share a language with the service providers.

Research Aims

• How do professionals working with migrant families in ECI address language barriers? Do (unforeseen) opportunities arise?

• What impact do the professionals’ approaches to communication have on the accessibility, availability and quality of ECI services for migrant families? What implications arise for social in-/exclusion?


One focus group (12 professionals) and 13 in-depth interviews with professionals were conducted in 2018 and 2019 across four German Länder.


Strategic decisions and criteria are presented, which professionals in ECI used to decide how to approach language barriers, often stressing the need for flexible solutions as appropriate for their job context. Implications for social inclusion are discussed.