Mar 23, 2016
Learning a new language with videos, books, or a tandem partner – that is the basic concept of the Centre for Independent Language Learning (CILL) at Freie Universität. The idea is particularly popular with exchange students, but since last year, increasingly more refugees who wish to learn or improve their German have been visiting the Centre. Recently the student assistants employed at the Centre have developed a series of workshop as part of the Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin program.
You could call Yunus-Emre Gündogdu a language agent: besides working toward a teaching degree in English and political science and working part-time as a student assistant in the Centre for Independent Language Learning, the 23-year-old also teaches German to refugees. Of course, he also showed his class around the CILL. As he said, "Many of my students had to interrupt their college studies in their home countries, and now they are yearning to get back to the university." The CILL is a perfect temporary solution for them because it is an open learning location where official documents or diplomas do not matter.
"Many of our new visitors from Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq have explicitly requested a way to share," says Katharina Gnendinger, also a student assistant at the Centre. "That is why we created the German workshops based on everyday situations – as a training opportunity and as a meeting place," says Gnendinger. The workshops cover issues of everyday life, for example, shopping, health, housing, culture, or food. "Our main goal is to suggest topics and create opportunities for conversation, says Gündogdu.
So far, six two-hour workshops with up to 30 participants have taken place. Following a break during the lecture-free period, they will be continued during the summer semester. Maria Giovanna Tassinari, the head of the Centre for Independent Language Learning, supports the project. She says, "The student assistants have put a lot of thought and work into these workshops. It is a remarkable initiative."
To facilitate learning at the workshops, the newcomers are divided into groups based on their German skills. There are volunteers at each learning table to assist with language. "We are hoping that in the upcoming semester more student volunteers will come to help us," says François Peverali, who has been working as a student assistant at the CILL for the past two years. No previous background in teaching methodology is required to help refugees learn German or to get involved in the workshops. According to Peverali, "A little time and an open, friendly attitude is the main thing. In the workshops, we almost never go into the details of grammar. Getting involved and talking is most important."
Besides learning aids – films, books, or language-learning software – for a total of 27 foreign languages, the Centre for Independent Language Learning organizes tandem partners. More than 1,600 language partners were paired up during the past winter semester. Those interested in becoming a tandem partner can find an online registration form on the CILL website. They can indicate which language(s) they speak and which language(s) they wish to learn. Currently many Arabic speakers are looking for a German tandem partner.
Whether as a volunteer in the German workshops or as a tandem partner, Yunus-Emre Gündogdu is convinced that the commitment pays. He says, "I benefit greatly by helping others. The whole experience is definitely enriching."
The Centre for Independent Language Learning is located in Room KL 26/225, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, and is an open learning center for 27 different languages. During the lecture-free period, it is open from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and during the lecture period from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
During the lecture-free period it is closed on Saturdays, and during the lecture period it is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Those interested in finding a tandem partner can view a list of currents requests online. Right now, more than 70 Arabic speakers are looking for a German tandem partner.
If you are interested in helping with the German workshops, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.