Language and Integration Mediators in Germany: Tackling Communication Problems Head-On

Misunderstandings frequently arise between migrants and specialist staff in government agencies and in schools. The new job of language and integration mediator is intended to provide a long-term solution to this problem.

The youth welfare office contacts the family of a pupil with a behavioural disorder, a woman is diagnosed as having breast cancer, a refugee tries to work through his traumatic experiences in therapy… In difficult situations, people need to talk to specialists in government agencies or medical or social institutions about their needs and possible solutions. Such dialogue is more difficult when the people who come together have different cultural backgrounds and different native languages, for example, migrants and specialist staff.

In response to this problem, a large number of local and regional projects have been developed in recent years in which bilingual and bicultural people who have experience of migration themselves are trained to become so-called language and integration mediators and who go on to work as neutral mediators at relevant institutions. During their training, they not only learn interpretation techniques, but also reflect on cultural differences in dealing with illness, gender roles, taboos and shame, learn to intervene appropriately when misunderstandings arise and to defuse conflicts.

The mediators-in-training acquire medical, psychosocial and legal knowledge and specialist knowledge about the education, health and social systems in Germany. In addition, they are familiarised with principals of professional ethics, with care structures in Germany and with the role of specialist staff in the relevant institutions. This puts them in a position not only to facilitate communication, but also to create a confidential and secure atmosphere, thereby raising the quality of dialogues.