Translating Wor(l)ds

Reconstructing biographical experiences and competences of young refugees at schools in Austria

The project explores what kind of experiences refugee students make during the process of their arrival in Austria and the educational routine. The narration of students, their communication in a multilingual context and the practices of translation, their means to mutually mediate their experiences and environment, form the focal points of this project. School is understood as a space of education and belonging, which opens possibilities of articulation but may close them as well. The students bring with them manifold experiences in translating between different social worlds, which they explore on a par with the researchers who accompany them. The project has three objectives:

First, refugee students give utterance to their biographical experiences. For this, autobiographical narrations about the process of arrival in the new living condition will be encouraged. Thereby, a special interest lies on the biographical transition into the institution and environment of the school. Second, the translations students create and process during their everyday school life – which are often incidental – will be at the centre. The practices of translating texts from different languages as well as the translation of social and biographical areas of understanding will be examined. Third, the students’ daily life experiences with translation beyond the school environment will be reconstructed. The research interest lies on the diversity of personal experiences and the significance of social frameworks, especially that of schools as rooms of resonance and possibilities. The main endeavour is to map out the translating competences refugee students gained due to their biographies and environments.

Students will adapt different roles throughout the project: As narrators, they will reflect on their experiences with schooling and society’s notions of different courses of education. As translators, they will test methods of multilingual communication and reflect on possibilities and boundaries of biographical articulation and the translation in between. As researchers, they explore their own history and experiences with movements of translation. This will be guided by methods of biography research and narration analysis. The project team consists of students, teachers, scientists and professional translators. Thus, ‘foreign’ fields of experience and knowledge open themselves to all people involved for them to build on with their own experiences.

By means of biographical story telling and translation, taken from adult education and scientific as well as artistic practices, the project tries out new approaches to encourage external perception, self-awareness and recognition of the accomplishments of refugee students. Furthermore, the experiences with the applied methods will contribute to the extension of the methodological repertoire of language teachers. The project seeks to stimulate the education and advanced training of teachers as well as the development of schools by combining the biographical perspectives of students with the institution ‘school’ as social space of belonging and education.