Translating Wor(l)ds

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

The project explored 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, formed 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 brought with them manifold experiences in translating between different social worlds, which they explored on a par with the researchers who accompany them. The project had three objectives:

First, refugee students gave utterance to their biographical experiences. For this, autobiographical narrations about the process of arrival in the new living condition were encouraged. Thereby, a special interest was on the biographical transition into the institution and environment of the school. Second, the translations students created and process during their everyday school life – which are often incidental – were at the centre. The practices of translating texts from different languages as well as the translation of social and biographical areas of understanding were examined. Third, the students’ daily life experiences with translation beyond the school environment was reconstructed. The research interest was 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 was to map out the translating competences refugee students gained due to their biographies and environments.

Students adapted different roles throughout the project: As narrators, they reflected on their experiences with schooling and society’s notions of different courses of education. As translators, they tested methods of multilingual communication and reflected on possibilities and boundaries of biographical articulation and the translation in between. As researchers, they explored their own history and experiences with movements of translation. This was guided by methods of biography research and narration analysis. The project team consisted of students, teachers, scientists and professional translators. Thus, ‘foreign’ fields of experience and knowledge opened 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 tried out new approaches to encourage external perception, self-awareness and recognition of the accomplishments of refugee students. Furthermore, the experiences with the applied methods contributed to the extension of the methodological repertoire of language teachers. The project seeked 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.

This project has been completed.