SPEECHLESS / LANGUAGE RULES
Ilhan Güven’s poem “Day dream” begins: “I have a country, without borders, with a single language that everyone commands ...” Having no command of the language and the exclusion associated with it were experiences the immigrants never forgot. In the early years of the so-called "guest worker migration", German language skills were not a precondition and were not promoted, the expectation being that the immigrant workers would soon return home. As a rule, learning the language was a matter of acting on one’s own initiative: they used dictionaries to cope with everyday matters or taught themselves the language. At work lay interpreters acted as intermediaries between management and the workers.
Children often translated for their parents on visits to official bodies and the doctor's - a role reversal placing a lot of responsibility on the children! Filiz Calayir tells how she, a juvenile herself and with no understanding of the law, would intervene on behalf of fellow Turks with the immigration authorities and the Employment Office.
And how did the school system respond to the immigration? Whilst the children of the first generation of immigrant workers continued to receive little educational support, today it’s taken for granted that additional German lessons, German as a second language and native language classes are part of the school day. According to Nataša Maroševać, from the Schools Advice Centre for Immigrants, "intercultural encounters" instead of "foreigners' education" and the social value of multilingualism were key features in the turnaround from the 1990s onwards. Language is and remains a very controversial issue in the integration debate.
Tuğba Şababoğlu explains that language is also a means of self-empowerment: she consciously speaks perfect German to challenge the stereotypical expectations based on her appearance.
In 1972, the “Tiroler Tageszeitung” carried an article on the language courses and multilingual counselling services provided by the Arbeiterkammer (Chamber of Labour). Because of their poor German, “guest worker” children were often placed in much younger classes. The difference in age doubtless reinforced the lack of contact.