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Refugee phrasebook breaks down language barriers

28 September 20152 comments

An online phrasebook specifically designed for the needs of refugees is helping thousands throughout the world.

The ‘Refugee Phrasebook’ has essential vocabulary in 30 different languages and is available free to refugees and those who want to help.

From Croatian police printing and distributing their own copies, to hundreds being handed out in Vienna over one weekend, the success of the project has reached to every corner of Europe experiencing the influx of migrants.

The online resource, which only began in early September, includes not only a long and short version, but also separate medical and juridical phrasebooks.

Phrases related to the most common immediate needs, from ‘I need a doctor’, to asking for diapers or a place to pray, are amongst the 200 sentences listed.

The project was created by a collective of volunteers based in Berlin but with contacts across the globe. The project encourages designers and experts in the field to improve on the material.

Volunteers recently held a workshop in Berlin, which was also streamed live, on how to produce your own version of the phrasebook by converting the online tables to a booklet.

The group emphasises the collaborative effort of the project and therefore has no hierarchy among them.

“The project was created because it seemed obvious that something like this was needed – in view of the current situation for refugees in Europe,” one volunteer working on the project said.

“It only took a few days until it grew to almost 30 languages and hundreds of entries. Everyone can contribute, everyone can use the data, and everyone can print and distribute everywhere they want and develop the project further, or branch out.”

Local initiatives are encouraged to adapt, print and distribute all contents of the phrasebook in any way they can.

“The public response has been absolutely positive and many people support the project with their minds, technical skills, know-how, time, money and infrastructure – like printing copies in their offices, or translating what they can. It’s great to see. It’s simple and inclusive: everyone can do it,” the volunteer said.

The phrasebooks are helpful during not only a refugee’s journey in communication with officials, doctors and other refugees, but also for aid workers at camps and train stations or anyone seeking to bridge language barriers.

The project has made its way to Calais, German and Austrian cities and camps, Hungary, Slovenia and Greece, and the contributors are from equally diverse backgrounds.

“Many of the people working on it themselves have experience as migrants, or have close friends with migration backgrounds, and view this situation in the context of German bureaucracy heightened by language barriers,” the volunteer said.

“It also gives non-German-speaking people, or refugees who are already in Europe and know the situation an opportunity to help. Language humanizes people.”


Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer