Language Checkers - This is how we speak in Neckarstadt: Die Sprach-Checker – So sprechen wir in der Neckarstadt

Janin Roessel (DE), Christine Möhrs (DE), Elena Schoppa-Briele (DE), Rahaf Farag (EG), Heike Chan Hin (DE), Theresa Schnedermann (DE), Sprach-Checker team at the IDS (DE)

As modern societies are increasingly diverse due to mobility and migration, so are linguistic landscapes—but understandings of multilingualism and lived realities are limited; deficit-oriented views predominate. Multicultural communities harbour linguistic treasures that are often overseen, and little attention is paid to the voices of the people living there—particularly those of young residents.

In our project “Die Sprach-Checker”, children and adolescents from Neckarstadt-West, a very diverse district in Mannheim, become citizen scientists. Our goal is to raise awareness for their linguistic treasures and to transform deficit-oriented views into mutual appreciation of multilingualism. The young citizen scientists (re)discover their own languages and the language use in their environment—together with linguists and professionals. Our guiding principle has been to consider participants as co-scientists while co-generating research questions and jointly conducting research. Activities span from a book project to the training and implementation of scientific methods (e.g. storytelling, linguistic landscaping, language biographical interviews), and involve diverse collaborations (e.g. local stakeholders, schools, rappers).

Another aim is to make insights and outputs accessible to the community (e.g. at a summer festival of languages or an annual literary festival). Outputs, such as a children’s book or explanatory videos, are available online to inspire scientists and practitioners alike.

The project has emerged as a door opener for change: Our citizen scientists expressed surprise for and acknowledgement of their own language treasures. Social media activities carried project’s insights and appreciation for multilingualism to broader audiences.  These are stepping stones for transforming deficit-oriented (self-)views and making citizen science more visible and approachable. The project is set to empower youth, build trust (in science), and contribute to the SDGs.

We would like to thank all citizen scientists. We are further grateful for the support we received after being awarded as one of the three best citizen science projects in the German competition “On your marks! Citizen Science in your city” (2022/23). Thanks to a donation from Neckarstadt Kids and the GBG Sponsorship Prize we were able to continue our project. We would like to express our deep gratitude to all our collaborators. Neckarstadt Kids, Campus Neckarstadt-West, Alte Feuerwache, and Marie-Curie-Realschule provide continued support in terms of personnel, space, and input.

Christine Möhrs (DE) studied German linguistics, social psychology, and business administration at Leibniz University Hannover. In 2013 she earned her doctorate in German linguistics. She has been a research associate at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language since 2009, focusing on vocabulary, lexicography, corpus linguistics, and comprehensible language. Her work combines research with practical application. She heads the projects “Language Research and Citizen Science” and “The Language Checkers”, both of which successfully and heart-warmingly promote participatory research.

Elena Schoppa-Briele (DE) studied theatre science, philosophy, and German literature at the Gutenberg University of Mainz and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In her career, she has been involved in various language-related fields of activity: e.g. lecturing German, developing and coordinating training programmes for teachers and language courses. Since 2019, she has been a leading project manager for the “Forum Deutsche Sprache“ (Eng. German Language Forum)—a planned science centre and a sustainable hub for diverse citizen science endeavors in Mannheim, such as “Die Sprach-Checker”.

Janin Roessel (DE) studied psychology and business administration at the University of Mannheim, Germany, where she also pursued her doctorate. After her postdoc period in social psychology, she started at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language in 2022 and entered the project “Language Research and Citizen Science” in 2023, where she can unite her enthusiasm for language, research, and transfer. She is keen to raise awareness for the multifaceted effects of language, its opportunities, and hidden treasures, all the while accompanying “Die Sprach-Checker”.

Rahaf Farag (EG) studied translation studies, linguistics, and cultural studies at the University of Mainz, Germany. Having earned her doctorate in intercultural communication in 2022, she started as a postdoc in the project “Data Collection and Language Documentation” at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language. She develops participatory formats to encourage citizens to contribute to linguistic research, thus creating new means for bilateral knowledge. To experiment with low-threshold opportunities for exchange and transfer, she has accompanied the Language Checkers from the start.

Heike Chan Hin (DE) studied German and biology at the University of Mainz, Germany, for the teaching profession at grammar schools. She brings her enthusiasm for education, science communication, and working with children and young people to the project “Die Sprach-Checker”. Her engagement is also reflected in her professional career, as an editor for pedagogical reference books at Beltz Verlag Weinheim, as a member of the educational team at the Climate Foundation for Citizens Sinsheim, and now as an Education and Outreach Officer at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language.

Theresa Schnedermann (DE) studied German linguistics and literature, philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy at Heidelberg University, Germany. She completed a doctoral dissertation on discourse linguistics. Since 2012, she has worked in public relations at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language. In the summer of 2022, she took up the position of communications officer in the emerging “Forum Deutsche Sprache”. As for the project “Die Sprach-Checker”, she is keen to work with the children and students to make their work visible and to inspire other children, young people, and supporters.

Sprach-Checker team at the IDS (DE) Alongside the initiators of the programme*, an enthusiastic team of scientists has been growing; team members draw on a wealth of experiences and languages, additionally to a rich expertise from various disciplines: linguistics, intercultural communication, translation studies, education, psychology, methodologies regarding data collection and curation, statistics, science communication, and public relations. The core team is constituted by Dr. Christine Möhrs*, Elena Schoppa-Briele*, Heike Chan Hin, Dr. Rahaf Farag, Dr. Janin Roessel, and Dr. Theresa Schnedermann.

This initiative, based in Mannheim, Germany, is a commendable effort to explore and celebrate multilingualism, particularly within diverse communities often underrepresented in linguistic research. By engaging children and adolescents from varied backgrounds, the project aims to shift perceptions of multilingualism from deficit-oriented views to appreciation and empowerment. By involving citizen scientists in all stages of research, from question formulation to data collection and analysis, the project fosters a sense of ownership and pride in linguistic heritage among participants.