• Sabine Little

A trip to Germany

I spent the month of April on secondment in Berlin as part of the Makerspaces in the Early Years project – an interesting experience, as a native German who hasn’t lived in the country for well over 20 years!

With my specialism hat on in relation to working with multilingual families, my visit to Klax! Kreativwerkstatt confirmed what I already knew from my role in the MakEY literature review, that the Makerspace community would welcome a reach into multilingual, heritage language spaces. Nevertheless, in talking to Marco Srajer and Steve Tattum, I was fascinated to hear just how strategic children are with their engagement in the Makerspace (in this case, 3D printing), and how they tie these activities to their other interests. Out of the children regularly attending the 3D printing after school club, one was interested in role play, and designs and prints custom dice to support his game play. Another loves anything linked to rockets, and uses his time at the Makerspace to print the parts he needs to build bigger and better rockets at home. While neither of these boys would still fit the remit of “early years” (they were 9 and 10 years old, respectively), both had been attending the sessions for some time, and it shows what early engagement with Makerspaces might look like a little while on, as children gain in confidence.

I also had a chance to meet with Justyna Zubrycka from Vai Kai, and we spent a lovely afternoon discussing the role that technology-enhanced toys might play for heritage language families. Several of the families I work with tell me that they have a toy (or pet) which/who “only speaks (Polish/Urdu/French/Japanese)”. This emotional attachment goes beyond a toy which might play German songs or say a couple of German words (like my son had when he was little) – the toy in and of itself is not required to *produce* this language, instead, it is a potential manifestation of part of the child’s identity. This can have both positive and negative effects, depending on who leads such gameplay (parent/child?) and whether language suddenly becomes a barrier to gameplay.

I was accompanied on this trip by my son, so it was also a personal journey into our family's bilingualism, as he attended a standard German primary school during our stay. It was amazing to watch his confidence grow as the month continued, and we had many conversations about his German language development. We used part of the trip to begin writing a joint journal article, which we will develop further.

I was also very happy to give an invited talk at the University of Hamburg, on "Mehrsprachigkeit als Erbe: Identitätsbildung und Konflikte in mehrsprachigen Familien in England" (Multilingualism as Heritage: Identity Formation and Conflict in Multilingual Families in England) - it's been a while since I had to explain my research in German, so this was great to keep the language wheels oiled, and to engage with the amazing research of the participants.

The link between languages and identity in heritage language families is what I have been working on these last few years, and it is exciting to expand this work into the Makerspace sphere. Since my return to Sheffield, I have been able to explore my thoughts with families in a community project here in Sheffield, and I’m looking forward to continue discussions when I go on to Melbourne in July!