Language Level Diagnosis in Children with a Migration Background


Language is the key to education – this applies to all people. The earlier children can express themselves in the language of the country they live in, the better opportunities they have along their school and career paths. Children in Germany from families that speak a language other than German are often disadvantaged, as has long been confirmed by relevant educational studies. But even children from German-speaking families who grow up in an environment that offers little stimulus, also in terms of language, are often lacking favorable linguistic conditions. They are overburdened by the challenges they face in the classroom and are thus held back over the long term. To alleviate this situation, as part of the “Ladenburg Research Networks” format the Daimler and Benz Foundation has been providing funding of around 1.4 million euros since 2014 for the development of a valid, reliable, and objective procedure for determining the language level of children about to commence schooling.

This process sets out to provide educationalists with a practical tool that serves to identify children in need of language support (assignment diagnosis) and at the same time to determine their individual support requirements (support diagnosis). This required extensive basic research on language acquisition among children, and the development and repeated testing of a process based on “serious games”*: An app on a tablet records the language data collected in a playful setting and measures the children’s level of language competence by means of a highly automated analysis process. If deficits are identified, targeted support measures can then already be initiated at the daycare center.

The project reached its preliminary conclusion with an expert colloquium on June 19 and 20, 2023 at LMU Munich, the main applicant and coordinator of this research and development project. The 40 invited experts from various universities and educational institutions were presented with the motives, fundamentals, and goals of the project along with illustrative recordings from authentic research contexts. The diverse opportunities for application were open for discussion, resulting in an intensive exchange of views and ideas.

At the opening of the event the project leader, Professor Jörg Roche from the Institute for German as a Foreign Language at LMU Munich, thanked the Daimler and Benz Foundation on behalf of the entire research team for the longstanding, generous, and invariably understanding and constructive support that this socially relevant research project has received. The project partners were the Universities of Saarbrücken, Heidelberg, Basel, Mannheim, and Stuttgart as well as LMU Munich and the Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education.

The symposium bore out once more the complex nature of research into the supposedly simple language of children. Children are extremely creative, constructive, and individual in their acquisition and use of linguistic resources – at least when they are provided with relevant and authentic stimuli. As the discussions showed, however, established processes for language level diagnosis are lacking. Moreover, the institutions lack the necessary resources, and often also sufficient professional competencies, to carry out appropriate diagnoses. These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that a language level diagnosis that meets with public acceptance must also offer concrete suggestions regarding subsequently necessary support for the children.

The project deals with this aspect in two ways: first, through planned “preventive” measures of general language education (early literacy) and second, through support offers characterized by a targeted design of the language offer. The same applies to a project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Saarland for the scientific accompaniment of “Sprachkitas” (language-oriented daycare centers), in which the app is being used systematically as an instrument for the first time. The goal is to document progress in learning, to discuss findings with the consultants from the language daycare and at the centers themselves, and to derive funding priorities.

The participants in the colloquium demonstrated great support regarding the demand for more and, above all, better coordinated and consistent implementation of the diagnostic procedure developed by the Ladenburg Research Network on the part of the responsible educational institutions. This also includes combinations with other assessment procedures, e.g. in the area of speech therapy. At the same time, this demand highlights the requirement for extensive, comprehensive sensitization toward language acquisition and the need for offers for the basic and advanced training of educators and teachers, including low-threshold information measures for parents and the children’s environment.

In summary, the following requirements were defined: appropriate, readily available measurement methods and support materials; comprehensive measures for basic and advanced training and education; raising public awareness of the potential and the means of language education; and intensive information and education activities together with decision-makers at all levels of education and in professional organizations. The research consortium at LMU Munich is ready to persevere with its contribution through bilateral and multilateral research, making intensive use of the data pools provided by the Ladenburg Research Network with its outstanding opportunities for further data collection – also in interdisciplinary projects of research in education, speech therapy, and intercultural and motivational psychology.

*Serious Games:

The term serious games refers to “games with a serious (learning) goal.” These are games that are created for the targeted teaching of specific content or competencies – especially in contexts in which playing and learning are still often perceived as opposites.

Project management
  • Prof. Dr. Jörg Roche, LMU Munich
  • Dr. Nicole Weidinger, LMU Munich (coordinator)
Participating scientists
  • Prof. Dr. Heike Behrens, University of Basel
  • Prof. Dr. Stefanie Haberzettl, Saarland University
  • Prof. Dr. Marcus Hasselhorn, Institute for Research and Information in Education (DIPF)
  • Prof. Dr. Dirk Ifenthaler, University of Mannheim
  • Dr. Gabriele Kecker, TestDaF Institute (Bochum)
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klein, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen/Netherlands)
  • Prof. Dr. Giulio Pagonis, Heidelberg University
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Thissen, HMKW, University of Applied Sciences (Munich)
  • Dr. Wolfgang Woerner, Institute for Research and Information in Education (DIPF)
Further information