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For Immediate Release
October 06, 2015

IPFW Professors Aid Arabic-Speaking Refugees Through German Language Project

FORT WAYNE, Ind.— With the influx of refugees in Europe increasing each day, three professors at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) are working together to create a resource for Arabic-speaking refugees in Germany.

The “German for Arabic-Speaking Refugees” project was started by Suin Roberts, associate professor of German, along with Farah Combs, continuing lecturer and director of the Arabic program, and Lee Roberts, associate professor of German.

Germany has pledged to take in 500,000 refugees every year for the next few years. Many of the population will be from Syria and will speak Arabic as their native language.

“As language instructors with a migration background or having lived abroad, we know that an inability to express oneself in a foreign language can be a deeply unsettling and frustrating experience,” said Suin Roberts. “We want to help bridge these initial months of being 'foreign' by introducing helpful phrases and vocabulary, which our viewers can use in daily interactions.”

The "German for Arabic-Speaking Refugees Project" posted their first few videos on greetings and introductions and everyday items last week. The team plans to post one video each week for as long as there is a need. Topics will include healthcare, emergencies, food, and buying groceries.

“The language videos are not intended to replace a formal German-language course, but should be seen as a first introduction to commonly used phrases and vocabulary in German,” said Suin Roberts. “We are aware that refugees upon arrival in Germany might not have immediate access to German or culture courses. Sometimes, months, if not years, can pass before they can enroll in a formal language course. With the sudden influx of refugees, Germany is struggling to find trained German as Foreign Language teachers. Germany is looking to hire more than 10,000 German language teachers in the future. Until then, language courses can be expected to be overcrowded and waitlists will be long.”

The videos are produced by the team and edited by student Nathan Brophy, a political science major who is in his third semester taking Arabic. Videos include skits that teach cultural information along with language. Subtitles are included in German to help with visual recognition of words and phrases.

“Learning the language of the country where these refugees will be living will increase their integration and help their everyday lives,” said Combs. “As a native speaker of Arabic myself, the German language has similar sounds and intonations that linguistically are easier for native speakers of Arabic to learn to pronounce.”

A Facebook page has been created and the hope is that outlets abroad, along with family and friends in the U.S. and Europe, will share the video resources.

“Many of the refugees have smartphone or tablet devices and free Wi-Fi is readily available in the refugee camps,” said Suin Roberts.

“If this project helps just one family, then that’s a big accomplishment and we’ve achieved our goal,” said Combs.

For more information on the German for Arabic-Speaking Refugees Project, visit Facebook and Youtube, or contact Suin Roberts at 260-481-6860 or or Farah Combs at 260-481-0247 or

The project is sponsored by the International Language and Culture Studies Department and the Honors Program at IPFW.

About the project team:

  • Farah Combs, M.A., continuing lecturer in Arabic. Directing and coordinating the Arabic program. ACTFL certified. Palestinian born and raised in Kuwait.
  • Lee Roberts, Ph.D., associate professor of German, has lived in Germany and Japan for several years.
  • Suin Roberts, Ph.D., associate professor of German, is a dual citizen, German-American with a Korean background. She was born and raised in Germany by Korean parents who had come to Germany as guest workers in the late 1960s.