How can you promote multilingualism in science museums?

During the first half of 2022, we asked families and museum educators from our partner museums, what museums can do to promote the participation of multilingual children in STEM, from a language perspective. Here is what they replied.

The museum educators

Museum educators from NEMO, Museon-Omniversum, and Teylers Museum use intuition and trial-and-error to interact with multilingual children (and their families). They emphasized the importance of making caregivers feel comfortable. Interestingly, “language-free” solutions, such as non-verbal communication, were suggested more often than adding languages to the museum. They also reported that translated materials are most needed in interactive/workshop spaces, so that multilingual families can participate and work together independently.

The families

We organized sessions with eight Turkish- and Arabic-speaking families at NEMO and Museon-Omniversum. During the sessions, the families visited a floor of the museums and gave us their impressions.

Most notable was that the language in the museums brought about challenges when parents or children wanted to go deeper into the content of the exhibits. The vocabulary of the exhibit description was often too difficult which meant that parents/children had trouble translating from both Dutch and English to their home language.

Parents and children had many ideas as to how museums can be more inclusive from a language perspective. A suggestion was to incorporate some words from the home languages of the migrant communities that are most prevalent in the cities that the museums are in. Another important takeaway was to make the descriptions of the exhibits shorter and easier. Using more pictures or visual resources could also be helpful. Finally, they suggested using audio guides or apps that can provide translations.

With these findings, and together with our colleagues at Museon-Omniversum, NEMO, and Teylers, we will move forward to design strategies that promote the participation of multilingual children in the museums.

– PhD researcher Lucía Chisari en Kaelin De Long