Overcoming Language Barriers at the European Maker Faire in Rome

Perhaps the most important learning from the European Maker Faire had nothing to do with Engineering or Graphic Arts, or History or Culture, but rather around language.

The girls were concerned about the unknown language issues that they might face being in a foreign country. There certainly was lots of English around but how would they interact with the general public.

Day 1 was dedicated to schools where there were many groups of kids in which most could speak English. Sometimes, there would be a group where none could speak English save one. Our students would speak and then one would translate with lots of emotion and patience. It was sweet to see parents and teachers helping their very young students understand what we were doing and learning how to solder using a hot soldering iron. My favorite moment was when a young student translated to her parent.

Day 2 was open to the general public where English was much more rare. Fortunately, we had designed our posters to be very graphical and language independent. We also had the foresight to connect with some Italian students through a connection with the Varkey Ambassadors to translate our brochure. Almost all of our 300 copies were distributed on day 2. To our surprise, I think because of the eye contact and body language of our students, passers-by took the time to read the translation on the spot. They would smile and nod as they began to understand what we were doing and why. It was particularly fun teaching people to solder with a hot iron without using any words.

Afterwards, the students talked about their experience and made the jump in empathy. This one day low risk event gave them a short glimpse into what it might be like for the growing number of new-comers that are arriving in our town and in our school. I had never intended to grow they citizenship in this way. Wonderful unintended consequences