The importance of language teaching for refugees and how you can help
June 20th is World Refugee Day, a date the United Nations has dedicated to those who have been forced from their homes. Refugees are incredibly resilient people who have to adapt to impossible-to-imagine situations to survive. And the challenges are only just beginning when they leave their country: they often have to adapt to a new culture, set of laws, and even another language. It is too much for people to cope with alone, so it is important help is made available.
Both the British Council and the UN have reported how language learning is essential to increase refugees’ resilience and help them feel included in their new society. Let’s take a look at some insightful recommendations given by experts when it comes to foreign language learning for refugees and displaced peoples.
Recent data provided by the UNHCR shows that refugee children are a at a huge disadvantage in most host countries. Almost 60% do not attend primary school because of language and cultural barriers. Bridging this gap, then, is key to achieving integration.
Some benefits of providing language instruction to refugees include:
– Children who are able to speak the language of the host country are more self-confident and can establish deeper, more significant relationships with their peers.
– Language proficiency increases the number of professional opportunities available to adults. Plus, it improves intercultural understanding, giving refugees a voice to tell their story.
– Language learning can help address and mitigate the effects of loss and trauma. Refugees can heal by speaking about their past, while also moving forward and establishing their new lives in their adopted community.
It is recommended refugees receive inclusive education, addressing not only their language needs but also their cultural requirements in a sensitive, resourceful way. After all, respect and equal treatment are crucial when fostering social inclusion and peace.
Changing the approach to language teaching
It’s crucial that organisations and businesses support educators and give them the tools they need to change the focus of language teaching from a grammar-centred approach to a communicative and intercultural one. Strategies should include code-switching, so the transition to new language is gradual and smooth.
Refugee children face incredibly disruptive irregularities when it comes to their education. So, the UNESCO recommends giving them emotional support and teaching metacognitive strategies. For example, self-assessment rubrics are great for children to reflect about their own progress, helping them to become more independent. Tutors can also encourage children to make associations between their first and second languages, so it’s easier for them to remember vocabulary.
Education for the workplace
Preparing young people and adults for the professional world is important to help people find work. Although today there are many vocational courses offered to refugees, most of them overlook the value of language. This is a huge disadvantage, as these people might finish the course with valuable skills but without the possibility of expressing themselves clearly, meaning they are less likely to get hired.
How can I help?
There are countless organisations in the UK that help refugees rebuild their lives and you can contribute! They are always looking for volunteers, so get in touch with:
- Refugee Council: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-for-us/
- Refunet: https://www.refunet.co.uk/start-teaching
- North of England Refugee Service: https://refugee.org.uk/volunteer-ners-acts-as-an-agent-of-positive-change/
- Refugee Action: https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/support-us/volunteers/
All in all, language learning builds bridges between communities and its value within refugee communities should not be neglected; indeed, it should be a priority! Learning the language of the host country is not only important for refugees themselves (as it helps them integrate into a new way of living and mitigates trauma and loss) but also building a more empathetic, understanding and cohesive society.