In recent years, as various crises have forced the residents of numerous regions to flee their homes, many countries have begun to think about how best to help refugees adjust to life in their new surroundings.
Beyond the basics like shelter, clothing, food and medical care, support for refugees often includes language instruction to help these newcomers gain independence and confidence. And while learning the language of one’s new home serves many practical purposes, research has shown that it also increases resilience amongst those who have had to relocate.
The British Council’s 2016 Language for Resilience Report found that for young refugees in particular, “quality language learning improves attainment and attendance and builds safer and more inclusive classrooms,” but the implications for adults were just as crucial.
As the report notes, “for adults, language skills are fundamental in order to contribute to their host communities, through livelihoods, employment and income generation activities,” and that the attainment of such skills “reduces vulnerabilities and dependency, and allows for a greater degree of independence in pursuing durable solutions, including achieving sustainable voluntary repatriation when circumstances permit.” (Source: Language for Resilience).
The report stresses that both the maintenance of one’s mother tongue and the learning of additional languages are important aspects of enhancing resilience—the latter because it allows individuals to advocate for themselves, “tell their story” and foster intercultural understanding.
This is something that our teachers have witnessed firsthand, and it’s one of the reasons our classes focus so heavily on real, usable language over rote memorization. While our teaching framework may be rigid, the topics that we cover in our classes are not, and it’s important that our students feel they have the space to ask about anything from what kinds of questions they might be asked in a job interview (and how to answer), how to communicate with their children’s teachers or how to describe different health issues.
One of our in-person programs, Connect 15, focuses entirely on interactive, “real world” activities that promote organic fluency—a program born out of demand from students for such opportunities.
Although the research included in the British Council’s report focuses on specific groups of people—Syrian refugees in the UK and those who work with them—our teachers have all witnessed how language instruction can help individuals transition out of difficult situations of all magnitudes, from refugees trying to rebuild their lives in Montreal to international students dealing with culture shock or homesickness to spouses who’ve accompanied a partner to Montreal for work and wish to resume their own career and social life in a new, unfamiliar environment.
Every day, we discover new ways that language instruction allows students to thrive and overcome challenges, and we remain committed to helping them do so.