Ongoing Project:

Successes and Challenges of Children who are Syrian Refugees:
Language, Literacy, and Wellbeing

Researchers: Johanne Paradis1, Xi (Becky) Chen2, Alexandra Gottardo3, Jenny Jenkins2, and Kathy Georgiades4
Affiliations: University of Alberta1, OISE, University of Toronto2,, Wilfred Laurier University3, McMaster University4
Research Partners: NorQuest College and H.appi
Keywords: Refugee children and youth, bilingual language development, second language acquisition, heritage language acquisition, Edmonton, Toronto, Waterloo, English, Arabic
Jump to: Full Infographic, Methodology, Publications & Reports


Objective: This study explores factors that contribute to the successes and challenges of Syrian refugee children’s language and literacy development in both their second language of English, and the heritage language of Arabic. This is a three-year longitudinal study, with research being carried out at three sites: Edmonton, Toronto, and Waterloo. This study is also a collaboration with a CYRRC project from the Well-being cluster to explore the relationship between learning and well-being in Syrian refugee children.

Justification: To fully participate in Canadian society, refugee children need to achieve fluent language and literacy skills in English. At the same time, the maintenance of the first language, which in the context of this study is Arabic, is key to family and community relationships and may confer cognitive advantages associated with bilingualism.

Practical goal:
This study will help establish best practices for second language learning of refugee children, taking into consideration how individual differences in socioemotional wellbeing contribute to refugee children’s language and literacy development.

Primary audience: Educators, mental health practitioners, service providers, and refugee families

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Executive Summary

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Both quantitative and qualitative methods will be employed in this research. Refugee children, between the ages of 6-12 will complete a series of quantitative measures of language, literacy, cognitive abilities, socioemotional well-being, and home language-literacy environment. Semi-structured interviews with parents will provide an in-depth understanding of the available resources and specific challenges for refugee children.

This project seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the changes in children’s English (L2) and Arabic (L1) language and literacy abilities over the three-year project?

  2. What child factors (e.g., cognitive abilities, age of arrival, schooling) and family factors (e.g., parental education, home activities) underlie individual differences in L1 and L2 development?

  3. To what extent is there evidence for interdependence between the L1 and L2 in development?

  4. What is the association between socio-emotional well-being and language and literacy skills?

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