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

Researchers: Johanne Paradis1, Xi (Becky) Chen2, Alexandra Gottardo3, Adriana Soto-Corominas4, Redab Al-Janaideh2, Jennifer Jenkins2, Kathliki Georgiades5, Irene Vitroulis6, Mazen El-Baba7, Lisa Rochman8

Affiliations: University of Alberta1, OISE, University of Toronto2, Wilfred Laurier University3, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya4, McMaster University5, University of Ottawa6, H.appi7, NorQuest College8

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, longitudinal study

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Objective: This study explored 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 was a three-year longitudinal study, with research carried out at three sites: Edmonton, Toronto, and Waterloo. This study was 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.

Objective: To help establish best practices for second language learning of refugee children, taking into consideration how individual differences in socioemotional well-being contribute to refugee children’s language and literacy development.

Research 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.


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Quantitative and qualitative measures were used to assess the bilingual and literacy development of Syrian refugee children (aged 6-13) over time. Data was collected, processed, and analyzed in 3 waves (one per year), with an initial year before data collection for research planning, determining measures and recruitment, and final year post data collection for data analysis and knowledge dissemination. Each data collection interval involved a parent interview, which gathered information on demographic, linguistic, and well-being factors, and the administration of 14 language and cognitive tests to the children in both English and in Arabic. In the final year, youth self-report was also collected on background factors and an acculturation questionnaire was administered. 






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