Ongoing Project:

Language and Literacy Development of Syrian Refugee Children and
Arabic-Speaking Immigrant Children: A Comparison

Researchers: Xi (Becky) Chen1, Redab Al Janaideh1, Fatima Siddiqu1, Abeer Asli2, Kathleen Hipfner-Bouche1, and Johanne Paradis3
Affiliation: OISE, University of Toronto1, University of Haifa2, and University of Alberta3
Research Partner: H.appi
Keywords: Syrian refugee children, immigrant children, bilingual language development, school, English, Arabic


Objective: This study aims to compare Syrian refugee children and immigrant children in Canada on their language and literacy development in both English and Arabic, as well as explore what socio-linguistic factors affect this development.

Justification: 44% of Syrian refugees who recently settled in Canada are school-aged. It is incumbent on the education and research communities to collaborate to optimize these children’s chances of succeeding in Canadian schools. Language and literacy are the cornerstones of academic achievement, as well as key to socio-cultural adaptation.

Practical goal: This study will increase our understanding of how to assess the school-based needs of refugee children and to work with community partners to promote academic success. As well, it will help us identify the strengths and challenges of immigrant and refugee children so as to better support their full participation in Canadian schools.

Primary audience: Policy makers, educators, parents, and academics


This study employs quantitative measures to compare approximately 50 refugee children and 50 Arabic-speaking immigrant children on a battery of language and literacy measures in English and Arabic. The children are from three age groups: 7 to 8, 9 to 10, and 11 to 13 years old. Standardized measures will assess vocabulary, narrative language, word reading, and reading comprehension. Demographic data will also be collected to provide information on the quality of the home language and literacy environment, including parent education levels, age of arrival and length of residency in Canada, and language richness – a construct reflecting children’s exposure to and use of their two languages in a variety of social constructs.

Results from this study will establish benchmark measures of English and Arabic language and literacy outcomes among Syrian refugee children in their initial years in Canada, and identify the social-linguistic factors that underly them. Recognizing that learning is influenced by the prior knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences the learner brings to the learning situation, the research team will attempt to identify the children’s overall strengths and challenges, in order to better support their full participation in Canadian schools.

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