Language learning essential for refugee resilience

Friday 22 July 2016

A new report by the British Council has revealed the critical importance of provision for language teaching and learning in refugee communities, and countries that host refugees in large numbers. 

Language teaching and learning is essential for increasing the resilience of refugees and providing them with opportunities for education, social engagement and access to services. Without adequate provision for language teaching and learning, the long-term options for people forced to flee from violence and instability are more limited. Therefore humanitarian agencies, donors and governments must consider how to improve the nature, quality and scale of language teaching and learning as a key response to working with refugees and host communities.

Different communities and age groups have different language needs, and while literacy in home languages may be the priority of the youngest age groups, other languages, with English nearly always prominent in the hierarchy, play key roles too, especially in later age groups, the British Council research finds.

Writing in the Foreword to the report, Adrian Chadwick, Regional Director, British Council, Middle East and North Africa, said “The great risk is that children and young people who are refugees will never recover their education, a generation whose lack of access to opportunity will leave them vulnerable for the rest of their lives, and less able to contribute to the rebuilding of Syria when the conflict finally ends. Ultimately, language is a tool for communication, understanding others, and the achievement of individual potential. Nowhere is this more significant than in Syria and its neighbouring countries, where language needs and differences intersect with vulnerability, social tensions and limited service provision, as millions of Syrians across the region look for support to help rebuild their lives.”

Also in the foreword of the report Amin Awad, Director of the UNHCR Middle East and North Africa Bureau, said “Language is an equalizer. When a child can speak and write in the language of the host country, this creates confidence and self-assurance, at the same time children and youth should receive opportunities to improve and maintain understanding of the language of their country of origin. For adults, language skills are fundamental in order to contribute to their host communities, while language instruction also provides a bridge between communities.”

The report ‘Language for Resilience’, published today, aims to develop international understanding of how language learning builds resilience, whether through giving a voice to young people and adults, building inclusion in host communities, or providing individuals with the skills they need to access services, education and information. The report recommends the establishment of a ‘Language Vulnerability Index’ to support a coordinated response to refugees’ needs.

Focussing on the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Turkey the report describes the key needs of different refugee groups, current good practice in the response of host governments and humanitarian agencies, and potential gaps in programming. The report also considers the ways that the British Council and other partners can further develop language education programmes to build capacity during times of protracted crisis. 

Joel Bubbers, Director of the British Council in Syria, said “Ultimately language is about communication, and without communication there can be no understanding. By giving refugees and host communities the capacity to understand each other, we can go a long way to supporting cohesion now, and for the future.”

Key findings of the research include:

• All the languages refugees use help them build resilience at the individual, family and community levels – both home language and additional languages matter

• Proficiency in additional languages provides new opportunities for education and employment

• Proficiency in key languages gives a voice for people to tell their story in various contexts

• Language learning can bolster social cohesion and intercultural understanding

• Language learning activities can be supportive interventions to address the effects of loss, displacement and trauma

• Building the capacity of language teachers can strengthen the resilience of the formal and non-formal education systems in host communities

Notes to Editor

For more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, tim.sowula@britishcouncil.org +44 207 389 4871

The report is available at https://www.britishcouncil.org/education/schools/support-for-languages/thought-leadership/research-report/language-resilience

The report was written by Tony Capstick and Marie Delaney and is the result of their desk based research and research visits to Jordan, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey between September 2016 and March 2017.

This report builds on lessons learned from British Council language programmes and will be used to inform the development of future programming on language education for those affected by the Syrian Crisis – those living inside Syria and in the host community countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally. 

For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through http://twitter.com/britishcouncil and http://blog.britishcouncil.org/.