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Language abilities of children with refugee backgrounds: Insights from case studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 August 2020

Andrea A. N. MacLeod
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta
Rabia Sabah Meziane
École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie, Faculté de médecine, Université de Montréal
Diane Pesco
Department of Education, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Concordial University


Since 2015, more than 58,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada and, at the time of the 2016 national census, more than a fifth had settled in the province of Quebec. The rising numbers of refugees and the risks associated with families’ forced displacement have underscored the need to better understand and support the language of refugee children. The article reports on the oral language of three Syrian children ages five and six years, drawing on data from parent interviews, teacher reports, measures of the children’s language, and observations of their language use in a dual-language stimulation group, StimuLER. By triangulating this data, we were able to develop a rich and realistic portrait of each child’s language abilities. For these three boys, we observed that the home language was vulnerable to delays and weaknesses, and that learning the language of school was a drawn-out process. We also documented that parents and teachers had difficulties communicating with one another, and thus had difficulty meeting the educational needs of these children. We conclude that to foster resiliency in these children who are refugees, schools must find a way to build bridges with the parents to support the children’s language learning in both the language of school and at home.

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© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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