Study highlights need for ‘language skills’ for Syrian refugees
Displaced by war, refugees turn to education for a better future which comes with the additional challenge of learning a new language
Now in its sixth year, the internationally multi-sided Syrian war – sparked by the 2011 revolution - has plunged the country into a serious humanitarian crisis. Those displaced due to the conflict are grappling with multiple challenges and, according to one study, need language skills to get access to decent livelihood opportunities.
Constant shelling and relentless fighting from all sides has caused over four million Syrians to flee the war-torn land to seek refuge in neighboring countries, with hundreds of thousands driven to brave the waters of the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.
And as the Geneva peace talks – now in the third round – between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition continue to fail, many Syrians are left with little hope of returning to their homeland.
Faced with the life-changing disruption of being displaced by war, many refugees are turning to education to secure a better future. Yet with this comes the additional challenge of learning a new language.
A report released recently by the British Council, along with the United Nations’ UNHCR, has found that there is a need for “language skills to help Syrians access decent livelihood opportunities.”
“The English language is seen as something really important by the refugees,” Yvonne Fraser, a senior teacher at the British Council, told Al Arabiya English during a teacher training conference in Zaatari Refugee Camp earlier this year.
“Obviously they don’t want to stay in the [refugee] camp forever, and they see English or possibly another foreign language as a way to get a scholarship to Europe.”
Syrian refugee Alaa al-Masalmeh said although she hopes to someday return to her home country she also wants to continue her life.
“There is a chance to learn so we shouldn’t miss this opportunity,” she said. “Even if one day we do return, at least we could finish or continue with our education, we shouldn’t just sit and do nothing, we should try to live life normally.”
The study – which spans the role of language development programs in Syrian refugee communities in the Middle East – found that there is a need for language skills to help Syrians access decent livelihood opportunities.
According to the report, many refugees have problems accessing information due to their lack of language proficiency.
Psyche Kennett, an expert on English learning, told Al Arabiya English that the main reason behind teaching English language was to help refugees communicate with non-governmental organizations in the host countries.
“It’s a broader picture and it’s not so imperialist,” she said.
However, the report pointed out that – with regard to children learning – “access to education in their home languages is a crucial factor.”
According to the study, “proficiency in a home language is vital to successful learning in school.”
English learning expert, Kennett, explained that if children did not understand a subject in their own mother tongue, they would have difficulties understanding it in a different language.
Yet despite the struggles refugees face, Syrians remain optimistic.
During a classroom presentation in Lebanon, which demonstrated the British councils work with teachers to help them improve and extend their skills to teach languages effectively, 11-year-old Mustapha told Al Arabiya English that he enjoys the process of learning languages and wants to travel around the world.
“When I travel in the future, hopefully I’ll be able to use them to speak to people in other countries,” Mustapha said.
Mustapha’s classmate Adra – whose family’s roots are in Homs, Syria – expresses a similar view: “I enjoy learning languages. This is my second year doing it, and I don’t find it too difficult. I want to communicate with people from around the world.”