A Holistic Approach to New Language and Literacy Development of Refugee Women: The Case of Syrians in Turkey

A Holistic Approach to New Language and Literacy Development of Refugee Women: The Case of Syrians in Turkey

Aydın Yücesan Durgunoğlu, Maissam Nimer
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch021
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As the number of displaced people who need to learn the oral and written language(s) of their host communities increases, educators are faced with serious challenges. This chapter discusses some of these issues and ways to improve the language education of refugees, using as an example the case of Syrian women in Turkey with limited formal education. Good practices both at the program level and within particular instructional settings are outlined. At the program level, the authors suggest adopting a holistic approach; addressing challenges such as trauma, poverty, and unwelcoming social environment; offering lifelong education in local centers; and training teachers. Within the educational settings, teachers should get to know the learners in all their diversity; build on existing strengths; offer systematic, integrated instruction grounded in real-world needs and uses of language; consider both cognitive and affective dimensions of literacy; use technology; and facilitate language development through social interactions.
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Across the globe, there are almost 70 million forcibly displaced people, as a result of persecution, conflict and violence. The United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency (2017) reports that historically, it is the highest level of displacement on record. This global refugee crisis also has a serious educational dimension because in the majority of the cases, the displaced individuals move to a new setting and have to learn the language and the culture of their new home and develop literacy and numeracy skills in an unfamiliar language. There are several obvious reasons why learning the host community’s language is important for refugees. Job opportunities (even among the unskilled) are highly related to learning the language, as it enables communicating with colleagues and understanding the work duties and the cultural practices of the host society. In addition, language facilitates social contact, building friendships, and effectively handling daily routines like shopping or going to the doctor (Al Ajlan, 2019; Beiser & Hou, 2000; Tran, 2000).

This chapter tries to shed light on this essential issue of language that highly influences the current and future lives of thousands of refugees. Despite the importance of language-learning for all refugees, existing policies for language education that address the diversity within the refugee population are very limited, as policy makers often perceive refugees as a homogeneous group (Al Ajlan, 2019). There has been much research regarding language education, mostly carried out among school students (Cirocki & Farrelly, 2019; Shapiro, Farrelly, & Curry, 2018) or looking at the intersections of language education and refugee resettlement and policies in general (Feuerherm & Ramanathan, 2016). Yet, some refugees may also have very low levels of literacy in their home language and thus may need to develop new language and literacy skills without a solid base in their home language (Malessa, 2018). Women are overrepresented in this category; hence the goal of this chapter is to focus on young refugee women with limited formal education, who are developing language and literacy skills in a new culture. We discuss factors that affect oral and written language development in this new environment and the educational implications. We use the term refugee to refer to people who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, or persecution, regardless of their asylum status or legal classification. We use Turkey, where the population of Syrians did not receive the official status of refugee, but they are granted the status of Temporary Protection, as an example. Although our focus is on limited-literacy refugee women in general, we will discuss some research on immigrants as well because refugee literature on this particular refugee group is limited. In addition, we will provide specific examples from Syrian refugee women, especially in Turkey.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Home Language: A language learned in childhood in the home environment, also referred to as mother tongue, first language (L1), or native language. In this chapter we use the term home country and home language to emphasize the involuntary physical displacement and being away from home.

Heterogeneity: Diversity among language learners that needs to be considered by teachers when designing curricula, preparing activities, and selecting appropriate course materials.

Immigrant: A person who made a conscious decision to leave their home and move to a new country with the intention of settling there. The voluntary nature of the move distinguishes such persons from refugees, although this is not a clear-cut boundary as people may be forced to leave their homes, presumably voluntarily, but because of economic and sociocultural adversities.

Affective Factors: Emotional influences on language learning, which in case of refugees include trauma and psychological problems resulting from experiences of war, conflict, death, and forced displacement from homes and familiar cultural settings.

Limited Literacy: Limited ability to read and write. It is common among individuals who had their formal schooling interrupted at an early age because of cultural or economic reasons or displacement due to conflict and violence.

Host Country and Language: Instead of second language (L2), foreign language or additional language, the term host country and language emphasizes that there is a displacement to a new country and need to learn its language(s).

Refugees: People who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, or persecution. The formal definition refers to people who have been granted asylum, but the term can be used more broadly regardless of asylum status, technically including those who are asylum-seekers, and whose requests have not yet been processed.

Lifelong Learning: Opportunities to access meaningful education related to life goals across the life span. Many countries offer lifelong learning classes that target a range of educational purposes from exploring creativity and technology to developing literacy and workforce skills.

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