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The need for English language skills

Marie, Rudayana and Elena explain why English is such an important skill for many refugees.
It’s difficult to say what the main needs of the refugees are because we should remember that the Syrians are all individuals, and there’s many different contexts and people from all over Syria and from all kinds of different backgrounds so that we - that might be looking to learn languages. But we looked at young people in camps and in host communities. We looked at informal schools, formal schools. We talked to adults. We talked to people who work with them. We talked to NGOs, volunteers. And actually what we found was that the majority of people had a real need to learn English.
They saw English as a need to communicate with the international community and give a voice to their stories, although obviously in some countries such as Turkey, Turkey, as far as functional language, was really important to refugees that were from that country. For many refugees arriving from Syria to receiving countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, they come with only Arabic as a language. And they don’t have - we’re finding that they don’t have any English language skills or very limited language skills. And that is a huge impediment.
It gets in the way of them being able to assimilate into the local school system and being able to access such things as e-learning tools as well as coding and STEM-related techniques and tools that are being provided to them or that they have an opportunity to. So really, we’re finding that to learn English is a top priority, especially where I’m focusing currently, which is in Lebanon. I think English they see as important because I think that’s what they’ve been exposed to most at home through TV and media. And so they see English as a kind of, the language that can get you everywhere.
So rather than learning specific languages like Italian and French, which will get you only in those countries, they think - and they’ve told me - that they think English will give them more opportunities for jobs, and to interact with more people, and also because a lot of them have family members or people they know in English-based countries or at least countries where English is a second language. So they just want to go - they want to learn the language, which will help them to be close to the person - their relatives and their friends.

Why do you think learning English is so important to many refugees? Think about your answer before you listen to Marie, Rudayna and Elena explaining why English is such an important skill for many refugees. Then compare their views with yours. You can download their views here.

Name Why English is important

Of course refugees will need languages other than English, depending on their context. You can read more about the language needs of refugees, and how to identify them, in the Volunteer Toolkit developed by the Council of Europe. NB This toolkit is available in 7 languages, English, French, German, Dutch, Greek, Italian and Turkish.

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