Refugee literacy acquisition

I’m working on something–a remix, a documentary, a collage of stories?–about literacy acquisition among refugees in North America.  A basic Google Scholar search turned up a handful of articles, but rather than start with the most recent one, I started with one of the oldest, a 1990 article written by a pyschologist in Toronto who came to Canada as a refugee in the late 1970s.  She draws on personal as well as professional experience in the article, “Refugees: ESL and Literacy–Trying to Reinvent the Self in a New Language” to explain that language acquisition is not a simple mechanical process, but one that is also about loss and reinvention of identity. It takes time (2 years for basic language, 5-7 for academic language) and cannot be rushed; the trauma and challenges of resettlement can often interfere with the ability to learn.  The author, Maria Freire, ends with short case study of a refugee who fell behind in school, but was always diagnosed as simply struggling to learn English. Freire’s own assessment found average intelligence, a higher proficiency than the schools had found, and a combination of a learning disability and attentional deficits, neither of which were identified because of the ESL label.


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