The association between bilingual development and mental health: Investigating the unaccompanied refugee children’ viewpoints

The present qualitative study aimed in exploring the relations
between second language (L2) development, and mental health
among young refugees (those unaccompanied by a legal caretaker),
living in Sweden. These children share the likelihood of
having experienced interrupted education because of war and
conflict in their countries of origin, flight and potential stay
in refugee camps prior to migrating to Sweden; resulting in delayed
development of their academic language. Upon arrival in
their destination country, refugee minors are required to learn
a new language, within both social and academic dimensions
as a main facilitator of educational achievement and integration
into the mainstream society. Eight Dari-speaking refugee
minors from Afghanistan (between 16 to 18 years old) were
gone through in-depth semi-structured interviews where their
viewpoints about different aspects of bilingualism (language
learning strategies, first language (L1) maintenance and use)
and possible relations between bilingualism and mental health
were explored. The results were revolved around three major
themes: lack of enthusiasm among children to practice and
maintain Dari language, associations between dual language
practice and maintance and mental health (via boosting self-esteem
and assertiveness), and the need for delivering instruction
in L1 in schools. These results suggest that dual language development
relates to children’ mental health and that it is worthy
to invest on instructing L1 together with L2 for these group of
children who are especially imbalanced in the level of proficiency
in their social and academic aspects of L1.

Author(s): Niloufar Jalali-Moghadam

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