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From refugee to student

30 November 2021

Young refugees who come to the Netherlands understand that the route to a new future runs through education. Learning Dutch is often central, but attention is also paid to English. At Alfa-college in Groningen, this group can prepare themselves for a continuation study at an MBO, HBO or university during a transition year. Their teachers are constantly looking for new insights and methods to guide this specific group in the best possible way. For this reason, literature students Evgenia Korvesi and Elise Knibbe conducted research, under the supervision of Marije Michel, into the language acquisition of young refugees in this setting.

Learning Dutch and English at the same time, how does that work?

Based on the idea that students have to pass the State Examination in Dutch in order to be admitted to a subsequent course, the Alfa-college spends a lot of time and attention on Dutch. In recent years, however, higher education in the Netherlands has become increasingly international, which has resulted in many studies being offered in English. In addition, students in Dutch-language programmes often have to study articles and textbooks in English. Therefore, it is important that prospective students who want to enter higher education, also master the English language.

For her bachelor's thesis on European Languages and Cultures, Elise Knibbe researched how this group experiences learning Dutch and English at the same time. Using interviews in small groups, the research focuses specifically on the students' perspectives. One of the most striking results is that many students indicate that their English deteriorated due to an over-focus on Dutch. Yet they are motivated to learn both languages and, despite considerable post-migration stress, have a lot of perseverance and discipline to succeed. Elise came up with recommendations for education based on these conversations. She clearly indicates how to strengthen the connection between Dutch and English lessons and how to balance the attention for both languages.

Learning English by chatting

Speaking English better by chatting

The group of refugees who want to enter Dutch vocational education (MBO) also need English. Their teachers indicated that speaking English in particular is a stumbling block for many of them. How could speaking skills be improved in a structural and accessible way? For her Master's thesis in Applied Linguistics, the Greek student Evgenia Korvesi offered a helping hand with tailor-made teaching materials and an inventive method. Step by step, the pupils were engaged in retelling a story in English. They were offered vocabulary and grammatical structures and chatted with each other via WhatsApp in various exercises. The step-by-step structure led to a speaking assignment at the end. Evgenia carefully examined the effects of this approach by collecting and analysing the results and also by talking to the teachers and students about how they had experienced it. It turned out to be a successful approach, the students liked it and progressed. Chatting in this way ultimately proved to help them speak English more fluently, intelligibly and with fewer mistakes. Evgenia's research was so good that she is going to write a scientific article about it together with her thesis supervisor Marije Michel!

Last modified:29 January 2022 11.48 a.m.
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