Why the Refugee Language Project?

Why does Amarillo need the Refugee Language Project? This article answers that question.

Some were blind, or couldn’t read, or had never grasped the language. When they got too old to work, they became dependent on relatives or fellow immigrants. No one wanted that fate. Learning English, as Elia knew, was not just a key to a better job, it was also a race against the clock.

Katy Vine (Dec 2016, Texas Monthly)

An estimated 12,000 refugees have settled in and around Amarillo, TX. Many of these people—who come from places like Burma, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan—have found refuge here after suffering traumatic events in their home countries and in refugee camps.

Upon arriving in Amarillo, these men and women are required to find jobs, get their kids into our school system, and begin contributing to society in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, two large barriers prevent many refugees from success: community and language.

Unfortunately, two large barriers prevent many refugees from success: community and language.

After becoming aware of these obstacles, I launched the Refugee Language Project through Redeemer Christian Church. As a linguist with nearly a decade of experience overseas, I feel I am particularly attuned to the language and culture barriers that refugees face. The project aims to provide practical solutions that offer hope, healing, and community to the hopeless, the broken, and the lost. Why does Amarillo need the Refugee Language Project? We will meet real language needs among refugees, and foster compassionate community in our city.

The project aims to provide practical solutions that offer hope, healing, and community to the hopeless, the broken, and the lost. Why does Amarillo need the Refugee Language Project? We will meet real language needs among refugees, and foster compassionate community in our city.

Background

Have you ever moved to a new city? A new state? A new country? Did you move because you feared for your life, or for the lives of your children?

This is the situation that thousands of refugees in Amarillo have faced. Not only were they forced to move to a foreign place, but they weren’t even able to prepare. Many found their way to refugee camps with only what they could carry. Years later—sometimes decades—they were granted refuge in the United States.

Usually arriving late in the night, they are swept away to assigned housing, surrounded by people from cultures they’ve never heard of. Then what? Imagine what feelings accompany those first days and weeks—strange foods, loud noises, confusing customs, foreign languages… Imagine the fear they experience.

Imagine the fear they experience.

After a few months of English and citizenship lessons, these resilient men and women are thrust into new lives. Many of them find jobs in meat-packing plants, hotels, and fast-food restaurants. Some hold advanced degrees in medicine, law, or engineering, but language and culture barriers prevent them from utilizing those qualifications here.

Some hold advanced degrees in medicine, law, or engineering, but language and culture barriers prevent them from utilizing those qualifications here.

Many others have never worked in traditional jobs, coming from subsistence-based agricultural communities. Here, they start new lives in new professions, undergoing it all in order to give their children a hope and a future. Wouldn’t you do the same?

…undergoing it all in order to give their children a hope and a future. Wouldn’t you do the same?

Community

Over the following months and years, refugee families search for their new “normal”. To cope, many find it easiest to isolate themselves in small communities—Congolese with Congolese, Chin with Chin…

Unfortunately, this new normal is far busier than what they are accustomed to. Our comparatively fast-paced schedules leave little room for them to reach out and attempt to connect with others. Even if they wanted to develop relationships, a great majority are inhibited by deficient English ability. This prevents them from communicating with longtime residents, but also fellow refugees from other language groups.

They remain isolated, unable to develop the richness of community that all people desperately need, that all people were designed for. Unfortunately, this is the predominant situation across Amarillo. We believe this problem has a solution.

They remain isolated, unable to develop the richness of community that all people desperately need, that all people were designed for.

The Refugee Language Project is committed to drawing refugees into long-term and sustainable community. This is carried out by creatively devising contexts where refugees come into frequent contact with each other, and with Americans.

The Refugee Language Project is committed to drawing refugees into long-term and sustainable community.

Language

How busy are you? Do you have time to take a class every morning? One morning a week? Would you attend a free class if you didn’t have your own vehicle?

Did you know that most refugees are not given a choice as where they will be sent? It’s not like they are able to prepare beforehand by studying English, because they could have found themselves in Brazil. Once they arrive, refugees are only required to receive 40 hours of English instruction. At this point, many do not continue to attend classes. With full-time jobs and large families, many struggle to find the time for such a commitment.

Those who do choose to attend ESL classes often struggle to sufficiently advance in their English proficiency. This is due to the fact that many English classes fail in crucial areas. Teachers are overwhelmed by the staggering diversity of languages spoken by their students. Most are unable to identify linguistic sources of interference for English learners, and therefore struggle to offer useful solutions. Most importantly, the infrequency of class sessions means that teachers have to fit in too much material. This has the unfortunate consequence of reducing the time students actually get to speak English. In one ear, out the other… These are just some of the many obstacles preventing success for English language learners in Amarillo. Learn more about the language obstacles they face here.

Teachers are overwhelmed by the staggering diversity of languages spoken by their students.

The RLP is committed to observing and training, as well as coordinating & consulting for ESL programs, in order to remove obstacles for success. This project was founded in order to develop missional community among refugees by overcoming the obstacles preventing them from learning to speak English.

This project was founded in order to develop missional community among refugees by overcoming the obstacles preventing them from learning to speak English.

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