In February, 25 refugee youth gathered in Washington, DC to identify and discuss the biggest barriers they face adjusting to life in America. The first barrier identified was learning English.  These barriers, causes, impacts, and solutions all came from the refugee youth themselves. Please take a moment to better understand the challenges young refugees face and what you can do to help.


Language barriers are a serious challenge faced by many refugees. They often create misunderstandings and can make refugees feel isolated.


One major cause is refugees’ prior English education or lack thereof. Many times refugees are not given enough time or the opportunity to learn English before they come to the U.S. If there are English classes in the refugee camps, they are not focused on young refugees and there is very little support or follow through with these classes. Another cause is the lack of opportunity to practice English in a safe and judgment free zone. Refugees are often intimidated and scared to use English. Many young refugees have reported being made fun of when they struggle with the language, which then disincentives them to practice. They oftentimes cannot practice English in the privacy of their homes because their family members do not speak it either.


Language barriers can make refugees feel isolated, hopeless, and anti-social, which often leads to depression. Struggling with speaking and comprehension makes it difficult for refugees to make friends with American peers and can unfortunately make them a target for bullying. It also leads to a lack of confidence, inhibiting many from speaking up and participating in class, and ultimately missed job and educational opportunities. Young refugees are impacted by their parent’s language barrier as well. If their parents struggle with English, the children often have to serve as an interpreters and take on more responsibility at home.


Schools can institute a mentoring program for refugees where they partner with an American student to practice English. They can also use summer school as a time to teach English and increase proficiency. Schools can also make ESL classes more activity-based and offer them more than once a day.

Refugee agencies that run camps can start English classes at an early age, have English classes that focus on teaching youth, and ensure that pronunciation is taught in these classes. They can also help refugees find English classes while they are waiting for resettlement.

Communities and refugee resettlement agencies can organize special events/ networking events to promote integration. They can also encourage youth to join soccer teams and other activities that would allow youth to practice English in a pressure free setting.

Click here to access the full report on integration barriers.