English language proficiency among humanitarian youth: A longitudinal study

Young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds in Australia: facilitating the active citizenship
Friday 27 July, 1135 – 1155


Pilar Rioseco
Australian Institute of Family Studies

English language is an important factor enabling people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to fully participate in Australian society. This paper examines the English language proficiency of young people from humanitarian migrant backgrounds.
The Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) is a longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants who arrived in Australia or received their permanent protection visa between May and December 2013. Survey materials were translated into multiple languages. Three waves of data are currently available, collected between 2013 and 2016. Adolescents aged 15–17 (n=134) and young adults aged 18–25 (n=546) are included in the present study.
Results show that young BNLA respondents significantly improve their proficiency in spoken English over time, with some differences by age group and gender.
Multivariable longitudinal analyses (random effects models) reveal that young people with higher literacy, those who have done study in Australia (other than English classes), and those in paid work, have better self-assessed spoken English. Young people in better health also report better self-assessed spoken English. Analyses also showed that young people with diverse networks of friends have better spoken English compared to those whose friends are mostly from their own ethnic background, or those who have no friends.
Focusing on changes in English proficiency within-person over time among young people who could not speak English well before migration (fixed effects models), we find that better mental health and physical health, as well as having friends from diverse backgrounds, contribute significantly to better English speaking proficiency.
Implications for policy and programs are discussed.