The role of Language Cafés in refugee integration

A participatory research project working with stakeholders to explore how Language Cafés can contribute to socio-cultural, economic, political and religious integration of forced migrants, and how best to improve their practices.

About the project

The importance of learning the local language for the integration of people on the move who are settling into their new receiving communities is well established in the literature. Much less is known about the many ways in which the phenomenon of Language Cafés can contribute to integration. Dr Majbritt Lyck-Bowen, a researcher in the Centre for Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, Senior Lecturer in Peacebuilding & Reconciliation in the Department of Social Sciences and a member of the University of Sanctuary Network, is exploring how Language Cafés can contribute to socio-cultural, economic, political and religious integration, aiming to help them improve their practices.

The project is divided into 4 parts:

1) In the first stage, through a participatory research process of co-creation, this research will collect data to facilitate the evaluation of Language Cafés that will help them improve their provision in areas that stakeholders have identified as relevant to them.

2) A questionnaire based on current assumptions in the literature will then be distributed widely to regular Language Café attendees to further our understanding of how Language Cafés contribute to socio-cultural, economic, political and religious integration, of people on the move.

3) Thirdly, based on feedback from Language Cafés taking part in the pilot project, this project will focus on identifying good practice regarding recruitment, training and retention of volunteers.

4) The final part of this research aims to initiate national networks of Language Cafés to facilitate the exchange of experiences and good practice as well as to refer people on the move to their nearest available Language Café. This will include mapping existing Language Café provision and organising initial network meetings.

In preparation for applying for external funding, a literature review and a pilot study have been carried out. The review of the literature on how Language Cafés contribute to integration was presented at The Migration Conference in Hamburg in August 2023, where it was commended as one of the best papers. A publication is currently under development with the provisional title: More than Learning the Lingo? A Review of the Literature on the Roles of Language Cafés in the Integration of People on the Move Settling in Europe. 

In the pilot project, stakeholders from three Language Cafés, in the Czech Republic, Scotland and Sweden, co-created research on issues they would like to know more about. Stakeholders in one Language Café focussed on how well they manage to make attendees feel that they belong; stakeholders in the two other Language Cafés focussed on how well they assist attendees in becoming active citizens in their local community. The data collected through semi-structured interviews with attendees are currently being analysed.  The participatory research process is also being refined, based on the experience from the pilot project.

The main research project will comprise 3-5 Language Cafés in 10 European countries. The main output will be short reports about findings specific to each of the participating Language Cafés, as well as general guidance and a book on how Language Cafés can contribute to the socio-cultural, economic, political and religious integration of people who have been forced from their homes.