Language is turning out to be a key challenge for Syrian refugees arriving in the Moncton area, according to the New Brunswick Multicultural Council.

Mike Timani, president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says language training and translation is the "key" to resettling families.

"We find that many of the Syrians do not speak English or French so that's going to be a challenge," Timini said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton on Tuesday.

The superintendent for the Anglophone East School District sent a letter to parents this week, asking for anyone who can offer language support to come forward.

"If you or anyone you know is able to speak and understand Arabic or would like to contribute to the successful integration of these new families, please contact us," reads the letter from Gregg Ingersoll.

So far, three settlement agencies say there are 153 federally-sponsored Syrian refugees in New Brunswick.

  • Moncton: 61 federally-sponsored refugees,11 families
  • Fredericton: 53 federally-sponsored refugees, 10 families
  • Saint John: 77 federally-sponsored refugees, 16 families

Translation critical 

On Friday, eight Syrian students registered in the Moncton area and began a three- to four-week orientation process that involves some early language training.

"It makes a difference, because they make them feel comfortable once they hear the same language and letting them know that this is a place to live." - Mike Timani, N.B. Multicultural Council

Kathy Arsenault, an education support teacher, is leading the efforts of the district welcome centre, which is located at Edith Cavell School in Moncton.

"The translation piece is quite a large piece of this," she said.

"When the students come in and register we have a translator with us from [Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area]. Anytime there's any difficulty, we have access to a translator. We have iPads and iPhones and Google Translate works very well."

Timani is encouraging anyone who speaks Arabic to come forward to help the settlement process for the refugees.

"It makes a difference, because they make them feel comfortable once they hear the same language and letting them know that this is a place to live," he said.

Arsenault says after the initial orientation, students will move on to their neighbourhood schools where their language training will continue.

"Over the next two to three years the tutoring classes will assist them to gain some language skills so that they'll be better and better able to function in the classroom completely," she said.

"We certainly don't expect them to have language skills in four weeks."

'Welcome to New Brunswick' video nearly complete

Timani adds the language component should not be underestimated, especially for a province that needs to retain the newcomers.

"When they do not speak the language that is a very difficult thing and it could be overwhelming … especially when the main focus is for them to find a job, to create a job or support their family," he said.

The multicultural council is part of a group developing a welcome video for refugees arriving in New Brunswick in hopes of convincing them to stay.

"This will be shown for every Syrian family when they arrive — the video will tell them about our province and encourage them to stay and build a life," Timani said.

The school district's Ingersoll adds New Brunswick will be richer for the experience.

"Our classrooms are becoming much more diverse which will only serve to enrich the learning experience for all of our children," the superintendent writes.