Trauma and Second Language Learning among Laotian Refugees

Daryl Gordon


Unprecedented numbers of adult refugee learners are entering ESL classes, many of whom escaped war-torn countries and endured long stays in refugee camps. Research in public health and psychology has documented high levels of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder in refugee populations. Drawing on ethnographic research with Laotian refugee women who experienced pre-settlement trauma during the Vietnam War and interviews with bilingual mental health professionals, this article examines current second language acquisition theories to consider how they elucidate the effect of trauma on second language learning. The article offers cross-cultural perspectives about the impact of trauma and recommendations for working with adult refugee learners who have experienced trauma. Research findings have implications for ESL instructors and second language researchers concerned with the impact of pre-resettlement experiences on second language acquisition and implications for classroom instruction.


Laotian American; refugee; post-traumatic stress disorder; second language acquisition; ESL learner

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