The dynamics of recent refugees’ language acquisition: how do their pathways compare to those of other new immigrants?
Do the processes underlying destination-language acquisition differ between recently arrived refugees and other new immigrants? Based on a well-established model of language learning according to which language fluency is a function of efficiency, incentives, and exposure, this study addresses general processes of language learning as well as conditions specific to refugees. Longitudinal data on refugees (IAB-BAMF-SOEP Sample of Refugees in Germany) and other immigrants (IAB-SOEP Migration Sample) in Germany indicate that exposure to the destination language is the main driver of proficiency, followed by efficiency, whereas incentives matter less. Moreover, refugees profit substantially from structured learning in language courses, while other immigrants benefit more from informal exposure in their everyday environments. Overall, the findings suggest that language acquisition is a general process that is similar across different types of immigrants.