This study reports data on 47 Tigrinya speaking Eritrean refugees learning French. L2 French proficiency is assessed through the placement test Ev@lang, a standardized grammar test, and fine corpus analyses. Analysis of individual factors shows that, whereas school education, number of years in Switzerland, and French classes attended play no role in proficiency, age penalizes learning and, critically, multilingualism facilitates it. Corpus analyses replicate difficulties commonly reported in the literature with root infinitives, determiner omission and gender errors. Productions also depart from previous reports as we observed a low rate of subject drop, a high rate of gender errors involving animate nouns, and the overuse of the feminine, in line with Tigrinya grammar. Finally, our data provide preliminary evidence of the validity of Ev@lang in assessing French proficiency in refugees, an issue which is becoming critical with the increased role of language skills in European asylum policies.

DOI: 10.1017/S1366728921001048
ISSN: 13667289