Vici research grant for Mirjam Boersma

Mirjam Broersma, PI at the Centre for Language Studies and Affiliate PI at Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, has been awarded a prestigious VICI grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). The grant, worth €1.5 million, will support Broersma's research on how psychological trauma affects learning a second language.

Broersma is one of only 34 researchers in the Netherlands to receive a VICI grant this year. The grant supports leading researchers who have demonstrated exceptional ability in their field and who are expected to make significant contributions to their area of research. Two other researchers of Radboud University and Radboudumc received a Vici research grant as well.

Effect of psychological trauma on language learning

Broersma's research will investigate Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands to find out whether psychological trauma hinders the acquisition of Dutch language and communication skills. Broersma: “Psychological trauma affects everything in our functioning, but we still know little about how it affects language learning. A common thread in my research is learning and forgetting a language and the cognitive aspects of these processes. In recent years I have increasingly felt that I wanted to see more social relevance in my own work. In addition, the connection to the refugee problem is obvious because of the current situation in Ukraine and it really motivated me. Fundamental research is extremely important, and a large part of this research will be fundamental as well, but I wanted to include more social relevance in my research. This connection provides an opportunity in which I can apply my expertise to something that is also very socially relevant and suddenly it all fell into place.”

Fundamental and application-oriented research

The research will investigate which skills are affected by trauma and what the differences are between children and adults. Broersma will also investigate how social participation contributes to Dutch proficiency, and if social participation and Dutch proficiency in turn might help to cope with trauma. Finally, it offers recommendations for better language education for traumatised learners. Broersma: “It is important that the outcomes reach social partners in education, policy and of course refugees and non-refugee migrants. There will be sounding board groups and we will collect their insights continuously during the five years. Where possible we will apply these insights to the research so that the direction may be adjusted.”

Because Broersma also chose Russian migrants as a control group, the war between Russia and Ukraine had implications on the research. Broersma: “During the research I will also investigate a group of Russian migrants as the control group. But in the meantime, a lot has changed there too, which makes you wonder whether that is a good control group because the Russian group can also be traumatized. I explained the committee that this is not binary, but a sliding scale. In every large group of people there are traumatized people.”


An important contributor to the research is Prof. Elisa van Ee, clinical psychologist and professor of psychopathology with a specialisation in trauma in refugees. She will be involved in all parts of this project. Broersma: “She offers all the clinical expertise that I do not have and was involved since writing the pre-proposal and will be involved in all parts of this project.” Furthermore, this project will benefit from collaboration and consultation with experts from CLS, Donders Institute, MPI, Radboud University and Radboudumc but partners from outside Nijmegen as well.