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English as an additional language

An EAL learner is a child or young person who has spoken or is spoken to in a language other than English during early childhood and continues to use this language in the home or in the community.

All over the world millions of people are brought up to speak two or more languages as part of their natural way of life.  So a child who is brought up in a bilingual background is not being required to do anything especially unusual or difficult.

  • Children may become conversationally fluent in a new language in two or three years but may take five or more years to catch up with children who only speak one language in their use of academic/ school specific language
  • Children learning English as an additional language are as able as any other children, and the learning experiences planned for them should be no less challenging

EAL students include:

  • Those who learn English alongside another language(s) from birth
  • Those who speak another language(s) at home and start to learn English when they start nursery or school
  • Those arriving into the UK from a non-English speaking country, at any point in their education

Children learning more than one language might also be referred to as bilingual or multilingual.

Bilingual children develop language through a series of stages.

  1. Words: Initially a child develops an understanding of words e.g. for 'bed'  the might think 'sleep in it'. Then they develop a name 'label' (vocabulary), which might include names of objects from all the languages the child hears.
  2. Sentences: When making sentences, children use rules to help them put the words together. A bilingual child initially only has one set of rules. The child may mix the two languages within the same sentence. This happens most when they are not really aware yet that they are learning two languages and is a natural stage.  They will soon work out the different vocabulary and rules of the two languages
  3. The final stage develops when the child separates the vocabularies and rule systems for the two languages.

Your child might continue to think in their home language, even when taught in English. They might need additional time to process instructions and form their answers.

They might take several years to become competent in ‘academic language’, which is more formal. Social language, however, usually develops more quickly.

Depending when they start their education in English, they might be missing key basic vocabulary – these are high frequency words rarely taught explicitly in school. Your child might know these words and concepts in their home language but not know them in English.

At home, your child might reply in English even when spoken to in their home language. This is very common and is not an issue if they’re responding appropriately.

  • Modelling is important for introducing children to new language structures and vocabulary. Children need to hear language used in context before they can rehearse and use it themselves
  • Questions should be used with great care – avoid using questions such as ‘What is this?’, or ‘What colour is this?’ too often. By using questions we are testing children’s knowledge rather than supporting them to extend their use of language. Instead comment and talk to the child alongside their play, for example saying if a child is drawing a picture rather than asking ‘what are you drawing?’ you could comment ‘you’re drawing a picture of a beach, I like going to the beach’. See if the child responds to your comment and uses their own sentence
  • If a child makes an error in their sentence model back the correct use of the structure to them. For example if the child says ‘yesterday we wented to the park’, you can model back ‘wow, yesterday you went to the park’
  • Additional visual support is vital for children learning English and using pictures and real objects will also support and enhance the learning experiences of all children within the classroom
  • Many children go through a ‘silent period’ when learning a new language; this may last for several months but is not usually a cause for concern. The child is getting used to hearing new words and being immersed in a new language. Children will usually understand far more than they can say
  • Encourage parents to continue to talk to their child in whichever language feels most natural to them.  That way they will be providing a natural, fluent model of how to talk.  What is important is the quality of the language a child hears not which language it is
  • Encourage parents to read books to their child in their home language. Stories are a great way to support children in learning new words and the sentence structure of a language

Your child’s school may have an member of staff responsible for supporting students with EAL – it may be useful to speak to them about supporting your child’s English skills.

Please be aware that it’s fine to go on speaking your native language at home and in the community, even when your child is learning in English at school. You should speak in the language in which you are most confident so that your child hears a good model of language and can be included in all family discussions.

Allow opportunities to discuss topics in the student’s home language where possible, perhaps with a peer who speaks the same language or with a member of staff. Encourage parents to discuss school topics in their home language.

If necessary, allow students to demonstrate knowledge non-verbally so that they can experience success with their learning.

Speaking more than one language is not a problem. Around the world multilingualism is actually more common than speaking just one language.

If the child is demonstrating difficulty learning and using their first language they may require support from a speech and language therapist. Speech and language therapy does not offer support for children who have age appropriate language skills in their first language but are demonstrating difficulty learning English as an additional language. We find that children who demonstrate difficulty learning English as an additional language can be well supported by language enrichment strategies within the classroom.

Your child might need support from Speech and Language Therapy if their skills in their home language is delayed or disordered. Where possible, schools should try to get an assessment of the student’s ability in their home language before discussing their concerns with their core Speech and Language Therapist.

Schools and families should implement strategies to support EAL students, particularly around vocabulary before making a referral for further support. Referrals should be made through our Health Hub by a teacher or health professional.