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.
EAL students include:
Children learning more than one language might also be referred to as bilingual or multilingual.
Bilingual children develop language through a series of stages.
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.
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.
You can find additional support online by visiting:
More than one language - a guide for parents
More than one language - a guide for teachers
More than one language - a guide for therapists