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Tips: Supporting children with English is an Additional Language (EAL)

The number of children in Scottish schools with English as an additional language (EAL) now stands at almost 40,000 and this number has increased steadily since 2004. Polish is now the most widely spoken language after English, followed by Urdu, Scots and Punjabi. All children with EAL are entitled to additional provision when they are new to school and /or new to English. This can help them settle quickly and make rapid progress. As soon as new pupils feel safe, settled and valued for their own language, culture and identity they will thrive.

catharine driverHere Catharine Driver, an independent consultant and trainer, shares practical tips for staff supporting children where English is an additional language

Many EAL pupils continue to need additional support well beyond the initial stages of learning in English. Teachers and other supporting adults may find the following tips useful to ensure that all their EAL pupils progress in learning not only the language, but also the content of the curriculum.

Here are 8 practical tips to help:

  • Remember that using two or more languages bestows long term cognitive advantages, but may need some distinctive teaching and learning strategies.
  • Always build on a pupil’s prior knowledge including their previous learning in another language. This means you will need to make careful assessment of the language and learning needs of a new pupil with EAL.
  • In the classroom, provide good models of language; staff may need to modify their own spoken language; pair EAL pupils with confident and fluent peers and clearly demonstrate how a learning task should be completed, be it practical, spoken or written.
  • Provide plenty of time for talk and communication in meaningful contexts. This will be mostly in the mainstream classroom following the normal curriculum. But do plan pupil groupings carefully to enable EAL learners’ full participation.
  • Pay attention to the form and functions of language in different subject areas. Encourage pupils to notice patterns in language and draw parallels with their first language (L1). But don’t rush to teach grammar formally until the EAL pupil is speaking and understanding well.
  • Scaffold any independent learning through lots of oral rehearsal, visual support, talk prompts, graphic organisers, sentence starters and writing frames.
  • Help pupils to build their vocabulary through games and using personal glossaries and online dictionaries. Teach older pupils about English word morphology (prefixes, suffixes and root words)
  • Encourage wider reading in both languages, and give parents and carers advice about listening to and questioning their reading children, even if they cannot read English themselves.

Above all, be patient. Learning another language takes time. One to two years is usually enough for a young child to become fluent in a familiar classroom situation, but it takes up to 7 years for EAL learners to establish academic language and literacy competence. Older pupils’ progress may slow at Secondary transition, but should pick up rapidly again with the good teaching support. If you have any concerns about the progress of an EAL pupil, ask for specialist advice from your local authority EAL service.”

Enquire knows from it’s 18 years experiences of providing advice and information to parents and carer that engaging with families and sharing how a child is being supported in school can reassure parents or carers that their child is getting the support they need. This is just as important for families where English is not their first language. Education Scotland has a useful toolkit to support schools in their work with families Engaging parents and families. A toolkit for practitioners

Information for practitioners about supporting bilingual learners is available from Education Scotland’s National Improvement Hub .

Parents and carers can find information on Parentzone.

Catharine Driver is an independent consultant and trainer for English as an additional language (EAL) and academic literacy. She has wide experience of working in multilingual schools and local authority school improvement services across the UK. She was Head of EAL and whole school literacy in a London secondary school for six years and has also been a school improvement consultant and MA course tutor. Catharine recently worked as senior adviser for the British Council’s UK wide, EAL Nexus project and is now Secondary school adviser at the National Literacy Trust. She is a regular contributor to the EAL Journal published by the National Association of Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) as well as running workshops at conferences and whole school training days.

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