English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Naomi Flynn, Chris Pim and Sarah Coles| View as single page| Comment/Feedback

Reading for EAL learners at secondary level

Some older EAL learners have strong literacy in first language, whilst others will have limited proficiency or may never have learned to read. There is a strong and direct correlation between the degree to which you can read your first language and how quickly you will acquire reading fluency in English (Cummins, 1979). Some learners will know phonics from their first language, whilst for others the concept may be new. In fact many older EAL learners educated abroad may be able to decode quite well yet may have very little comprehension of what they have 'read'.

However, whether students are or are not literate in their first language, most older learners will have a wider experience of the printed environment and knowledge of the world than younger learners. This will enable them to transfer knowledge and skills across to the process of reading in a new language.

Points to Consider:

  • Texts presented to EAL learners need to reflect their maturity level first and foremost
  • Well-illustrated texts help to support meaning and will enable learners to be relatively more successful in, for example, predicting unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Some themes and topics may be culturally bound, perhaps beyond the student's experience - choosing more familiar examples may help activate prior knowledge and help to keep a student motivated (Cummins, 2001, 'identity texts')
  • Discrete phonics teaching may be less successful than reinforcing phonemic awareness through the context of, for example, repetitive stories with strong narratives

This resource aimed at strategies for supporting writing is also relevant to reading development: 


Graphic texts

Graphic texts tend to be popular with many young people and often lie within their direct personal experience. They are generally well illustrated and present bite-sized chunks of language and short sentences that present less of a barrier to comprehension for beginner EAL learners. Difficult topics and more esoteric texts can benefit from being presented in this way.

Graphic Shakespeare – various publishers

Raintree - http://www.raintree.co.uk/

Supporting reading with real audio

Some reading schemes are accompanied by an audio CD so that a learner can listen to an authentic reading. They can listen without reading, read along with the audio, or use the audio whenever they get stuck.

Pointing devices like TalkingPEN enable a learner to access audio versions by touching specially prepared hotspots on associated books and learning charts (See section on Hardware).

Oxford Bookworms - https://elt.oup.com/teachers/bookworms/?cc=gb&selLanguage=en

Mantra Lingua's TalkingPEN - http://uk.mantralingua.com/product-type/Talking%20Devices

Text to speech synthesis

Text to speech can be useful for EAL learners whose English oral skills are currently more advanced than their ability to decode and comprehend text. Text to speech is a technology-driven support for reading aloud electronic texts to a learner. Whilst being synthesised audio, most modern implementations allow for male and female voices, changing the speed of the 'reading' and even providing for international or regional accents.

Text to speech software can be installed in computers as a standalone as well as being integrated into applications like word processors or via screen readers in web browsers. Additionally, most tablet devices feature integrated text to speech within e-book readers e.g. iBooks and Kindle.

Some software is able to sample text and output it as an audio file for later playback, enabling learners to hear texts read aloud as many times as needed at their own pace.

Digital texts

Not only can digital texts be read aloud from the screen, but utilities can also provide instant access to dictionaries, thesauri and translation services. The immediacy of electronic reading tools ensures that a learner's train of thought is interrupted less frequently than when using more traditional printed versions.  


Online reading

Reading texts sourced from the Internet can be problematic for some learners, such as late beginners or early advanced EAL learners. This is because online texts are usually not written for an EAL audience and often feature highly academic vocabulary, idiomatic and colloquial language as well as an unhelpful quantity of clauses.

Sometimes using alternative versions of websites can be a useful tactic, such as the Simple English version of Wikipedia. This presents similar articles to the main Wikipedia site but expresses the content through, for example, shorter sentences and less clauses.

Simple English Wikipedia - http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Open searching can present learners with texts that are beyond them, so using tools to filter the search returns can help. E.g using Google advanced search to return webpages of a particular reading level.

Google advanced search - http://www.google.com/advanced_search

Kidrex search engine - https://www.alarms.org/kidrex/

Original guide sponsored by the University of Winchester, this revision sponsored by The University of Reading and Hampshire EMTAS.