English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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

Personalising provision and increasing independence

Practitioners may notice that pupils for whom English is an additional language may continue to make grammatical errors in their writing long after they have achieved conversational fluency in English.  Research into the writing of more advanced EAL learners at Key Stages 2 and 4 (Cameron, 2003; Cameron and Besser, 2004) resulted in the compilation of a comprehensive list of the aspects of writing that cause on-going problems for more advanced learners of English as an Additional Language.  This list, called “The Diagnostic Writing Tool”, was included in the National Strategies resource Ensuring the attainment of more advanced learners of English as an additional language, (DCSF, 2009) and may be a helpful reference point for practitioners.

Many of the grammatical errors a pupil makes relate to features of their first language.  For instance speakers of Chinese languages may experience on-going difficulties with tense because in Cantonese and Mandarin, tense is marked differently and the verbs are not inflected as they are in English; Turkish speakers may struggle with articles (‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’) which do not exist in Turkish; and speakers of Nepali may find prepositions problematic (‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’) because in Nepali, the same particle is used for all three English words.  This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “Language Transfer” and often is only noticed where the transfer of linguistic features from one language to another yields errors, for example a pupil whose first language is Nepali might say (and/or write) “I was born in 2nd April” or they may omit the preposition altogether as in “I stayed Brunei one year”.

Other errors may relate to a pupil’s difficulty with aurally distinguishing the presence of, for example, the ‘-ed’ ending on past tense verbs in English.  Features like this are unstressed in spoken English, thus it is difficult to hear them and in consequence use them in both speech and writing.  The grapheme-phoneme correspondence can also be problematic for pupils learning EAL who are literate in their first languages.  For example the ‘ee’ sound we say in English for the letter “e” would represent an “i” in Turkish.

The recommendation for EAL pupils generally is to avoid direct, decontextualized grammar teaching as this does not yield the results one might hope for in the pupil’s writing.  Instead, it is suggested that time is spent developing a proofreading grammar checklist with the pupil with a view to gradually increasing her/his ability to use it independently:

Developing a proofreading grammar checklist:

  • Using a piece of the pupil’s own writing that includes the specific grammatical errors you want to address, spend time doing a proofreading exercise with a focus on that specific error.  Together, check each instance and discuss whether or not it is correct.  You might highlight the correct ones in green and underline the incorrect ones (so it may be preferable to use a photocopy of the piece of writing rather than marking the pupil’s actual piece of work).  Incorrect examples can be corrected together and written onto the sheet.  Do this as a model with the pupil taking part in the discussion.  A sympathetic Teaching Assistant might be tasked with this exercise.
  • Generate a proofreading checklist with the steps clearly recorded – best if the pupil writes this as it will be a tool you will want them to use with increasing independence, so it will be more meaningful if they have done the recording themselves.  Include examples of correct and incorrect use of English drawn from the pupil’s own writing.
  • Depending on the pupil, repeat the above as a supported exercise several times, each time encouraging the pupil to take more responsibility for finding and underlining the specific errors and correcting them.
  • When you consider the pupil to be ready, ask them to try carrying out the error identification and correction unsupported and then bring their work to you to discuss together.
  • When the pupil is able to do this with reasonable accuracy, tell them they should use their proof-reading checklist to check all their work before handing it in for marking.

It might be that there are particular words that are problematic, which we would suggest should form part of his proofreading checklist – so s/he might keep a list of the verbs under headings past – present – future to which s/he can refer when s/he proof-reads both supported and independently.  This list will be specific to them and will reflect their working vocabulary and their particular errors.

The original piece of annotated writing can be kept as a reference point for the pupil and for staff as this will enable the teacher to measure the impact of this work: one would anticipate that, over time, this approach will result in a reduction of errors in the pupil’s writing, though it should be expected that the errors they make will not be eradicated entirely and that the need to use the proofreading checklist will be on-going.  The most important thing is to steer clear of the direct grammar teaching using grammar drills (the sort of thing you might find numerous commercially-produced worksheets on); experience and research show that approaching aspects of grammar in this way does not make much difference to the incidence of errors in a pupil’s writing.

Recasting to correct spoken English errors

Alongside this, it is beneficial for practitioners to recast key statements a pupil has given verbally which contain specific errors you want the pupil to address.  In this way, you can provide a model of correct use of English in an unobtrusive way.  So if, for example, a pupil says “Source b is show how propaganda was use in a Second World War”, you might repeat back “Yes, source b shows how propaganda was used in the Second World War.”

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