Reading for new to English learners

You will find it useful to read the sections on Spoken English and on Challenges before this because of the crucial relationship between pupils’ spoken language acquisition and their development of reading in English. Secondary teachers will find these sections useful in addition to the section devoted to Reading at Secondary.

What teachers need to know about reading in a new language:

As with monolingual pupils, EAL learners need to be taught both word reading skills and comprehension in order to access written texts. However, there is evidence that:

  • Some pupils may acquire phonic knowledge and be able to decode quickly, but their skills in comprehension take longer and need explicit attention (Stuart, 2004). • Reading comprehension is related to the pupils’ vocabulary knowledge, knowledge of text types, knowledge of and interest in the subject matter (Hutchinson, Whitely, Smith and Connors, 2003).
  • Pupils’ access to reading is related directly to their current level of spoken English and breadth of vocabulary (Droop and Verhoeven, 1998).
  • Pupils will have experience of reading in other languages and for different purposes (Parke, Drury, Kenner and Robinson, 2002)
  • Text type and direction in pupils’ home written language may be significantly different from English
  • Literacy proficiency in the first language affects literacy proficiency in the new language (August and Shanahan, 2006)

Characteristics of a new to English reader:

  • Can tell a story from pictures (depending on stage of fluency)
  • May be recognising some letters and sounds and some high frequency words in English
  • May be developing one to one correspondence in words
  • May understand print direction in English
  • May already understand that print carries meaning from experience of reading in first language
  • May bring understanding of text types or stories from reading/oral story telling in first language

Activities for new to English readers:

  • Access to texts with repetitive language and rhyming words
  • Oral story telling that draws on story types common to the pupils’ first languages and cultures
  • Reading stories aloud in both English and the first language where practicable
  • Story boxes and story sacks to support development of vocabulary around character and plot
  • Use of picture books to support discussion
  • Sequencing pictures and retelling stories
  • Role play mapped to stories
  • Activities that embed the teaching of phonics alongside reading for meaning
  • Audio books in first languages and in English

Eve Gregory’s Learning to Read in a New Language explores, through a series of case studies, the need for teachers to take account of EAL learner’s home contexts when learning to read.

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