English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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Teaching and Learning for pupils with English as an additional language
Identifying the teaching context for EAL learners
Developing language and literacy for EAL learners
Resourcing the teaching of EAL learners

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.

For a research-informed review of literacy interventions to support EAL learners’ literacy development see Murphy & Unthia (2015) listed in the review of research supporting this guide.

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)
  • A purely phonic-based approach to teaching reading skills is not recommended for learners who are new to English (Stanyard and Ranson, 2021). Limited reference should only occur within activities that focus on the teaching of wider reading skills and ‘reading' for meaning. A useful position statement from Hampshire EMTAS around phonics can be found here: Phonics teaching and learners of EAL
  • 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 may have experience of reading in other languages and for different purposes (Parke, Drury, Kenner and Robinson, 2002)
  • Script and directionality in pupils’ home written language may be significantly different from English. Some ‘dialects’ have no written form
  • 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
  • Use of audio books in first languages and in English

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

Stanyard and Ranson (2021). Repositioning phonics to enhance provision for EAL. NALDIC EAL Journal, Autumn 2021

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