English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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

Using first language to support pupils' learning and social well-being

It is important that schools find ways to proactively acknowledge and celebrate the languages spoken by pupils and staff alike; this helps to create an ethos whereby multilingualism is valued and pupils/parents feel more included. This will enhance a sense of school belonging and opportunities for greater cross-cultural understanding.  In keeping with this, the print environment, including the stock of books in the library, should reflect the linguistic diversity of the school community.

In the classroom, the appropriate use of pupils’ first languages (L1) can be beneficial to pupils’ attainment, even when they have been learning English for several years and have acquired fluency/proficiency in their use of “everyday” English (BICS). Engagement with, and access to, the curriculum can be improved if a pupil’s first language is appropriately supported. Teachers need to be clear about when and why pupils are being asked to use their first languages to support their learning to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from this practice.

Pupils should be encouraged to use their first language in lessons when:

  • the cognitive challenge is likely to be high: problem solving and critical thinking are difficult in a second language, even when the target language has been learnt for several years;
  • they are still developing proficiency in English: this can be particularly supportive when pupils try out ideas in their first language before writing in English;
  • oral rehearsal will help reflection: for example, before responding to a text.

It may not be appropriate for pupils to use their first language when:

  • pupils need to be encouraged to practise the target language to improve fluency;
  • oral rehearsal needs to be conducted in the target language so that pupils are prepared for writing tasks;
  • pupils are being encouraged to take risks in their spoken English in order to build confidence;
  • pupils need to practise expressing themselves quickly in English, for examination preparation.

Before planning opportunities for L1 use in the classroom, it is a good idea to conduct a first language assessment.  This should aim to establish the degree to which the pupil has developed L1 skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing.  If a pupil does not have first language literacy skills, for example, then it would be inappropriate to ask them to annotate or draft in first language, hence the L1 assessment is invaluable in informing how to make best use of it at school. 

A go-to tool people often think of first is the dual language translation dictionary, a relatively cheap and easy to procure resource.  Teachers should remember that the use of paper-based translation dictionaries is a skill in itself, and that it takes time and focus to use this resource.  For these reasons, it may be necessary to factor in time to train the pupil how to use their translation dictionary and to provide the words to be looked up before the lesson.  Done this way, the pupil can then focus on the input in class rather than be distracted by trying to look words up whilst the teacher is delivering the lesson.  More common and often preferred is the use of online translation tools, and this should be a consideration when schools are thinking about their rules around pupils’ use of mobile phones and other portable devices. The use of translation tools and apps can give access to L1 to children who don’t have L1 literacy skills since many of these apps have an audio function. SayHI, Microsoft Translator, Google Translate, iTranslate and other, similar tools can be used to translate words and phrases on the go, with some having the facility to photograph a child’s handwriting in L1, giving teachers access to an instant translation into English (note that children make spelling and other errors in L1, so bear this in mind when using this approach). This can be a good way of developing a pupil’s vocabulary as well as increasing their understanding of curriculum content, thus boosting their confidence, their participation and their independence as learners.

A range of ICTs can be used to support first language listening and speaking and this can enable even young EAL learners who cannot read or write independently in L1 to use their first languages in school. For example, using a tool like BookCreator a child can upload their own pictures, audio recordings in L1 and/or English and writing, making this a good way of facilitating L1 use within the mainstream curriculum.

Dual language stories with an audio facility can be used in the classroom to enable pupils to gain access to a particular text.  It can also provide an opportunity for the child’s peers to develop their understanding of the challenges faced daily by their friend, thereby enhancing empathy.  A good range of dual language stories and other audio-enabled materials is available from MantraLingua, but there is an increasing range of such material online, including YouTube animated stories and sites like UniteForLiteracy, which has books suitable for younger learners with an audio narration in many languages. (Note that this is an American site, so watch out for cultural differences eg the use of ‘fall’ where in the UK we would say ‘autumn’).

Parents are another useful source of first language support.  A helpful way of eliciting their help and maximising on the benefits conferred by L1 use is to send home key words and phrases or a copy of a text that is going to be used in class in advance so that they can talk to their child in L1 at home, and perhaps translate those words and phrases into the first language (written translations for a child with L1 literacy; audio recordings for one without) or annotate the copy of a text in L1.  In these ways, the child’s L1 becomes a tool for learning, they gain opportunities to continue to develop their academic register in L1 and parents feel more involved in their child's learning.

To aid a newly arrived child for whom English is an additional language to feel welcomed from the start, peer buddying schemes can be a useful approach, especially those which actively promote pupils’ use of their other languages in school.  The Young Interpreter Scheme is one such, and more information about it can be found online here. A trained buddy who shares a language with the newly-arrived pupil can help with orientation, showing the new pupil round school, explaining need-to-know rules and making sure they are not on their own at break and lunch time. Note that there are situations in which it would be inappropriate to use a trained Young Interpreter eg. to translate curriculum content or to interpret in a meeting with parents. Maintaining skills in L1 can open up other opportunities for pupils too, for example access to a GCSE in that language (where available), as well as careers where knowing another language is beneficial; there are few jobs where this is not an asset. Overall, however, of prime importance is the boost to the child’s self-esteem conferred by a school that truly values other cultures and languages and finds ways of enriching provision through their use.

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