How to Support EAL Pupils
Implementing the right support for EAL pupils can seem tricky but it can actually be easier than you think.
I fondly remember the experience of teaching for the first time a student with ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL).
‘K’ arrived in Liverpool from South Korea without knowing a word of English as far as I could tell. Now, starting a new school without knowing the language your classmates speak is difficult anywhere in the world, but as anyone who’s familiar with British accents will tell you, the Liverpudlian accent and dialect can add another dimension of challenge for a learner of English.
However, ‘K’ quickly began picking up the language and began conversing with his Y4 classmates in English. What did I do as the class teacher to make this integration happen? The answer is: Very little….
A minimalistic approach to supporting EAL pupils
Conventional wisdom states that the best way for one to learn a new language is to become fully immersed within a culture. Live amongst native speakers and one’s knowledge of the language and its conventions will organically increase. This has certainly been the case in my experience of teaching EAL pupils within mainstream primary schools. The best thing I did for ‘K’ was taking only the following minimal number of measures towards integrating him within the class:
1) Briefed the rest of the class. I simply explained that ‘the new boy’ would need help with learning the names for things. I aksed them to make sure that they always made the effort to communicate with him even though he might not understand them at first. I explained how they would also be his English teachers and as you might expect, most children are delighted to have this little bit of responsibility.
2) Arranged my class seating plan so that ‘K’ would be sat amongst confident children who would best model the English language. It’s unfair to sit a child who is temporarily linguistically disadvantaged next to the quietest, least able children. It’s much better for all to have EAL pupils sitting with those children who will make efforts to converse with them. A balance needs to be struck of course – confident children whose behaviour can be problematic do not necessarily make good buddies for EAL pupils. If you know your pupils, finding a good partner for your new EAL student shouldn’t be too difficult.
3) Engaged ‘K’ as often as possible. I would ask him questions and talk to him even though I knew he wouldn’t understand at first. Fortunately, ‘K’ was quite outgoing and he seemed keen to learn from the get-go so I think he was happy to be asked questions and involved in lessons along with his English-speaking classmates. Having me engage him in this way was important because his peers needed me to model for them interactions with a a pupil learning English as an additional language.
4) Learn phrases in their mother tongue. This is obviously a tough one to do but learning something simple like “hello” in their language will go far in making them feel welcome. Also, it demonstrates to the child and their classmates that you are willing to ‘walk the walk’.
Technology is your friend but beware…
It can be easy to resort to your iPad and Google Translate. This technology certainly has a role to play in supporting EAL pupils but one must exercise caution not to create a dependency culture.
Years after ‘K’s’ arrival in Liverpool, I taught a child from Bulgaria who we shall identify as ‘G’. I took over the class midway through the year when her previous teacher decided to move on to pastures new. When I first encountered ‘G’, she was highly dependent on a school iPad her previous teacher had supplied her with. Anytime ‘G’ wanted to communicate with others, she would type Bulgarian in to Google translate for an English translation. What’s worse is that her English speaking class mates would rely on the iPad to translate whenever they wanted to speak to her.
The reliance on the iPad became a hinderance to ‘G’s’ intergration rather than a help. When I noticed this (which was almost immediately), I began restricting ‘G’s’ use of Google translate and I continued engaging her in English whenever the opportunity arose.
What happened as a result of not having the iPad as much was transformational. ‘G’ began to speak a lot more and it turned out that she knew far more English than she had initially let on. What’s more is that she began interacting with her classmates much more and vice versa. Gradually, we all began to see ‘G’ as a much happier and more integrated member of the class.
If you’re looking for extra support for your EAL pupils…
The guidance above should see positive results for most EAL pupils provided you give it time and don’t expect overnight success. However, if you need something more to support your EAL pupils, there are a wealth of resources online that can help you. Here are just a few useful weblinks for your convenience:
Share your success of supporting EAL pupils!
We would love to hear from you if you have had any success in supporting new EAL pupils using the ideas outlined in this article. In fact, we’d love to hear from you whatever your experience. Comment below with your ideas and opinions.
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