As a 6-year-old EAL pupil, I recall feeling completely overwhelmed at adjusting to the English education system as there seemed to be an immense lack of EAL rhetoric. Although I had little understanding of my own language abilities, I was able to excel in my studies and now, 18 years later I am fortunate enough to work in a role where I can have a direct impact on the learning of EAL pupils.
EAL pupils are becoming more and more acknowledged, but while their invisibility is fading away, educators are experiencing extreme pressures themselves in addition to supporting the EAL pupils in their care. Working in education, I felt both sympathetic and empathetic towards educators and EAL pupils. Now, 18 years on, as an educator on the other side of the classroom, a lot has changed in promoting EAL awareness – but I believe there is still a long way to go! Here are five hands-on practical solutions to familiar challenges faced by educators to support EAL pupils at school.
We don’t have any EAL specialists.
So, an EAL pupil has arrived at your school or in your classroom and now you’re panicking at that three-letter word – E-A-L. You’re stretched already and don’t have the time to plan bespoke lessons – even though you’d love to – and you might feel like you don’t have adequate training. Be positive. You are an educator and EAL pupils need you. They need you to be the amazing teacher, learning support assistant or teaching assistant that you are. Let’s instil that growth mindset in ourselves and think ahead – you can do it! Read on for some practical strategies to supporting EAL pupils.
We don’t have the resources.
The classroom is your oyster! Even if you don’t have access to EAL resources or you’re restricted with printing, there’s hope. Utilise what’s inside your classroom. Be creative. Teaching colours? Why not identify the objects around you; you don’t need to print everything. Don’t underestimate the power of visuals, it will really help them digest complex concepts. EAL pupils benefit greatly from visual cues, if you can use less language to explain it – show it. If you want to get digital, put up a worksheet on your interactive whiteboard or even a tablet, and let the creativity begin. If you feel like you have some time and want to get creative, then make your own resources – you’ll be able to tailor activities to pupils’ needs and learning will be differentiated. There are so many EAL resources available online, check out our free EAL resources for lots of free, creative options.
We don’t have translators.
EAL pupils bring a wave of language diversity with them to the school and educators may feel a sense of obligation to learn some of every language. Well, you don’t have to be a polyglot, to be able to understand EAL pupils – simple English, consideration and empathy will go a long way! Be empathetic. You don’t have to know Bulgarian to support a Bulgarian-speaking pupil – though it would be a bonus – you just need to put yourself in their shoes. Simplify your language, omit unnecessary words, avoid colloquialisms, break down complex sentences and speak clearly. You’ll get a better response from pupils than the often silent stares or unconvincing nods.
They need to speak English.
While I agree, I also think encouraging pupils to acknowledge their first language will help them learn English a lot easier and make sense of who they are. A study shows that “…the first language is a major component and participatory factor in the acquisition of the second language and its maintenance.” Celebrate diversity. Don’t be afraid to use their first language for support. Ask students how they would say it in their language or if they can write, get them to write it down. This might be your window of opportunity to learn Bulgarian and even get to know a student a bit better!
Progress is slow.
Learning a different language, and being educated in that language, takes time. Some multilingual speakers claim they think in a language, or even in more than one language. Be patient. EAL pupils might need more time to process lesson content, particularly in reading and writing. EAL pupils will require more time to understand texts as they exercise their metalinguistic skills. The mind of a bi- or multilingual speaker is incredible – they can use their skills to help them decode the world around them in multiple languages and make connections between them to express themselves. Speaking more than one language is a skill and a massive accomplishment. Dig deeper. Find out what interests pupils and focus on their talents and strengths, not their weaknesses.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our article on a former teacher’s insight on the current EAL challenge for educators in the UK.