Accessing the curriculum can be difficult for pupils learning English as an Additional language as the language can prove to be a barrier. Not only are the children attempting to learn the curriculum content like all pupils, but they have the additional factor of trying to learn a new language at the same time.
It is necessary to acknowledge the widely regarded theory of EAL pupils experiencing a “silent period”. This hypothesis maintains that whilst children are learning English within the school context, they may choose to remain silent for a period of time. Guidance for teachers states that this is not a cause for concern as the pupils may not be producing language but they are acquiring the sounds and syntax by first listening to all the examples surrounding them. The importance of providing good models of English language is therefore emphasized as EAL pupils are constantly internalising the language models they are exposed to before gaining the knowledge and confidence to produce the language them self.
Regular opportunities for speaking and listening are therefore highly effective methods of encouraging language learning within the classroom. There are many ways in which this can be done:
Role play offers a genuine purpose for children to practise language. Within a relaxed, non-threatening context, EAL pupils can engage in genuine communication with native speakers and learn from their peers. A separate role play area may be set up in the classroom with a changing theme, or role play could be used within other areas of the curriculum (eg. the characters in a class novel).
In groups, children are given an equal number of “talk tokens” (lolly sticks/ paper tokens/ crayons/ bricks…) The group is given a topic to discuss (one speaker at a time) with the instructions that in order to speak, you must give up one of your tokens. This strategy not only facilitates discussion and opportunity for genuine speaking and listening, but it also has the benefits of:
– encouraging the less vocal children to speak as the conversation is not over until all members have used all of their tokens
-encouraging the more vocal children to give others a chance and only contribute points which are worthy to the discussion (with a limited number of tokens they must choose carefully what it is they would like to contribute otherwise they will run out!)
*While encouraging the use of the child’s home language is highly advocated as beneficial to language learning, and it can be comforting for children to be paired/grouped with speakers of the same native language, it is also necessary to provide as many opportunities for EAL children to hear and absorb English.
*It may be good practice to use a buddy system to pair up the EAL child with pupils who display a high standard of communication (Standard English) to provide the best models of language during the critical time of learning.
During my first placement, a newly arrived pupil joined the school from Poland with no English language at all. In the time I spent there, he was not provided with any opportunity for facilitated meaningful communication. He was, however, paired with a ‘buddy’ who was of generally high ability and could provide an excellent model of spoken English with an extensive vocabulary for the age. He showed an interest in the role play area which was largely underused therefore this could have been an opportunity for structured play and the chance to engage in genuine communication modelled by a peer or teacher in a non-threatening context.
- If I have the opportunity to teach EAL pupils and/or welcome any newly-arrived pupils into my classroom, I will be mindful of creating opportunities for speaking listening within all areas of the curriculum. I could make use of the Talk Tokens idea during PSHCE or it could be adapted to suit a guided reading group where the children discuss what they found from the book/ their opinions/ predict what they think will happen next.
- I am aware of the theory proposing that being proficient in one language aids learning in the new language therefore I will encourage the use of the home language (reflected in displays and labels etc…) during speaking and listening opportunities that I facilitate.
- I will remain mindful of the need to provide good models of spoken English (TS3c)