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What you need to know about the EAL learner

Key factors to consider in order to maximise your level of support

What information is available about the pupil's previous education?

This will help you to establish how settled an education the pupil has experienced: some pupils may have moved several times, within and between countries, and therefore have 'gaps' in their subject knowledge and literacy skills in their first language.

Some pupils will have witnessed some disturbing scenes owing to political upheavals in their home country and this should be borne in mind when planning programmes of work.
What do I know about the education system in the learner's home country?

Where the education is more conservative and formal as for example in some African countries, there will be subjects which have not been studied in the first language e.g. physical geography, practical science and information technology.
What difficulties might the pupil experience owing to differences between his/her previous schooling and the English system?

Where the education system is less interactive than in England, pupils will not be used to asking questions or taking part in discussions; they may also be nervous of answering questions in class for fear of giving the 'wrong' answer. Any questioning of the teacher by the pupil might be perceived as extremely rude. This is often the case, for example, with Japanese pupils where the teaching style does not encourage interaction between teacher and pupil beyond giving the 'correct' response.

Where practical science investigations have not been followed the subject-specific vocabulary will be missing in the first language. Similarly where IT has not been formally taught basic PC skills such as saving, editing, touch typing, internet access, and so forth will not have been covered and yet by KS3 it is assumed that pupils have acquired such skills.

How might aspects of their first language structure affect their acquisition of English?

This is useful to know, as it will help you to develop positive marking and make constructive comments. For example in Chinese there is no subject-verb agreement e.g. She run fast. Nor are definite or indefinite articles used. It would be helpful to the pupil if written comments acknowledged successful use of such language features and these are used to set short term objectives which are made known to all staff.
How developed are their literacy skills in their first language?

First language skills are transferable to the acquisition of any subsequent language:

  • Recognise and reward mother tongue skills and provide opportunities for pupils to operate bilingually e.g. planning and drafting in the stronger language.

  • Encourage pupils to maintain their reading skills in their first language; direct the pupil to resources available in their first language.

  • Give credit for bilingual pupils' achievements in language awareness; they switch codes according to context and are very aware of register /audience.

How many languages does the EAL learner speak / read / write?

Many EAL learners speak other languages apart from English. Knowing which languages they speak and to what level may allow for more diverse support:

  • pairing with a speaker of one of the known languages;

  • cultural references;

  • provision of other dual language texts if not available in the pupil's first language;

  • opportunities to follow appropriate language course at GCSE or A level.

Does anyone at home speak English well?

Being aware of the level of English spoken at home will allow for better school/home liaison in terms of both the information sent home and the type of pre-teaching and homework activities that may be followed by the pupil. If no one at home speaks English find out if the family has a bilingual friend or relative so that contact may be established between the school and parents/guardians.



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