English as an Additional Language

Increasingly schools in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are becoming multi-cultural and many of our pupils are beginning school without English being their first language.  The growth in numbers of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) has been significant over recent years as the Northern Ireland figures below exemplify. 

2001-2002: 1366 pupils with EAL in NI schools

2010-2011: 8094 pupils with EAL in NI schools

In Northern Ireland the recently formed Inclusion and Diversity Service (IDS) is an amalgamation of the previous EAL / Ethnic Minority Teams from the Education and Library Boards. The IDS supports schools in providing for the needs of pupils and parents for whom English is not the first language.  The IDS provides for instance sample letters which schools could use as well as guidance for Boards of Governors, classroom assistants and beginning teachers.  Information on the interpreting service is also available from the  IDS website.  The IDS was formed on 1 April 2007 and according to the DENI policy document on Supporting Newcomer Children (DENI 2009 p. 11) “The primary objective is to build the capacity of schools to support current and future newcomer children and to facilitate planning for the development of services”.  The IDS offers five main services to schools in Northern Ireland (although the resources are free to download from anywhere): diversity coordinators assigned to clusters of schools; interpreting and translating services; a multi-lingual website; four toolkits for diversity with resources for schools to use; and continuing professional development.

The toolkits for diversity represent a detailed and up-to-date resource for schools to access.  They are targeted at primary, post-primary, early years and special education sectors.  Each one has the same outline structure: Getting Ready; Early Days; Second Language Development; Intercultural Awareness. [link to toolkits]

Supporting children with EAL in class

Teachers can often feel daunted by the arrival or presence of pupils with EAL in a class.  This is understandable but there are many simple, practical steps which non-specialist teachers can take to offer support to pupils with EAL to enable them to access the curriculum more effectively.  These include the following:

  • Try to use as many visuals as possible in your teaching.  This can range from symbols to represent equipment on cupboards to symbols to represent various school subjects.
  • Try to prepare a list of key words for the subject/topic you are teaching.  This can even be given in advance to the pupils with EAL so that they have time to work through and translate the words.  You could also provide a glossary of the terms with simple explanations in English.  This may equally be of use to many of the non-EAL pupils!
  • Encourage a buddy system in class whereby support can be given on a one-to-one basis by a native pupil (preferably on a voluntary basis).  This serves the double purpose of supporting the level of English and promoting the integration of the international pupils into the school community.
  • Give opportunities for the pupils with EAL to participate in group activities and tasks where they will be able to build friendships and also try out their English in a non-threatening context.
  • Try to use the same basic instructional phrases in class on a regular basis.  For instance use the simple expression ‘Open your book at page 34’ rather than ‘If you would just take out your textbook and flick through till you come to page 34’.  Obviously the linguistic challenge of the former is significantly less than the latter.
  • Try to provide differentiated reading and writing tasks which pupils with EAL will normally find the most challenging.  For instance you could devise gap fill activities with/without answers in a box below, rather than open ended writing tasks.  The level of support will clearly depend on the level of English of the pupils in the class.
  • You may find that using Widget software is useful – it automatically prints a picture symbol over a word so can help with deciphering meaning from written words.
  • Wordshark is another useful program with lots of pictures to help with words and pupils can explore for themselves repeating the words which they discover.

There are likely to be many occasions when letters are required to be sent home. This could be problematic if the parents also have difficulties with English. There are some useful websites which may be of help with translating the more common type of letters.  There is also a free translator which is reasonably accurate at www.worldlingo.com/en/products_services/worldlingo_translator.html

Clicker has produced a set of electronic stories presented in English and an alternate language (including British sign language and symbols) http://www.cricksoft.com/uk/ideas/teaching_eal/hounslow.htm

A site for adults and older learners which offers some very useful ideas is http://Englishclub.com

Further Information