Supporting EAL in Early Years Settings

July 28, 2022 2:17 pm
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Each year, more and more children start early years settings with English as an Additional Language (EAL). But how can you ensure that the right support is in place for both the child and practitioner?

A great opportunity for all

EAL presents so many opportunities for a setting. First and foremost, teaching good listening and speaking skills in your setting is key for all your children – focussing on these areas and positively encouraging all attempts will have great benefits for your children.

Positively encourage home language

It is important to remember that a child’s home language is integral to a child’s cultural and individual identity, and should be encouraged to be used and developed at home. According to research from the Department for Education, home language skills can easily be transferred to new languages and therefore will help to support a child’s understanding of language. Working closely with the child’s parents/carers to ensure that the home language is not discarded will be key to ensuring a partnership that successfully supports a child with EAL.

It might be that some parents feel very strongly about whether English is also used at home or not, and it will depend on individual circumstances and working with your parents as partners to ensure a positive plan of action. In addition, this will give you the opportunity to find out as much as possible about the child’s background (as there may be extra considerations to take into account) as well as information about their speech and language development at home. 

Silence is okay

When a child is starting to learn English, it is very normal for them to go through a silent phase – and this can last up to 6 months. During this time, the child is absorbing what they are learning and building on their understanding, all in preparation for when they feel ready to move to the next stage of speaking.

Keep talking

A child might not be ready to start speaking, but it’s crucial that childcare practitioners still encourage and talk to the child as if they expect the child to respond; in other words, be sure to encourage and continue to engage and start conversations just as you would with children whose first language is English. Language experts stress that it is important to remember, as with all languages, that understanding comes first, and when a child feels they are ready, they will speak.

In their own time

In two to three years it can be possible for a child to seem ‘conversationally able’ in a new language. However, it may then take five years or more for them to catch up with their peers in terms of academic English levels.

Help is at hand

The Department for Education has produced a really informative guide aimed at supporting practitioners in the EYFS, providing guidance on how to help children with EAL and best practices. Ideas discussed include:

  • Accessing interpreting and translation services
  • Ensuring that your staff receive EAL training
  • Ensuring that staff and children are comfortable about hearing and using other languages
  • Working with children’s families to involve and bring into the setting songs and books in the child’s home language
  • Checking spelling and pronunciation of children’s and parent’s names
  • Reassuring parents that the use of home languages in the setting will support their child’s overall learning and developing use of language, including English
  • Seeking religious or cultural guidance and support from relevant experts in the community
  • Creating a learning environment where language and cultural diversity are visibly celebrated
  • Actively gather information regarding the languages, culture and circumstances of your families
  • Contacting your local authority for further support

For further information, please visit the Department for Education’s booklet: Supporting children learning English as an additional language – Guidance for practitioners in the Early Years Foundation Stage

Find out more about supporting children with EAL:
National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum