We are extremely fortunate to have staff that speak several languages:
English, Welsh, Gujurati and Urdu to name just a few.
Mighty Oaks Little Acorns support children for whom English is not the dominant language in the home. This is refered to as English as an Additional Langauge (EAL). The term EAL recognises the fact that many children learning English are already developing one or more other languages and are adding English to that repertoire.
The importance of home languages
Bilingualism is an asset, and the first language has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages. It is widely accepted that bilingualism confers intellectual advantages and the role of the first language in the child’s learning is of great importance. Children need to develop strong foundations in the language that is dominant in the home environment, where most children spend most of their time. Home language skills are transferable to new languages and strengthen children’s understanding of language use. Developing and maintaining a home language as the foundation for knowledge about language will support the development of English and should be encouraged.
Insistence on an English-only approach to language learning in the home is likely to result in a fragmented development where the child is denied the opportunity to develop proficiency in either language. The best outcome is for children and their families to have the opportunity to become truly bilingual with all the advantages this can bring. Home languages are also vital for maintaining positive family connections. It is therefore very important to maintain the language of the home, particularly where older family members who care for children do not speak English. Otherwise this may mean that eventually they are no longer able to have proper meaningful conversations with each other. Parents who cannot share thoughts and ideas with their children will inevitably lose the ability to shape, guide and influence their lives.
Some important issues are as follows:
English should not replace the home language; it will be learned in addition to the language skills already learned and being developed within the language community at home.
Children may become conversationally fluent in a new language in two or three years but may take five or more years to catch up with monolingual peers in cognitive and academic language.
Children learning EAL are as able as any other children, and the learning experiences planned for them should be no less challenging.
Additional visual support is vital for children learning English and using illustration and artefacts will also support and enhance the learning experiences of their monolingual peers.
Many children go through a ‘silent phase’ when learning a new language; this may last for several months but is not usually a cause for concern and is not a passive stage as learning will be taking place.
Children will usually understand far more than they can say. Understanding is always in advance of spoken language and it is important that children do not feel under pressure to speak until they feel confident. It is, however, essential that adults continue to talk to children with the expectation that they will respond.
Adults and children should respond positively and encouragingly to children’s non-verbal communication. As they observe, listen and explore the setting, children will be applying the knowledge they already have in their new context. As they start to echo single words and phrases, joining in with repetitive songs and stories, their attempts should be sensitively encouraged and praised.
To conclude: Give children space and time; patience and support, thoughtful provision, and acknowledgement of their skills in their home language will give them the confidence to achieve in English. Children are natural linguists. With appropriate support children learning EAL will have the best foundation for becoming truly bilingual, with all the intellectual and social benefits this confers.
The extracts above are taken from 'Supporting children learning English as an additional language' (DFE 2007).