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How to support language learners at school and at home?  

At Dutch International Schools were are experienced in welcoming children from all around the world. Children who do not necessarily speak English, the language of instruction at our schools, when they arrive. These children are supported by the various EAL teams, such as this one at Harbour International School in Rotterdam.

Co-Authors: Veronique (PR/admissions) in collaboration with Pamela and Sara (EAL teachers) at the Harbour International School in Rotterdam

Whilst some of our students are already proficient in English when they join us, a large majority have a different home language than English. Approximately 1/5 of our pupils are only beginning to develop their English skills in a school context and these children need extra support. Our EAL lessons are designed to provide such support and ensure that these children acquire the English language skills necessary to fully access our curriculum.

EAL stands for English as an Additional Language and new parents joining our school understand that these lessons will offer the necessary extra support for non-English speakers. However, they often wonder how we do this in practice. Additionally, they also often want to know how they themselves can support their children and increase their chance to reach fluency in English.

It therefore made sense for me to ask Sara and Pamela, our EAL teachers the following questions:

What is your job and what method do you use to support an English learner?

As EAL teachers, our job is:  

  • To help children, with little or no English, feel safe and secure in the classroom and whole school situation. 
  • To help children to further their knowledge and use of spoken and written English. 

How do we do that? 

  • We take beginners outside the classroom 2-3 times a week for lessons of 45 mins to an hour.
  • We teach the children in small groups to learn social and formal language.
  • We also collaborate with the class teachers to help the children to access the full curriculum. E.g., maths, reading. 
  • For children who are at the developing stage, we work on furthering reading, writing and speaking skills to a more advanced level. 

What should parents of beginners in EAL expect?

  • Some children will go through a silent period while they are adjusting to the new situation. 
  • Children will sometimes mix their home language with the English they have learned.
  • Children will have times when features from their own language appear in their English usage. E.g., the word order or pronunciation of their home language is transferred to English. 
  • Some children will behave differently during the adjustment period. This is completely normal!

What can parents do to support their child’s language development?

Research shows that the best way to support language development is to continue to develop home language skills. It is therefore beneficial for parents to keep talking to their children in their home language as it supports the development of their personal and academic register in both languages.

Other suggestions include:

  • Make your child feel as secure and happy as possible in his/her new environment.
  • Speak your home language with your child. Use every occasion to develop and extend it naturally. 
  • In addition to speaking your home language with your child, read regularly with him/her in your home language. 
  • When your child starts to read English at school, listen to him/her read every day. Talk about the story in your home language and explain anything that your child does not understand. Using your home language to discuss your children’s work will help to improve their proficiency and understanding of English (We call this translanguaging and a lot of research and publications about this process can be found on the internet). 
  • If your child can read or write in his/her home language before entering our school, continue to develop these skills at home. 
  • Make sure your child goes to bed early enough on school days. Learning and speaking a new language can be very tiring and it is important that children start the day fresh.
  • Social life is also important for your child. Make contact with the parents of other children and encourage contact between the children after school. 

I thought the best way was to give the last word to some of our current EAL students.  Here are a few of their replies when I asked them what they think about EAL lessons (word for word):

Stas: ‘’I had EAL for 2 years but now I do not need it anymore and I started learning Dutch because my English is really good. When I had EAL, I liked it because the teachers were really nice. Once, we wrote a story about a red dragon and we also built a dragon in cardboard. It was super fun.

Arina: ‘’when I started in September, I could only do that (she shrugs her shoulders). Now I understand everything’’.

Soto (in his home language): ‘’ I love it. It is so much fun. We play card games. When I do not understand a word, Sara helps us understand it’’.

Koshiro (in his home language): ‘’ Sometimes we also read stories. The teacher explains the words and then I understand. For Valentine’s day, we learned how to write a letter to our mum and also to a friend’’.

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