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How can Early Years Practitioners Support Children with English as an Additional Language?

Info: 7508 words (30 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tagged: EducationTeachingEnglish as a Foreign Language

‘How can Early Years Practitioners Support Children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) to Develop Speech, Language and Communication?’

In the present day, English exists as an international language, a lingua franca facilitating communication among speakers with different first languages. There are many people who are native English speakers, but there is also a vast amount of people who speak English as a secondary language. In fact, I am an example of this; I am from Hong Kong, my first language is Cantonese but I am able to also speak English. Although I am from HK, it was necessary for me to learn other languages such as Mandarin and English to enhance my future opportunities. As a result, I started to learn English at the age of three-years-old and started to learn Mandarin at the age of six. In my case, I arrived in England two years ago, and within this environment, I am speaking in English every day. In this essay, I will focus on the process of second-language acquisition in children and discuss the associated problems of English as an additional language. Furthermore, I will examine how these children learn and mention some of the policy for the school to help children in that situation and present several ideas that early years practitioners can apply to children, to improve their second-language acquisition in different areas.

Firstly, I want to examine English as an additional language and present the data related to students who speak English as an additional language in the UK. In fact, English as an additional language (EAL), and English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL) is the same thing; they both refer to someone who can speak English but it is not their first language/home language. If you are a teacher, you must accommodate children with EAL, because they are non-native speakers, and therefore may approach confidence issues while communicating with others. In the UK, we also use the word ‘bilingual’ to represent people who can speak two different languages. The following data shows the numbers of students who are currently speaking English as a second language in the UK. The UK Department of Education produces an annual document, offering insight into schools, pupils, and their characteristics in the UK. The report of 2017, revealed that ‘there are 8.67 million pupils in all the schools in England. In primary schools, 20.6% of pupils are exposed to a language known or believed to be other than English in their home, this is an increase of 0.5% since 2016. In secondary schools, 16.2% of pupils are exposed to a non-English language in their home; this rate has shown a moderate increase over the last ten years…’ Also, Richard (2011) mentioned that ‘in the UK around one in eight children are regarded as having English as an additional language’. This means there is a number of children and young people who are EAL, and this proportion is still increasing. So what are the reasons for the growing number of people with EAL in the UK?

English is the most prominent language system in the world today. It has become essential for all people, not just students, to learn English, due to its importance for work or travel. The English Language Centre (2013) states that ‘English may not be the most spoken language in the world but it is the official language in a large number of countries (it is estimated that the number of people in the world that use English to communicate on a regular basis is two billion)’. English dominates business language and it has become an imperative form of communication in the global workforce. This exemplifies the importance of English in the working environment and explains why so many people speak English as an additional language.

Secondly, I will discuss the educational aspects of children with EAL, the age they started to learn and the impact it has had on their development. The majority of additional language speakers start to learn English from the age of three-years-old, or in kindergarten. When I started to learn, I was introduced to alphabets, which I initially perceived as symbols as opposed to letters. During this period, books consist of colour-coded letters to enhance our foundational awareness of the alphabet. When we progress to the second year of kindergarten, we start to learn vocabulary.

There are so many advantages to learning a second language early. For instance, it increases the speed in which we acquire the second language, provides more time to apply your comprehension of English into daily life, and children who learn a language in early years are more likely to be proficient with the language than older learners. Furthermore, children can mould their pronunciation and accent, which enhances their overall command of the language. Also, children have greater aptitude and confidence to discover new things. They find the unique experience of learning a new language special, which means they have the motivation to successfully learn an additional language. Helen Doron English (2013) states that ‘there is research into the effects of bilingualism on children suggesting that exposure to more than one language is an excellent way of flexing those brain muscles – and building them up too’. Also, there is another study posted in Nature, which shows us that ‘bilingual children have a significantly larger density of ‘grey matter’, and those who have been exposed to a second language from an early age proved to have the most ‘grey matter’. Grey matter is responsible for processing information, including memory, speech, and sensory perception. Therefore, if it can be increased by exposure to a second language, then language learning can be considered as taking your brain to the gym’. To elucidate, this study reveals that a comprehension of two or more languages is good for the brain, and it can help us to improve our memory and speaking skills. Children always learn from the surrounding environment, they frequently mimic what they hear. Children who learn a second language early can speak both, more confidently and fluently. In addition, as our world shrinks and business becomes increasingly international, children who are fluent bilingual speakers have the potential to be tremendously valuable resources.

This section of the essay will talk about the impacts of children with EAL. Interestingly, there are many difficulties second language learners face. Firstly; writing. As English is not the first language for children with EAL, they are unable to achieve high scores during examinations due to limitations in their vocabulary. However, once they develop their understanding of the second language, it will improve their academic performance. Secondly; communication. When children speak, they display a lack of confidence due to insecurities regarding their accent, and pronunciation; which differs to native speakers. Due to this, many second language learners enter a state called the ‘silent period’. They often become extremely quiet and restrict their verbal communication. This period can last from several weeks to several months, the length of the time is dependent on the child and the educational support system in place. For instance, if the school becomes aware of a child’s silent period early, they can help them to progress from it quickly.  Thirdly, there is a cultural impact to children with EAL. Furthermore, children with EAL have different social, educational and cultural backgrounds to their peers, which can cause social issues when trying to make friends or attempting to interact with teachers. Moreover, some children with EAL also look physically different to their classmates, which can accentuate the feelings of difference and loneliness (Psych4Schools, unknown). From my experience, when I was younger, I felt scared when I was required to talk with a native. In fact, I still get slightly nervous now. Sometimes, I do not think my friends and classmates can understand me, but I just want to try my best to communicate with them. I believe that communicating with native English speakers, can help me to improve my personal skills. When I began writing English essays, I struggled due to my limited comprehension of the English language.

Thirdly, I will discuss speech, language, and communication in relation to the English language. These are the fundamental aspects when we are studying English as an additional language.

Speech refers to the sounds we use for talking, it also includes other factors such as fluency, volume, intonation, and the stress applied to different words and pitch. It is also the expression of the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulating. When we are conducting speech, people will know how we speak, the volume and the fluency. When we are speaking, we must be loud and try to be fluent. Vygotsky (1978) believes that ‘children have dialogues with themselves when they engage in imaginative play; Role-playing means creating a story and giving a voice to the different characters in the story. When children imitate others, they are developing a vocabulary that allows them to name and navigate the world around them.  Less verbal children may talk more during imaginative play than in other settings’. Language can mean just words or grammar. This is a useful practice for children to progress in speech and language, while also developing their brain. Language can also be an organized system of symbols movements and sounds to communicate with others, according to a set of agreed rules for the oral, written or signed forms. When we are talking, we are supposed to use the same language. This can also mean the words with the same meanings but in a different language, like Cantonese, English, Japanese, and French etc. Someone who thinks that our system of communication before anything else is language. Communication means the progress by which information is transmitted and received, and it refers to the conversational skills and rules: listening, knowing when and how to start and finish, talking, how to change the topic and use the language in different ways. There are three types of communication: verbal/ non-verbal and the written communication. Verbal communication uses spoken words to communicate. Many believe that speaking is the main skill, however, listening skills are also important. Non-verbal communication includes body language, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and signing. We must be careful when we conduct non-verbal communication because we are not using sounds and languages, so it can become a serious problem if people misunderstand your intentions.

For children who are learning English as an additional language, speech, language, and communication are the difficult aspects. Furthermore, these are three key areas they need to focus on when studying. Here are some ideas concerning the theories involved with learning a language. Tracey (2016) states that: ‘children make language – learning look easy. Here is the example: if the child plays with the toys, they will learn about colour, shape, size, texture etc.’ Skinner (1957) argued that: ‘children learn language based on behaviourist reinforcement principles by associating words with meanings, Correct utterances are positively reinforced when the child realizes the communicative value of words and phrases.’ When children are learning English, that is the best way for them, they can learn the vocab and the short sentence together. I completely agree – the environment will affect the child a lot, parents and teachers are their models, therefore children will try to imitate the adults and speak like them. When they want to improve themselves, they will try to find various methods to help.

There are also theories which called ‘second- language acquisition’ and it is the various theories hypotheses in the field of second-language acquisition about how people a second language, and the theory is related to serval disciplines, including linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and education. However, this theory is not accepted by many researchers. Stephen Krashen is the most popular Linguist and researcher and his theory about second language acquisition have five main components: the acquisition-learning hypothesis; the monitor hypothesis; the natural order hypothesis; the input hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis. According to Krashen, he has another view of the role of grammar, he thinks that within the second language acquisition theory, the role of grammar in language acquisition is useful when the learner is interested in learning grammar. Otherwise, Krashen argues that ‘studying grammar equates to language appreciation and does not positively influence language acquisition.’ Although this theory is not acceptable for everyone, I still think it is a good theory for reference.

In my opinion, I think speech, language, and communication is the same thing because they are all concerned with how people talk to others; it also reflects the knowledge that we learn from the school environment.

Moving on, I want to discuss how early years practitioners can support children with English as an additional language (EAL) to develop their speech, language, and communication proficiencies. First, the practitioners need to motivate the child to speak more, it can help them to practice to speak in the second language and improve their communication skills. As previously mentioned, children like learning through playing, so when teaching, practitioners need to encourage children to learn by playing a game or doing role play. ‘Play’ is the key element in children’s learning. Second, practitioners can try to make an appointment or home visit with the family. In addition, practitioners can use the time to ask questions about the children and the family background, helping practitioners to know children more. This enables the teachers to strategies the most suitable method to help the child with EAL. Third, the school needs to develop a welcoming environment to make children and their parents feel as comfortable and contented as they do in their home environment. The environment should be accepting and accommodating of all different cultures and languages. For instance, schools should organise international festivals, where students can explore different local customs and learn how to speak a variety of local languages. This can incite interest in other languages and cultures in a fun and relaxed context.

This section will examine the three aspects of second language learning and detail how practitioners can enhance the learning process of EAL learners.

Speech: practitioners can think of new ways to give the children more activities like role-playing or poem reading, singing, story time etc. By providing simple speech activities, it can help them to gain more confidence, and improve their volume and fluency. Practitioners can also incorporate storytelling into their lessons to improve EAL learners’ listening skills. When teachers are teaching EAL learners it is vital they uphold simplicity.

Language: Teachers should encourage the home language as a foundation for language development, as home language can provide a basis to learn from. If a child enhances their comprehension of their first language, they will be able to learn a second language more quickly. So practitioners should motivate children to use their first language at home in addition to their second language; in this case, English. This will encourage the child to use two or more languages to communicate with their parents which helps to maximise both, the speaking and listening aspects of second language learning.

Communication: early years practitioners should give out more written tasks to the child, and make them write down everything they know. By completing more written tasks in kindergarten it can provide a great basis for when they progress to primary school and beyond.

In this section, I would like to highlight the policies and guidelines the government and educational system must follow to support children with EAL. EAL learners are at the centre of the English language acquisition process system, therefore we must focus on them and ensure they are not impacted by feelings of neglect or isolation. Support systems should make sure that these children are focused on language development, and therefore need to look at ways to enable a natural cognitive and academic development. To reiterate, schools must create an equal environment for every student, to ensure equality among learner even if they come from different countries. Early practitioners must carefully observe EAL learners, especially when they are in the silent period.

Most of the guidelines state that developing an effective practice for children learning EAL is the best for them, but children with EAL will have their own unique needs so we cannot use the same methods to help each person. Here is an example of the policy from Springs Day Nursery. Springs Day Nursery (2017) stated that practitioners often need to actively follow an EAL learner’s progress. In addition, practitioners also need to communicate with the children’s parents because they worry about their child in a new learning environment. In recent times, the role of parents is very important. As a result, practitioners need to maintain an active channel of communication with parents. The guidance of the school states that we all need to help children with EAL when they first enter a new environment; we need to be empathetic and understand that each child has their own unique needs. The British Council (unknown) mentioned that there is education policy, concerning EAL learners, to promote equal opportunities for all learners for whom English is an additional language. Educational systems in the UK must try to deliver a broad, balanced curriculum which reflects the needs of children where English is an additional language. The following are some of the guidelines: to promote academic achievement by grouping EAL pupils according to cognitive level rather than English language level; to identify language outcomes curriculum areas and include in medium-term and weekly planning; promote and encourage the development of the children’s first languages in order to facilitate concept development in tandem with their acquisition of English etc. I think the guidelines are good, as it sets standards for the school and the practitioners to follow. Here are other examples of EAL policy for primary school, ST. Stephen’s C.E. The primary school (2017) suggested that there are is a collective responsibility for all staff to identify and remove barriers that stand in the way of our EAL student’s achievement and inclusion. These guidelines are established to empower the children and remind practitioners to understand their own roles and responsibilities to optimise the learning outcome of young EAL learners.

To conclude, English language learning is a significant trend in the world today. As previously mentioned, children, as well as adults, need to study well to enhance their comprehension of an additional language. Further, children with EAL must focus on both of the languages they speak, while practitioners need to adapt their teaching methods to support them. For instance, a child may fall into a ‘silent period’ because they are adjusting to that educational system or environment, so teachers need to make them feel relaxed and comfortable to enhance their second language learning. If children are not content when they are studying in English, they will free very stressful which will negatively impact their motivation to study English. This also has negative implications for the child’s overall learning outcome, therefore we need to make sure that practitioners are well prepared when they teach children, and need to be trained to understand that children with EAL need additional help. Children are young and therefore need a good start for their early development. A quality foundational education enhances a child’s future development and also benefits their intellectual capacity. In addition, the government and education system need to support children who have difficulties when they are studying English as a second language as it not only benefits the child but also the society. In the future, EAL learners who possess exceptional speaking, language, and communicational skills as a result of an effective learning system, can progress quickly in an industry and contribute to the overall prosperity of the society.


The UK Department of Education (2017). Schools, pupils and their characteristics. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2017

Helen Doron English (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.helendoron.com/blog/learning-a-second-language-top-10-benefits-of-early-language-learning

Psych4schools (Unknown). Retrieved from: https://www.psych4schools.com.au/free-resources/english-as-a-second-language-esl-or-english-as-an-additional-language-eal/

Lev Vygotsky (1978). Retrieved from: http://www.childdevelopmentmedia.com/articles/play-the-work-of-lev-vygotsky/

B.F. Skinner (1957). Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

Tracey Chapelton (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-can-young-children-best-learn-languages

British Council (unknown) Education policy in EAL in England. Retrieved from: https://eal.britishcouncil.org/eal-sector/education-policy-eal-england

ST. Stephen’s C.E. primary school (2017) EAL Policy PDF

Springs Day Nursery (2017) Communication Policy PDF

Stephen Krashen (unknown). Second Language Acquisition Theory. Retrieved from: http://reference.yourdictionary.com/about-esl/Second-Language-Acquisition-Theory.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theories_of_second-language_acquisition

Richard Nordquist (2017). English as an Additional Language (EAL). Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/english-as-an-additional-language-eal-1690600







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http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03004279.2012.710101?src=recsys HYPERLINK

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English as a Foreign Language refers to learning and using English as an additional language in a country where English is not the dominant language. Teaching English as a foreign language is known as TEFL.

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