How do you integrate children who speak little or no English into a school? It’s not as challenging to break down the language barrier as you may think. Laidlaw Education’s Natalie Vamvadelis shows how

One of the more significant changes to the school population in recent years has been the increase in the number of children with English as an additional language (EAL).

In England, the results of the School Census undertaken each January by the Department for Education are published annually.  In  January  2013,  this  showed  that  one  in  six  primary school  pupils  in  England,  a  total  of  612,160  children,  do  not  have  English  as  their  first language.  In  secondary  schools  the  figure  stands  at  436,150,  just  over  one  in  eight.  Once special schools and pupil referral units are taken into account, the total rises to just over a million at 1,061,010. These figures have more than doubled since 1997.  These current statistics indicate that over 300 languages are spoken by pupils in UK schools and that many children  are  learning  English  as  a  second, third, or  indeed fourth,  language,  in  addition to the language spoken in their families. Although this is a relatively new challenge for many schools,  others  have  a  long  track  record  of  working  with  EAL  children,  allowing  them  to develop tried and tested approaches.

Overcoming the language barrier at school

Marymount offer a superb ESL (English as a Second Language) programme

We  have  the  incredible  opportunity  to  be  living  in  such  a  diverse  and  cosmopolitan  city where different races, ethnic groups, faiths and languages are celebrated. Our children are learning tolerance for one another and being exposed to all walks of life. Whether your child is learning to speak English or perhaps is welcoming friends with little or no English, we can all form one community.

Your home language is an asset

Feel comfortable speaking to your children in your home language.  The  United  Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to have their voices heard  and  a  right  to  use  their  own  language. Your child will feel most confident in the language they choose to speak naturally.  There are benefits of maintaining the first language and the skills learnt in one language can transfer to the second language.

Many parents  feel that the school wants them to speak English at home and some parents use  their  limited  English  to  communicate  with  their  child,  leading  to  somewhat  limited conversations, rather than engaging in rich dialogue with their child in their home language. While it is important to practise speaking in English as much as possible, the home language should be preserved. Strive to create a healthy balance.

Make English fun

Young children are natural language acquirers; they are self-motivated to pick up language without conscious learning, unlike adolescents and adults. They have the ability to imitate pronunciation and work out the rules for themselves. Any idea that learning to talk in English is difficult does not occur to them unless it’s suggested by adults, who themselves probably learned English academically at a later age through grammar-based text books.

Entertainment can be harnessed for learning

Entertainment is encouraged where children are engaged in rich sources of communication. There  are  many  educational  television  programs  that  make  use  of  stimulating  language and  rich  vocabulary. Singing songs, nursery rhymes and action games are invaluable to teaching rhyme and language.

Get involved in social activities

Encourage your child to get involved in activities of interest such as a team sport, cultural pursuits such as drama classes or a hobby. This helps the child to not only make friends but also develop their understanding of English. Playdates, birthday parties and visits to the park where the child is able to engage with English speaking children are extremely beneficial.

Overcoming the language barrier at school

Audio stories are a great way to familiarise children with a different language

Audio stories provide good model of ‘book’ English

Listening  to  audio  CDs  can  be  a  valuable  way  of  engaging  children  in  texts  above  their current reading age. Audio stories can also help parents learn English and can be something the parent and child do together. In an average busy school day children don’t spend a lot of time  listening  to  quality  ‘book  language’  so  audio  CDs  can  increase  the  time  that  pupils spend listening to a clear model of English.

Real-life situations provide rich learning opportunities

Parents may think that only an ‘expert’ can teach their children. There is a lot that parents can do whilst carrying out day to day activities. For example; counting  money  during shopping,  calculating  measurements,  experiments,  investigations,  writing  for  different purposes, treasure hunts etc. Have an ‘English only day’ at home or ask your child to be the teacher and have them explain an activity or game to you. This way we all learn together and we become partners in their education.

Taking  all  these  tips  into  account  the  best  advice  remains  to  encourage  your  child  to  be happy  and  comfortable.  Anxiety, frustration and  the  inability  to  express  one’s  self  can  be detrimental  to  the  learning  process. Rewarding your child’s attempts rather than perfect execution is invaluable and will build their self esteem.

Natalie Vamvadelis is part of the teaching team at Laidlaw Education (laidlaweducation.co.uk, 020 8487 9517)

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