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.
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.
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)