In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), I share a few ideas to support non-native English speakers in languages lessons.
When considering how best to support learners who speak English as an additional language (EAL), it is essential to remember that they are not a homogeneous group. They can include new arrivals, children who have been educated in a different country and pupils with no literacy skills in their home language, as well as UK-born students who can speak their home language but not write it.
Many white British pupils also have specific linguistic needs, especially if they routinely use non-standard English or come from non-reading homes. Good EAL practice should support and enrich all students, not just EAL learners.
Instructions will be more easily understood by all if they are supported by practical examples and visuals. Keep explanations to a minimum, show examples and ask students to paraphrase, as their choice of words is likely to be better understood by their peers. It is best to avoid set phrases, expressions and metaphors that are likely to cause confusion if taken literally.
Peer support is helpful for EAL learners at first, but they must be encouraged to develop their own language skills and independence. For those further along the EAL continuum, classroom-based strategies such as videos, mime, audio with visual support and the use of visuals to support new language and instructions will be most effective.
Native speakers being taught their own language in MFL lessons will face other issues. Their written skills may be considerably weaker than their speaking skills and their overall performance at GCSE will depend on their command of English, as exam instructions will not be in the target language.
Whenever possible, talk to children to develop your awareness of linguistic overlaps - for example, formal/polite forms of address in other languages, gender and changes in verb forms. EAL pupils often find it easy to accurately reproduce the sounds of a new language as they have been exposed to a wider range of sounds between English and their mother tongue. Their linguistic capability needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Stimulate the class by inviting guest speakers, organising multilingual displays and assemblies, and holding special days and activities. EAL pupils are often successful language learners because their skills are likely to be more developed, but this needs to be reinforced at a whole-school level as MFL is sometimes the only subject that views their experience positively.
More generic strategies to support EAL learners can be accessed here via the TES website.