When you’re working with EAL children in the early years it’s important that all your practitioners understand the different stages in which children with an additional language learn to speak.
Understanding these stages is crucial to making sure that no child gets pushed too hard before they’re ready. Appreciating the rate at which children learn will help all of your practitioners to make the right choices for every child.
Thanks go to Dorset County Council for this brilliant document which informed this list and much else in this article.
Now that you have some food for thought to understand the development of English within the early years, it’s time to turn to a few ideas that might help you to offer a more inclusive setting to every child.
EAL in early years is really about two things. First ensuring the children are comfortable in their new setting, and then ensuring there are plenty of engaging learning opportunities for them to develop their skills
Because EAL children will initially be most comfortable with their own language, it’s important that you prepare the setting with notices, labels and books in that language wherever possible. It will help them to associate this new experience with something more familiar.
This can be a challenge, especially when you have multiple home languages across the setting. Take advantage of tools like Google Translate in real-time to help children understand the context. You can even get some pointers on pronunciation if you’re trying out a word or two yourself.
To give the child a comforting environment at the setting, you need to know what comforting means to them.
This is where spending time with the parents comes in. They can help you with proper pronunciation of their name, some survival language, and give you the family background to understand the context of the child’s community.
There can often be religious and dietary differences to what you might be used to, and learning about the kind of activities they enjoy can help you plan learning experiences that are both familiar and challenging.
Focusing on listening activities to begin with should allow children to absorb as much as possible and gradually increase their confidence. Many children won’t be ready to speak yet, and letting them absorb as much as possible will be much more helpful than pushing them to speak before they’re ready.
A listening corner where the children can independently play different audio samples can help. When you’re telling stories make sure to use exaggerated tone and body language to give them non-verbal clues throughout.
You can find more communication and language activity inspiration over on our EYFS article on the subject.
One powerful way to help a child who is struggling to integrate into the nursery is to pair them up with a naturally caring, friendly, nurturing child in the setting. So long as the child understands the language limitations of their new buddy, it can be a huge boost to children who have EAL in early years.
For one, they are more likely to be included within the community of the setting, and they also can learn by imitation when they don’t fully understand something. Having someone to copy can save an awful lot of confusion.
OK, so this one’s pretty simple, but so many people don’t pay enough attention to it. You need to make sure you get it right. You need to make sure your staff get it right. You even need to take steps to help your children to get it right.
It’s unbelievably alienating to children with EAL in early years when people get their name wrong, and will only add to any alienation they’re already feeling.
Try to take the time to learn certain ‘survival words’ in the child’s language, and encourage their key person to do the same. Essentially, think about the sort of words you’d need to know in a situation where you didn’t know the language.
It could be things like:
This should also be your focus once the child starts to become more verbal, and the words you should be encouraging parents to use whenever possible at home.
We’ve already mentioned it a few times, but non-verbal cues and materials are essential when you’re trying to educate children with EAL in early years. Story sacks, visual timetables and various visual prompts can help you with this. Try to find ways to illustrate certain routines without having to use words.
One thing to be aware of is that you need to understand the different use of facial expressions and personal space that may vary from culture to culture. What might have positive connotations in the U.K may be negative elsewhere. This is where you research counts and your interactions with parents can be crucial.
Physical activities can be invaluable for EAL children in the early years. Games like Simon Says are uniquely placed to actually help develop language because they mix language learning with physical movement.
Children are most likely to learn when they’re engaged, and that’s why physical games can help children to associate a variety of vocabulary with the real world. What’s more, reinforcing understanding through making a physical movement can help to commit ideas to memory more easily.
As we’ve already mentioned, understanding the differences between cultures is important. There might be differences in the amount of physical contact, eating practices, eye contact or the meaning of certain gestures, for example.
What’s more, you need to understand why children may display what seems like typically ‘bad behaviour’. For example, tired or uninterested EAL learners might be like that because they are stressed or struggling with the adjustment. It’s tough learning a new language! Equally, aggressive behaviour can be part of the way in which they communicate when they’re non-verbal. Adjusting your mindset with this in mind is important, as is making attempts to explain behaviour to the non-EAL children in your setting.
Familiarity is important when children are learning. Find something that your EAL children are comfortable and happy doing and apply it to your planning. This is where your parent meetings will come in handy.
During the activity, your practitioners can talk to and support them using English. This is where they will learn the best – when they are doing an activity that they are engaged and familiar with.
Repetition is great for children of all abilities, but it’s particularly valuable with children who have EAL in early years. You can use story sacks and other non-verbal cues to scaffold their understanding, and you’ll find that with time the children will start to imitate and repeat certain parts.
Need some inspiration? We’ve noted down our favourite 15 nursery rhyme songs to give you some inspiration!
Not another language!’ I can hear you say. But bear with us on this one.
While you may be concerned that introducing another language could only add to the confusion, having French or Spanish classes in your nursery can help to make EAL children more comfortable. The other children will develop empathy for how it feels to not fully understand how to communicate, and it also gives the children with EAL a chance to work on something at the same rate as their peers.
If you haven’t already, make sure to reach out to your Local Authority to hear about the support that they offer for nurseries with a large EAL cohort. For example, they might be able to help you with stuff like:
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.