I have chosen the word ‘promoting’ as opposed to ‘supporting’ as we should be encouraging children to value the languages used at home and be proud to be able to speak different languages. As early years practitioners we have a vital role to work with both the child and their family as well as encouraging other children in the setting to learn new languages.
When we say EAL, remember this includes bilingual children. EAL is used to describe children who are learning English in addition to their home language. Whereas, bilingual is used to describe those children who are fluent in speaking two languages and multilingual in several languages. When your QIA or Ofsted ask for the number of EAL children, you need to include all of the above.
English society is multilingual, with an estimated 360 languages spoken across the country so we must be ready to promote the families’ languages.
Advantages of learning a new language for all
If children are surrounded by people speaking different languages in their experiences they will;
- Gain an Insight into other cultures and enhance their view of the world around them.
- Acquire a native-like level of fluency so learn it quicker
- Have a positive experience gaining a new valuable skill.
- Be inclusive, respectful and connect to others as they empathise
- Extending learning and opportunities – Cultural capital
Advantages of being bi/multilingual – Research shows it will;
- Improve their health in later life,
- Increase creativity and cognitive ability
- Increase attention skills
Bilingualism does not cause confusion or language delay; children who are bilingual perform equally well or better than monolinguals when both languages are considered.
Often on audits I have been told ‘parents do not want them speaking their home language and only want them to learn English’. We need to educate and support parents to understand how important it is that their child’s home language is used and promoted.
We must make sure families know why their home language is so important to them, their child and you.
I hear you ask… But how can we change this pattern of choosing English over their home language? You are the start of the change by;
- Ensuring families are positive about opportunities to learn and use another language by staff modelling a positive attitude about all languages.
- Asking parents to celebrate and value their home language with their children, it is important they value their heritage as it has a positive effect on their child’s identity and self-esteem improving future success.
- Informing families of the benefits of speaking more than one language
- Modelling an effort to communicate with parents and children– “Hello” or “Thank you” in other languages, and if we expect it of our children, we should surely be willing ourselves as practitioners.
- Praising the parents for their efforts in using multiple languages. Children will gain a much richer experience of language from a parent or carer speaking their home language than if they are hearing an adult tentatively trying to use English.
- Encouraging them to keep using the language which is most natural to them with their children.
- Telling them their children will not be delayed in their English language development if they are encouraged to use their home language. Research shows that continuing to use their home languages alongside their new language acquisition will make the process of learning English faster and easier.
How can we promote and make a difference?
Show, through your words and actions, that all the languages of the children are equal in value and status.
- Have an EAL Policy – ensure you have a clear policy and procedure that all staff and families understand with helpful links.
- Value parents’ information shared during settling in and during the child’s induction.
- Ensure you say their names correctly
- Ensure you have Informed staff – Do they know the stages of learning English? Have they found out and tried to learn some keywords? Are they inclusively using some words such as survival language? Do they understand differences and behaviours that may be linked to culture?
- Ensure staff use clear, concise English, say less and go slow/show, be face to face, use actions and give extra thinking time.
- Plan activities – listening and absorbing, physical games, singing,
- Find out familiar activities to make them feel at home
- Teach other languages to show you value another language to make them feel comfortable that it is ok to speak differently to peers
- Get support if needed
Provision ready – resources must be used, practise embedded not just displayed
- All about the nursery in photos including staff photos, environment
- Home area, images, and books to reflect the home environment
- A visual timetable so they feel secure about what is happening.
- Feelings or emotions picture cards so children can label their own and others’ emotions
- Phonetically spelt keywords in home languages to help you say them correctly
- Plan for real-life experiences – use real objects
- Include books, songs and counting in home languages
Using information technology
- Video clips and photos to share with child, family
- Recordings of adults telling stories in the languages spoken by the children, including English (Talking Tins as an example)
- SayHi app
Some shining examples seen in settings recently…
- Lending library of dual language books
- Sequences of photographs to show the child-specific routines, such as, what happens at the snack table, how to tidy away the construction toys and a visual timetable of the session.
- Story and song props used as often as possible – story read by two staff – one staff member used french words and visual colour cards
- Makaton signs/lanyards to help communication
- Language-integration-Varying the language of greetings as children enter the classroom
- Buddy with good communication skills assigned on a new child’s first day in pre-school.
- On children’s self-registration photos – flags to represent the language spoken for all children
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