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Bilingualism and English as an additional language

A laughing toddler being swung around by her mum

If you have children within your setting, who are learning to or can speak more than one language, there is a wide range of information and resources available to help you support their needs. 

Having English as an additional language (EAL) is not a special educational need.  However, it is important to assess each child’s language skills in both their home language and English, which will involve close liaison with the child’s parents.  If the child is showing a delay in their home language, then it would be appropriate to plan some intervention to support both the child and their family.  If after careful monitoring, it is felt that the child is not progressing, then a referral to speech and language therapy is recommended.

It’s important to remember that a child’s home language learning is key.  We know that some parents are keen for their child to learn English, so often they will discourage them from using their home language.  If you feel this is a concern, try to speak to the parents about this and encourage them to value and use their mother tongue and culture at home and around their children.  You can explain the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual, along with promoting home languages within your setting, by ensuring other languages and cultures are represented in signs, labels, books, posters, toys and resources.

If children are learning their home language, it not only provides a good foundation to help them learn more languages, but they will already have good communication skills and an understanding of how language works.

Remember there will likely be a silent phase, when children listen and begin to absorb and process English, but are not ready to start speaking it, which can sometimes last for several months.

“…Providers must also ensure that children have sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in English language during the EYFS: ensuring children are ready to benefit from the opportunities available to them when they begin Year 1.  When assessing communication, language and literacy skills (at the end of their Reception Year), practitioners must assess children’s skills in English”.

EYFS Framework 2017 (1.7)

Local information and support

Herefordshire Council has created a useful guide for parents with pre-school aged children, entitled The importance of maintaining first language skills, which highlights the benefits of speaking other languages at home.  The guide is available in Bulgarian, English, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Russian.  They also provide a range of other materials to help practitioners’ further support children with English as an additional language. 

National information and support

NALDIC is the national subject association for EAL and provides a range of teaching and learning resources, assessment frameworks, publications and training.

The National Literacy Trust, offers helpful guidance for understanding and supporting bilingualism in early years, including a series of bilingual quick tips in 19 different languages.

Pacey (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) provides useful information and advice, including short films, an action plan and checklist.

Number 9: Good practice

Daya’s keyperson, Alydia, became concerned about Daya’s language development, when considering her language skills in preparation for her two year old progress check.  At this point, Daya was 2 years and 3 months old and using only a few English words, such as no, more, dog and all gone.  Her home language is Malayalam and whilst her dad speaks some English, her mum only speaks a little and neither can read English.

Alydia asked both parents to come to the nursery to discuss Daya’s progress.  She encouraged them to bring a friend or relative along to support with translation, which they did.  Together they looked at the ECAT child monitoring tool, to work out Daya’s communication skills in her home language.  At home she was using two or three word phrases and was rapidly learning new words and understood simple instructions.  Mum showed Alydia footage on her phone of Daya having a conversation with her grandma, where she was clearly communicating confidently.

It was agreed that Daya’s parents would continue to support her development of Malayalam at home, whilst Alydia would include Daya in small group play with one or two other children, focussed on modelling English vocabulary.  She would also focus on words associated with Daya’s special interests, which were snack time, ball play and bikes.  This would all be carefully monitored and re-assessed at the end of term.

Number 9: Great idea

A village pre-school welcomed three year old Stefan, who was newly arrived in the UK from Romania.  His Romanian language skills were developing well, but he wasn’t speaking any English yet.  His mum only spoke a little English and Stefan, who hadn’t been to a pre-school before, was finding it difficult to be separated from his mum.  He cried when he was dropped off and remained upset for a long time each morning.

The staff decided to help by making him a communication book.  They took photos of important things in the pre-school, such as the toilet, his preferred toys, drinks bottle and staff, along with people and things from home, including his parents, grandma, cat and garden.  These were labelled in both Romanian and English, with help from mum and the internet, and Stefan took his book home with him, so his mum could help him understand the pictures.

The staff were then able to use the book within the setting to help Stefan understand what was happening during the day and when his mum would be back.  He could also use it to ask for things he needed and enabled staff to learn the Romanian names for a few basic things, all of which helped Stefan to feel more settled and at home.