Tag archives: bilingualism

Friday, 6 November 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #2

ORd5#This photo is of an inspiring Enfield Libraries early years session I was lucky enough to attend. Most of the participants had English as an additional language.

In this second blog in a series on developing language and literacy skills with children with EAL in the EYFS I am going to concentrate on effective ways to support spoken English. Unless children have a good grasp of this, all aspects of communication and literacy will be a struggle.

Nurturing children’s home languages is crucial for aiding English language acquisition. I explored its importance, and methods that help, in my previous blog. Below I discuss the benefits of songs and rhymes, and next time I will talk about sharing stories and books. While I’m still on the topic of support for home languages, let me stress the benefits of bilingual story-times and rhyme sessions, involving practitioners and, if possible, parents and carers. Any who are daunted about performing live could record their contributions at home. Children with EAL will gain enormously from this valuing of their home language, and exposure to a range of languages and scripts is to everyone’s advantage.

Most children go through a silent phase when first learning a new language, sometimes lasting months. Despite not speaking, they gradually understand more and more. There are many ways to build their confidence and expertise. They need thinking time to process what they hear. They need interaction with English-speaking children. They need support, including visual support such as photos, illustrations, artefacts and visual timetables. They need encouragement. Value children’s non-verbal responses, their responses in their home language, and of course their utterances in English, as they begin to speak it.

Learning English as an additional language is hard work and very tiring, so give children with EAL time out from English and provide opportunities for them to express themselves in their home language some of the time.

Make sure there is always plenty of talk, even when there is no verbal response. Provide a running commentary as children play. (It’s worth knowing that children with EAL may speak more in outdoor play. In fact this applies to most children.) As children start to speak in English, build on their utterances, modelling English language use. If a child says ‘I goed home’ the practitioner might say ‘you went home and then ….’. Make open comments and ask open questions. Closed questions like ‘what’s this called?’ don’t develop language skills.

What else? Children with EAL need active teaching of vocabulary. They need to know survival words like yes, no, toilet, hello. They need language used in meaningful contexts. They need attention drawn to letters and sounds.

Songs and rhymes are excellent for developing language, and help lay the foundations for reading. They build speaking and listening skills, phonological awareness, vocabulary and comprehension. Lots of songs and rhymes have repeated words and phrases, and this, combined with a compelling rhythm, help make language stick. Aid children’s enjoyment and understanding with action rhymes and props and puppets. As I mentioned earlier, there’s great value to rhymes in children’s home languages. I find Mamalisa a good source.

Stories, books and reading aloud are far too important to cover in a couple of paragraphs, which is why I’m going to devote my next blog to them.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #1

Pol17I took this lovely photo at a meeting of a Polish under 5s group in Enfield. It was a snowy day, hence the snowman book. As well as books, there were songs, rhymes, discussion and activities in a seamless meld of Polish and English. The children – far more than just the four here – were enthralled. So were the adults.

I was delighted to give a webinar for Liverpool early years practitioners last week on current thinking and advice relating to children with English as an additional language (EAL), and inclusive strategies and resources for developing communication and reading. In this first of a series of blogs I’m concentrating on the benefits of bilingualism, the importance of supporting children’s home languages, what children have to learn to become proficient in a new language, and official guidance on supporting children with EAL in the early years.

For many years now it has been recognised that bilingualism is an asset and should be valued as a positive skill. Bilingualism not only aids the learning of English and other languages. More broadly it develops concentration, cognition and memory as well as empathy, self-confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

We know it is vital to support children’s home languages at home and in settings. The EYFS Statutory Framework and the EYFS Reforms Early Adopter Framework contain identical guidance: ‘Providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home.’

‘Children will learn English from a strong foundation in their home language’ in the words of the new Development Matters. Both the original Development Matters and the new version are adamant about the importance of encouraging families to use their home language.

‘Talk to parents about what language they speak at home, try and learn a few key words and celebrate multilingualism in your setting’ says the  new document. It is worth unpicking and adding to this sentence. It’s crucial to spend time with parents and carers finding out about children’s abilities and experiences in their home languages. Crucial too to ensure children can hear and use their home languages in settings. Bilingual staff should be valued and involved. Children with the same home language should be enabled to play and talk together.

It’s invaluable to learn a few key words in children’s home languages: hello, goodbye, toilet for instance. Everyone should respect children’s home languages. How important it is to pronounce children’s names correctly.

None of these are new ideas and recommendations. They are all emphasised in the original Development Matters too.

In terms of celebrating multilingualism, the environment should visibly reflect and value cultural and linguistic diversity. This is often taken to mean settings should have lots of notices in a range of languages and scripts, but inclusive play equipment, displays and books send out stronger messages to young children.

As the following list makes clear, there are many things children with EAL may have to contend with in order to learn a new language. (This comes from a valuable overview and checklist by my Early Education colleague Julie Cigman.)

  • a new set of sounds and sound groupings
  • new intonation patterns
  • a new script or alphabet
  • a new set of sound-symbol relationships
  • new vocabulary
  • new grammar
  • new non-verbal signals
  • new rules about social conventions and language
  • an ability to relate to people and express feelings and emotions in a new language

It’s important to make no assumptions. All children learn differently and the rate of language acquisition is very variable. Understanding is likely to be well in advance of spoken language for most children learning English as an additional language. Many go through a silent phase, and for some this may last months. It’s crucial not to pressurise children to talk before they are ready to.

I will blog soon about more ways to support spoken English, vital for all aspects of communication and literacy, as well as self-confidence and wellbeing.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Bilingual early years library session

I am currently preparing courses on early years library provision, and on rhyme times, and it’s been lovely to visit some great under 5s activities to pick up extra ideas for good practice. As there will be a bilingual context for much of the training I’m planning, it was especially good to attend a library session for Polish families in Enfield on Friday.

It was a snowy morning, so I expected low turn-out, but such is the dedication the weekly sessions inspire that ten or so families came along (there can be up to twenty), one of them with a week-old baby. Babies and one, two and three year-olds were all actively engaged, as were mothers, an older sister and a grandparent. There were lots of things to do, several with a suitably snowy theme, like the story being enjoyed here, and picture-making. Polish music played softly in the background. The morning ended with a wonderful, very participative rhyme time, which everyone loved. Agnieszka Bartoszek, who led the session, used rhymes in both Polish and English, and I found it fascinating to observe all the children and adults switching backwards and forwards from one language to the other with no problem. The little girl in pink here, who is nine months old, adores books in both languages. She sat on a little push-along bike and devoured lots with total delight.

What I admire about sessions like this is that as well as being so enjoyable, they play a huge role in supporting children’s language skills, their emotional and social development, and their knowledge and understanding. The value to the whole family is enormous. The group enables Agi to spread the word about other things going on for under 5s locally, and to alert everyone to issues like the need to register for nursery provision at the appropriate time. Recently she arranged a visit from an oral health practitioner, who talked not only about tooth-brushing, but also about how to find a dentist.

Many thanks to Agi, to Josie Layzell, Enfield Bookstart Coordinator, who arranged my visit, and of course to all the lovely families I met.