English as an additional language

If you're working with children who are learning English as a second language, then these hints and tips might be helpful. You can also download our checklist and action plan to see how you're getting on in your setting. 

Watch the videos, or read the transcripts below.

Children with English as an additional language - an introduction

Some children will grow speaking one language (monolingual) others children may speak two (bilingual) or three or more languages (multilingual). Some children may also use a sign or symbol language.

Some people worry that when a child learning to speak two or more languages they will be confused or unable to communicate effectively in either language. This is not the case. Children develop fluency in both languages, although they may at times switch between languages in the same sentence. This is called code-switching. Children may also use the languages they speak in different situations e.g. English in a childcare setting and their home, or first language at home.

Being able to speak more than one language is extremely advantageous. It can enhance a child’s self esteem and identity, as well as developing and enhancing cognitive and thinking skills.

Some children will learn to speak two languages from birth and other children may learn one language first and then a second language.

It is important for children and families to maintain the language /s they use at home. This supports communication in the family and a sense of identity and community.

Working with children with English as an additional language

Some practitioners may be monolingual. Others may speak more than one language but may not speak the same languages as children. This is not a barrier to working with children with and supporting children with EAL.

One of the most important things is to show you value and respect all languages and that children and families need to feel welcome, valued and respected in the setting.

  • Work with parents and find out about the languages spoken by the family. Find out the keys words a child uses e.g. mum and dad, toilet. Start to keep a book for each language. This can become a very useful resources in your setting. Put a picture of the word in the book, write word down in the script used by the child. Write down how to pronounce the word. You can also make a picture card / key ring card of important words that children can carry and point to as they need e.g. the toilet, drink, mum. 
  • Pronounce and spell children’s names correctly. Ask parents to write their child’s name in the script they use. Put this on the child’s coat peg. Make some sticky name labels to be put on paintings etc.
  • Use visual timetables and visual clues e.g. photos on toy boxes.
  • Use song boxes and activities with visual prompts. Learn and sing songs and rhymes and listen to music in children’s home languages
  • Use story sacks and tell stories with puppets and find stories in a children’s home languages.

Remember that children need time. Time to settle, build relationships and time to take in a new language while keeping their first / home language.

Working with parents with English as an additional language