A beginner EAL learner is learning a foreign language and requires basic vocabulary and language structures to make progress. Initially, they translate what they hear or read into their home language. Their home language is dominant and English is an alien language.
Gradually, the transition to a second language occurs. As the learners increase their understanding of classroom language, they are able to converse more easily with their friends and teachers, and can take part in the same range of class activities as their peers. In some cases, English can become the dominant language and the learner may start to lose their home language. It is important that learners are encouraged to continue to develop their home language. In some cases, this may take place in school; in others, after school and at weekends. This extra pressure on EAL learners, as well as the constant need to study English, should be taken into account when assigning homework, to ensure that they have a balanced life outside of school.
Jim Cummins, who has researched EAL learning extensively, points out the difference between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills), which take up to two years to develop, and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency), which can take from five to seven years to develop.
In some schools, regular daily interventions exist to support learners in acquiring BICS. On exiting this support, some schools follow this with Language Enrichment classes, which are focused purely on the academic language skills (CALP) of the learners. As group sizes are generally small, it is possible to provide a more individualised programme adapted to the needs of each learner. Regular collaboration between the class teacher and the EAL teacher is important at this stage to support the work done in class. Where available, teaching assistants can be used to further support the EAL programme for individual learners in class.
Learners should also develop independent study skills. Developing an editing checklist with a learner, for example, is a great way of motivating them to edit their work. Learners often memorise the checklist and are able to identify frequent errors, initially with prompting, and then independently.
Modelling texts and providing key vocabulary are central to writing tasks. Useful books covering a variety of text types can be found in the ‘Oxford Discover Series’ by Oxford University Press. Spider graphs and graphic organisers like the one accompanying this article are helpful tools for organising writing (inspired by Read, Write, Think, from the International Reading Association). You might also wish to attend the Across Cultures EAL Framework course, which includes training in use of graphic organisers to support EAL learners.
Subject verb agreements, punctuation, breaking up longer sentences, expanding shorter sentences using adverbs and adjectives, spelling and spelling patters, and grammatical structures are all common areas in need of development for intermediate learners. Providing these learners with a useful adjective and adverb list from www.sparklebox.co.uk is a good way of expanding their vocabulary. These lists need to be reviewed with learners so they can practise the new words in context. Expanding their vocabulary to develop their writing is key at the intermediate stage.
A comparative study of English and their home language can also help learners to understand differences and similarities. As the German writer Goethe said, “The best way of understanding one’s language is to learn another one.”