These days, you are likely to have many children in your early years setting for whom English is not their first language. A child’s English may range from fluent, particularly when English is the primary language used in the home, to very limited. It is important that, as practitioners, we do all we can to support children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) so that they can feel safe and secure at your setting and make good progress.

As you know, starting in a nursery or with a childminder for the first time can be very scary for a child. Combine this with the fact that they might not understand the language that is being spoken to them, and it doesn’t sound at all familiar – you can imagine how unsettling this could be for an individual.

It is worth noting that a child living in a multi-lingual home may be hearing not just two, but many different dialects in their lives. For example, a child who has an English mother and, say, a Polish father could be hearing English from Mum, Polish from Dad, Dad’s English, plus Mum’s polish. In this scenario, the child could be hearing four different dialects at home. Picking up different languages is therefore likely to be confusing for them.

Below are a few tips to help ease the transition into a childcare setting for a child with EAL, so that they can quickly feel happy in your setting and begin the journey to reaching their full potential.

1. Use minimal language. Give a child the chance to learn key vocabulary by using just key words and simple sentences until they become more confident at speaking English.

2. Keep it visual. Any child who struggles with understanding will benefit from you emphasising your words by making things visual. Use visual symbols or simple sign language such as Signalong to help the child understand what you are saying. Puppets and pictures books can be used to help tell a story.

3. Encourage learning through play. As with all children in the early years setting, play is key in a child’s learning. As practitioner, take the opportunity to extend a child’s language by engaging in their play and modelling the language e.g. ‘the car is driving along the road’.

4. Celebrate a child’s culture. Firstly, celebrating a child’s culture is going to make them feel welcome and valued. Take time to find out about their traditions and celebrate them in your setting. Secondly, it is often hard to gather evidence of children showing an awareness of, and respect for, other cultures. By celebrating the culture of your EAL child you have a fantastic opportunity to gather observations of the other children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development and their Understanding of The World. It goes without saying that the more respect that peers show towards your child with EAL, the happier they are going to be.

5. Respect their family’s wishes. Make the child’s whole family feel welcome by taking the time to find out about their culture. You may find that the family do not wish for their child to take part in any activities to do with other religions or eat certain foods. Taking the time to find out these things will make the family feel at ease, and therefore the child.

6. Use local support. You should find that you local council have a team dedicated to supporting children with EAL. They are likely to have books in the child’s home language for you to have in your setting, again helping the child to feel more at home.

Of course, the most important advice is to have patience, as you would with any child. Be supportive and take time to speak directly to, and listen to a child with EAL and you should start to see real progress in not just their spoken language and understanding, but in all areas of their development.

About the author -

Georgina has had 8 years experience teaching both mainstream and special education. She has created her own website www.sensupport.com which makes learning resources to help children with Special Educational Needs. If you are looking for additional advice and support, you can follow @sen_support on Twitter and on Facebook or email Georgina on admin@sensupport.co.uk.

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