In your early years childcare setting, you are likely to have many children for whom English is not their first language. You are going to experience a range of fluency across the children you encounter. 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 therefore reach their full potential during their time with you.
Starting in a new nursery or with a new childminder for the first time is likely to be an anxious experience for any child, even if they are also feeling excited. Combine this with the fact that a child might not understand the language that is being spoken to them, and that language doesn’t sound familiar at all. You can imagine how unsettling this could be for a young child.
As you get to know a living in a multi-lingual home, be aware that they 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, plus Dad’s English and Mum’s Polish. Here is an example of where a child could be hearing four different dialects at home before they then come to your setting and hear even more.
Below are a few tips to help ease the transition into a childcare setting for a child with EAL:
- Use minimal language
Give a child the chance to learn key vocabulary by using just key words and very simple sentences until they become more confident at speaking English. If you use too many words it will hinder them as they won’t be able to learn the key words.
- Communicate using visuals
Any child who struggles with understanding will benefit from you showing them things visually. Show them a card with a picture of a toilet, clearly say the word “toilet” and then lead them to the toilet. Here you are using visual, as well as verbal cues to help them learn key words. Following this, have the visuals available so that if a child can’t remember the word, they can use that card to communicate to you when they need the toilet. This will make a huge difference in calming their anxiety levels because you have instantly given them a way to communicate.
- Use sign language
Using simple sign language such as Makaton once again reinforces the words visually, and also gives the child a way to communicate back to you.
- Encourage learning through play
You will already know that play is key in a child’s learning. Now take the opportunity to extend a child’s language by engaging in their play and modelling the language e.g.“the car is on the road”. Tell them what they are doing “you are painting” – this is how they will learn new language.
- Celebrate a child’s culture
Celebrating a child’s culture is going to make them feel welcome and valued. Make not just the child, but the whole family feel welcome by taking the time to find out about their culture and celebrate it. This will help the whole family feel at ease which will have a positive knock-on effect on the child. Furthermore, 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.
- Use local support
You should find that your local council have a team dedicated to supporting children with EAL. They may be able to lend you 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, before any of these tips 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. We know that happiness and confidence is key in order for a child to learn. Let’s do everything we can to boost the self-esteem of children with EAL so that you can start to see real progress, not just in their spoken language and understanding, but in all areas of their development.
About the author
Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.