Five tips for teaching EAL students:

Arriving in a new country where you speak a limited amount of the language, can be a hugely overwhelming experience. On top of that, imagine trying to make friends, study and familiarise yourself with a new culture – all whilst trying to tackle a language barrier.

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Arriving in a new country where you speak a limited amount of the language, can be a hugely overwhelming experience. On top of that, imagine trying to make friends, study and familiarise yourself with a new culture – all whilst trying to tackle a language barrier. Standing in the shoes of your EAL students exemplifies how paramount it is to ensure that their experience (both inside and outside the classroom) is as positive and constructive as possible.  

  1. Find out about your learner’s educational background  

Talk to your student’s parent to find out their previous education, bearing in mind that educational systems vary considerably in different countries. It’s important to find out their reading and writing ability in both their mother tongue and English, in addition to their listening and speaking proficiency in English. You can work out their ability and choose appropriate activities, by using The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.  

2. Allow for silence  

The very first language skill that humans develop is listening, so it’s essential to allow your EAL student a period of silent listening time, before expecting verbal responses. The more that your EAL student is exposed to new and varied vocabulary, the greater their listening vocabulary, and eventually their speaking ability, will be in the future, so try to always speak in an age-appropriate way and avoid overly simplifying your vocabulary.   

3. Encourage mistakes  

Try to create a safe, secure and fun learning environment where your EAL learner is willing to practise their English without inhibitions. Incorporating games into your lessons is a fantastic way to combat a fear mistakes – for example, you may ask your learner to share traditional games played in their home country. Hearing both their teacher and the other students with likely less than perfect pronunciation will highlight to your learner that mistakes should be encouraged and celebrated as part of the learning experience.  

4. Consider your learner’s home language  

Research common mistakes that language learners from your student’s home country may make. For example, in Spanish the verb ‘hacer’ means both ‘do’ and ‘make’, so you may often hear Spanish speakers confusing these verbs and saying, ‘do a mistake’ or ‘make homework’. Identifying specific difficulties that your EAL learner is likely to experience can help them work on these areas.  

5. Check for understanding  

Your EAL learner may be hesitant to tell you that they haven’t understood something, so it’s important to check understanding frequently. Avoid the tempting question, ‘Do you understand?’, which is likely to cause further issues: either because learners are shy or because they genuinely think they understand but don’t (for example, although the English word ‘parents’ and the Portuguese word ‘parentes’ may look similar, the latter actually means relatives). There are a number of ways to check for understanding, from eliciting examples (Example: building – What are some examples of buildings?) or personal responses (Example: tiger – What would you do if you saw a tiger?) to using synonyms or antonyms (Example: upset – What is another word for upset?).  

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