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Author: Val Awad, Head of Early Years, Cairo English School, Egypt

As a Head of Early Years in an international school following the EYFS and IPC curriculums it has always been important to ensure that the teaching of the English language is done in the classroom without the help of specialist EAL support. Early years teachers are great physical, visual talkers!

One of the key principles of teaching in the Early Years is that bilingualism has an advantage and that as the first language it has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages.

In the Early Years Department of our school, 90% of new students to FS1 and their parents are EAL in the same home language (Arabic) and are taught by a majority of overseas hired teachers who have no prior experience of this home language.

In FS1, where we accommodate children between the ages of 3 and 4 years, it is very important that we acknowledge their home language not just pay lip service to it. We do this by providing bilingual teaching assistant support and encouraging parents to continue to use their home language especially during bedtime stories and everyday life experiences. These children are still in the early stages of cognitive and academic development. Language acquisition goes hand in hand with this development, building on the skills and experiences they encounter within the setting.

The home language should be valued and we do this quite successfully at our school by having Arabic taught in the early years’ classroom as opposed to moving to an Arabic only classroom. Having displays of children’s activities and photos of them working in Arabic lessons displayed prominently in the class and encouraging the Arabic teachers to use a similar form of early years pedagogy has had a very positive impact on children’s English language acquisition. The children see daily the interactions between the English and Arabic teachers; the rapport, respect and camaraderie for each other. The use of our Early Years topics to inform Arabic planning enables children to make connections with their learning. Also using similar approaches to synthetic phonics in both languages and displayed alongside each other. This shows our EAL children that we value them, their culture and their community; the results of which are that children in foundation stage at our school grasp English more confidently and securely and at a quicker pace.

Tools to support this development:

  • Circle Time and small group activities
  • Visual stimulation
  • Props and artifacts
  • Choral assemblies
  • Rhyme and repetition as in songs and stories
  • Real life experience and connections
  • A secure and non-confrontational environment
  • Daily interactive language practice
  • Home/school connections
  • Shared Home language/English assemblies and award ceremonies
  • Home language displays not just translated labels on objects

If you are interested in working at an international school check out Teacher Horizons - a site full of helpful information!

Further learning - Blog

Created: Wed 2nd Nov 2016

An additional adult can be very effective in supporting teachers with EAL learners in the classroom. An additional adult may be a teaching assistant, learning support assistant or just a regular volunteer. They can significantly enhance support for learner motivation, confidence and self-esteem (Wilson et al, 2003). If you are a classroom teacher, you may be observed on how best to deploy your additional adults against your school standards.

hands writing at a desk
Created: Wed 7th Feb 2024

I will never forget the ‘feelings’ I experienced during my EAL teacher training, when I sat in a class with a tutor who entered the room with a basket of goodies and greeted us in Swedish. My immediate reaction was one of confusion, which then led to frustration and finally a sense of hopelessness, before I even realised that I was actually expected to experience learning some Swedish without a single word of English allowed in the classroom.

Created: Fri 7th Jul 2017

Although Inclusion is a central theme of UK policy, there are limited directives on EAL provision in mainstream classes (Costley 2014) This can have implications for international environments too, which model their practice on the UK or have UK trained teachers. Policy has significant implications for teachers who may be underprepared to support EAL pupils.