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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: Sat 21st Dec 2013

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.

Created: Mon 13th Nov 2023

Learners having difficulty with receptive language or following directions may need support with learning propositions.

Tip or Idea: Ask your learner to draw or make an imaginary scene by following instructions e.g. Draw a house at the bottom of your page/Draw a sunshine above the house/Draw a tree next to the house. Extend this further: Can your learner tell you what to draw? Can they make a crazy or funny picture? Can they make a scene with physical objects?

Parents and child
Created: Mon 14th Oct 2019

"Parental involvement is invaluable for any new arrival in transition. The learner’s family may be the only group of people who truly understand their transition. The parents may have very little understanding of what happens in an English-speaking school or the approach you have to education. Parental involvement will help you to understand more about the child’s life as well as build a valuable rapport and level of trust between all parties.”
(Scott, 2012)