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What is the role of an EAL teacher?

An EAL teacher is a professional specialising in working with learners for whom English is an additional language, such as refugees, asylum seekers or children of migrant families.

The basic aim of an EAL teacher is to work with EAL learners and support them in accessing the curriculum of the subjects they are studying, in addition to helping them acquire the survival everyday language needed in order to make friends, socialise and converse with peers and adults. To do that, EAL teachers often draw on their specialist knowledge of bilingualism, language learning and acquisition to help them support the development of the language skills EAL learners need in and out of the classroom.

Supporting EAL learners is so important and rewarding because when they start and continue with the right support in school and at home, they will be more likely to achieve and be more successful. Research shows that EAL learners who have had the appropriate support from the beginning of their learning journey often outperform their monolingual peers in exams and tests. Bilingualism encourages creativity and higher order thinking skills (Bialystok, 2010), and the supportive role of an EAL teacher plays an important role here.

Some key EAL strategies which good EAL teachers use are outlined below, but great EAL teachers go the extra mile and support their EAL learners to become multilinguals with a keen interest and respect for their own home language(s), as well as other languages and cultures. Those great EAL teachers are outstanding teaching professionals who promote, stimulate and nurture a multilingual classroom where diversity is both welcomed and valued.

It is important to note that multilingual learners reach language development milestones in a different way to monolingual learners, and their speech needs to be considered in both their languages combined (Hoff et al., 2011).

What skills do you need to be a great EAL teacher?

A great EAL teacher will have a lively and friendly attitude towards all EAL learners. When meeting them they will make them feel welcome, happy and safe in the first instance. Excellent spoken and written communication skills are vital when sharing information with staff members and parents/carers alike. EAL learners need to be listened to and they require time to respond, so patience and positive body language are virtues for any EAL teacher. EAL, as such, is not a subject in the curriculum; therefore it allows flexibility to be creative and develop its own teaching and learning materials. Confidence to plan, deliver and evaluate interesting lessons with which to engage EAL learners is much appreciated.

Great EAL teachers work well under pressure when put in situations where they have to meet deadlines (eg. reports, feedback and creating language profiles), but also when they have to meet new arrivals at the school gate. The ability to work collaboratively in a kind and professional manner with the Admissions team and all teaching staff is not to be underestimated.

‘Flexibility’ should be your middle name.

Some great key EAL strategies to implement in a multilingual classroom

Some specific EAL strategies which can be applied by both EAL teachers in small groups out of the class, and class teachers in their classrooms are:

  • Learn to pronounce the EAL learner’s name correctly and find out what other language(s) they speak at home with their different family members, and how proficient they might be at them. Build a language profile and share that with the class teachers.
  • Ask Admissions to provide previous educational history and some background information of the EAL learner. Meet with the parents to find out the learner’s hobbies, interests, any other behavioural or emotional needs and to discuss the EAL support. This is also a chance to find out about the family’s culture and any possible different expectations of the school. Be aware of any cultural differences.
  • Sit EAL learners at the front so they have easy access to you and the board.
  • Use visuals such as real objects and images where possible, to support the learner’s understanding and to help make sense of them.
  • Allocate the EAL learner at least two buddies to act as a good English language and behaviour model. They do not have to speak the same language.
  • Allow your EAL learners to use their home language in the classroom so they can discuss the content more freely in their home language; you can then encourage them to express themselves in English providing the necessary vocabulary and language structures. Provide them with opportunities for group work with stronger learners, who can model the language for them as peers. There is some evidence that this strategy helps EAL learners to produce higher quality work in their additional language later on (Yigzaw, 2012).
  • Scaffold the support they need when writing (by providing visuals, graphic organisers, substitution tables, sentence starters, key vocabulary mats etc), and always model the grammar and language structures.
  • Be patient and allow the EAL learners time to respond to your questions as well as providing them with plenty of speaking opportunities to rehearse the language.
  • Give verbal feedback and lots of praise to acknowledge their successes in learning English, and communicate that with their parents/carers.

References

Bialystok, E. 2010 Cognitive and Linguistic Processing of the Bilingual Mind

Core C., Hoff E., Parra M., Place S., Rumiche R., Senor M., 2011 Dual Language Exposure and Early Bilingual Development, Cambridge University Press

Yigzaw, A. 2021 Impact of L1 Use in L2 English Writing Classes

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