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Four students laughing with each other
Author: Shalu Aara, EAL specialist

A learner’s wellbeing is vital to their achievement and overall success. Nevertheless, an EAL (English as an Additional Language) learner’s wellbeing should be considered more thoroughly when discussing their academic performance and achievements. A learner who speaks “a language other than English as their first language and needs additional support to develop a proficiency in English” (Twinkl, n.d) is considered to be an EAL learner. They can come from a diverse, multilingual and/or refugee background. EAL learners sometimes come with fairly traumatic experiences, and for them to feel safe and comfortable in a trusted environment is crucial in order to be fully ready to learn. A learner who is struggling with mental, physical, and/or social wellbeing can show slow or decreased progress in their learning (OECD, 2017). 

Why is the wellbeing of EAL learners important?

Research has shown direct links between learner wellbeing and their academic performance, and vice-versa (Anchor, 2010). Physical wellbeing (through physical activity) can lead to enhanced learning, along with increased concentration. Social and mental wellbeing can be gained through positive and supportive relationships which help learners step out of their ‘comfort zone’ and take risks in their learning. These allow learners to explore new and creative ways of learning, increasing engagement and motivation in class. MacIntyre, Gregersen & Mercer (2016) discuss this further, stating that increased engagement leads to improved curiosity, love for learning, and creativity. Moreover, maintaining the wellbeing of learners increases a sense of belonging and trust, hence creating an environment where change, risks and mistakes are welcomed. EAL learners (who are already conscious of their proficiency in English language acquisition), need a space where they are allowed to make mistakes and take risks in their learning; a place where they are not alone in the struggles of the English language acquisition. When such an environment is created and maintained, learners show a rise in their language acquisition and overall academic performance (Jia, 2022). This is proved in a longitudinal study in 2010 (Han, 2010) exploring the language acquisition skills of Latino learners from Kindergarten to Year 5, where EAL learners were displaying an increased academic performance, along with enhanced social skills among peers and teachers than English speakers who were monolingual. 

How can we improve EAL learner wellbeing?

To improve EAL learner wellbeing, teachers need to first create a welcoming and inclusive environment for the learners. A space for them to explore their ideas and learn new concepts with an open creative mind. This, however, is not only a physical classroom, but also the social environment that the learners will be learning in. A teacher’s mindset and teaching style has a huge impact on the learners as well; a motivated teacher will inevitably motivate his/her learners, while an inattentive teacher will not be able to engage his/her learners positively, hence, not much results will be achieved (Guilloteaux & Dornyei, 2011). 

A data analysis on EAL learner wellbeing (Massey University, 2016) states three key ideas to increase learner wellbeing:

  1. Building positive relationships with learners through positive mentorship, peer support and friendship
  2. Creating a supportive and motivated learning environment
  3. Normalising language acquisition and EAL practices in the school

We have created a downloadable resource to help you create an inclusive classroom for your learners.

Conclusion

Overall, an EAL learner with a positive mindset and wellbeing will display high academic performance. Positive mood and maintained learner wellbeing is also closely connected to increased engagement and motivation, along with enhanced creative and critical thinking (MacIntyre et al., 2016). Prioritising wellbeing nurtures a child, for not only their academic needs, but also for overcoming their traumas or insecurities. It provides many advantages along with better academic results, such as healthy and positive relationship building, an improved learner mindset towards learning, and reduced teacher burnout (Bentea, 2017). The key idea to remember: a happy learner equals better learning.

References

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Corwin.

Bentea, C. (2017). Teacher self-efficacy, teacher burnout and psychological well-being. The European Proceedings of Social & Behavioural Sciences, 1128–1136. //edtechbooks.org/-PGj

Guilloteaux, M.J., Dornyei, Z. (2011). Motivating Language Learners: A Classroom-Oriented Investigation of the Effects of Motivational Strategies on Student Motivation. Tesol Quarterly, 42(1), pp55-77.  //doi.org/10.1002/j.1545-7249.2008.tb00207.x

Han, W. (2010). Bilingualism and socioemotional well-being. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(5), pp720-731. //doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.01.009 

Jia H. (2022). English as a Foreign Language Learners’ Well-Being and Their Academic Engagement: The Mediating Role of English as a Foreign Language Learners’ Self-Efficacy. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 882886. //doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.882886

Massey University. (2016). ESOL Students’ Sense of School Belonging, Inclusion, and Wellbeing. Massey University. //www.waikato.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/666847/CaDDANZ-2017-Report-School-1.pdf 

MacIntyre, P., Gregersen, T. & Mercer, S. (2016). Positive Psychology in SLA. Bristol, Blue Ridge Summit: Multilingual Matters. //doi.org/10.21832/9781783095360

OECD (2017). PISA 2015 Results (Volume III), p.40. Students’ Well-Being. Paris, France: OECD Publishing.

Twinkl. (n.d). What is EAL (English as an Additional Language)? Twinkl. //www.twinkl.co.nz/teaching-wiki/eal-english-as-an-additional-language#:~:text=The%20term%20EAL%20learners%20refers,from%20diverse%20and%20multilingual%20backgrounds.

Further learning - Blog

Created: Fri 8th Jul 2016

Most schools with early stage learners of English will have some form of guided reading record. This record supports the learner, parents and the teacher in acknowledging, monitoring progress and rewarding good reading habits. We do this because we know the profound influence reading has on progress in literacy (not just reading alone. Try reading Krashen, the Power of Reading, 2004).

However, have you considered the impact of a similar record for learning EAL through the use of flashcard activities?

Created: Wed 1st Mar 2017

In Science, EAL learners need to understand scientific language, both written and oral, as well as to work with the command verbs such as; discuss, explain, evaluate etc… (Mertin, 2014). This means the language required for Science is academic and challenging and, as a result, it can become extremely difficult for learners to access the subject content. This begs the questions; How do we make the lessons comprehensible to EAL learners and provide what Krashen (1998) terms as ‘comprehensible input’?

Created: Fri 25th Sep 2015

The lack of a common language between children can be frustrating so we often assign buddies who have a common language to help our learners. Someone who speaks the same language can help the new student feel less alienated by speaking the same language and recounting what is being said and explaining what is happening. Students are often used as interpreters in schools. However, as with any translation, it can result in unintentionally misinterpretation.