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This morning my 4-year-old said, "Mummy, there are two languages, child's language and adult language". I asked her what she meant and she explained that when her friend was crying the teacher told her to read her the "owl" book. She then said, "The teacher reads the words but the child changes it." A young child may not be able to read, or retell the story using the actual words but often can retell it in their own words. A bit like a translation, as my daughter illustrated. The key factor is not the actual words, but the story behind the words. The comprehension and listening skills in a younger child are therefore of paramount importance and will constantly be developed through story telling.

The use of literature should never be underestimated. A young child is exposed to new vocabulary and syntax that they may not come across in every day life. Furthermore, a life long love of books and reading is fostered. Computers, televisions and films cannot replace the imagination, creativity and incidental learning it sparks. Vocabulary, grammatical structures, tenses and connectives can all be found in the written texts. Comprehension skills are also developed. I aways remember reading my first difficult Spanish book when doing my A level. For the first two pages I looked up all the new words, it took too long. By the time I reached the third page I was interested in the book and suddenly it all made sense.The key factor was interest, even though a book may be challenging for an EAL learner if they really interested they can work out the key elements  of a book without understanding every word. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on language in the Primary Years Program where the dominant theme was the use of literature for language learning. Literature is like the vehicle that enables language learners to develop and enable them to arrive at their destination. In literature, children are exposed to language and vocabulary that they may never encounter otherwise and familiar language and structures are reinforced. For example, narratives like all text types have a purpose and structure. The learning can be done in a less formal way, noting new vocabulary, finding equivalents in their home language, finding synonyms for words, highlighting particular tenses, grammar or sentence structures.

Practical literature ideas for teachers

An EAL book club is a great way of students sharing their learning. Students can write a synopsis of a book they have read and give a recommendation out of 10 as well as saying whether it was easy, average or difficult. The reviews could then be displayed in the library for readers. 

For upper primary books, reading can be a way of a child understanding a particular point in history. The "Horrible History" books are a fun way for children in primary schools to learn about about ancient civilisations and their idiosyncrasies. The illustrations are useful for the more visual EAL learner as they depict aspects of history in a vivid way.  "Adrian Mole's Diary" is a good one for students on their transition to secondary school as it portrays aspects of teenage life in an entertaining and amusing way. The Twilight series and Harry Potter are all good reads for the older children. However, it  is important that students choose books that are interesting to them. Something they are passionate about.

The list of good books is endless, I have chosen some that I have found to work well with students and that can be used as a spring board for further activities. The key to a good book, according to the Oscar First Book Prize judges, is illustrations, whether it is imaginative, original, has drive or a message.  

Further learning - Blog

Created: Wed 10th Jan 2024

Parental involvement in education contributes to a stronger and more inclusive school community. Engaging parents in their children’s education is also a fundamental aspect of creating a supportive learning environment for our learners and has been associated with a positive impact on learner performance (Khan, 1996).

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: Mon 21st Apr 2014

In schools where English is the language of instruction we welcome new arrivals with limited English and, step by step, they become skilled in speaking English. These young learners have a gift, the gift of bilingualism. A skill that has a profound effect on their lives. This skills may affect their identity, the way they are educated, their employment, the friends they keep, marriage, where they choose to live, travel and how they think. The consequences are significant.