EAL versus EFL

English as an additional language (EAL) is the term used in the UK to refer to the teaching of pupils whose home or first language is a language other than English.

ESL, Bilingualism and Multilingualism

The terms ESL (English as a second language) and EAL may still be used interchangeably but the latter has generally been replaced by EAL, a more neutral term which recognises that, for some learners, English may be their third or fourth language. The terms bilingualism or multilingualism are often used to refer to pupils who are exposed to two or more languages within their everyday lives. The government definition of a bilingual learner is that it refers to ‘all pupils who use or have access to more than one language at home or at school ‐ it does not necessarily imply full fluency in both or all languages’ (DfES 2003).


The term EAL is used very broadly to describe many different groups of children. What they have in common is that they use one or more languages other than English at home or in their community but, other than that, they may vary widely in a number of ways including their ethnicity, the languages spoken at home and the amount of exposure that they have had to English. They will also vary in terms of their cognitive skills and the level of education that they have had before entering the education system in the UK. Like their English-speaking peers, some EAL learners may have additional or special needs such as hearing impairment, dyslexia or a developmental language delay or disorder (in their home language). They may be gifted and talented. For these reasons, it is impossible to treat EAL learners in your class as an homogenous group. Schools in the UK have a statutory obligation under the Equality Act (2010) to promote equality of opportunity for pupils whatever their race, religion or belief.

Statistics from the School Census, published in June 2015 (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2015), estimate that 1.2 million schoolchildren in England, (17.2% of all pupils) have English as an additional language.


The term EFL (English as a foreign language) should not be confused with EAL (or ESL) as it is very different in meaning. It refers to the formal teaching of English as a foreign language.  An example of this would be the teaching of English in a French school to French speaking students. It is often used to refer to the teaching of English to adults and business people in their home countries by English speaking teachers.

Using Language Link with pupils with EAL

The Language Link website has a page dedicated to EAL which offers ideas on how to support EAL learners in the classroom and suggests further reading and links to specialist websites.

Our online evaluation is used to determine a pupil’s level of understanding of English. Resources support the development of English for the classroom.

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